Sunday, June 28, 2015

My First Train Ride, a Trip to Rusk and The Texas State Railroad

To celebrate our 40th anniversary, we bought tickets to ride the Texas State Railroad which runs between Palestine and Rusk, Texas. I bought tickets online and chose the round trip beginning at Rusk.

As it turned out, Palestine would have been a closer drive for us, but that line was turned out to be crowded, where the Rusk train was fairly empty, so maybe it was a good decision after all. We were one of the first ones to arrive at the depot, giving me time to take some photos.

The railroad was first built in 1881 by prisoners from the second oldest penitentiary in Texas. It was located in the town of Rusk, and this station is in a state park about three miles out of town.  The purpose was to bring wood from the piney woods to the prison to fuel their iron smelter. The railroad was originally built as a narrow gauge line but was later changed to a standard gauge in order to join the main rail system. After the prison closed, the buildings were converted into a mental hospital and eventually the railway line was leased to the Southern Pacific Railroad Co. who operated it until 1969. The railroad was turned over to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1972. The state used prisoners and civilians to build the historial state park which opened in 1976 as part of the nation's bicentennial celebration.

The depots were built to look like they were built at the turn of the century. The Rusk depot is built of sandstone and larger than the Palestine depot which is built of wood. Here is a display of old baggage carts.

There are several cars on each train from open air with hard benches to air-conditioned dining cars.  I talked to a woman who was on the open air car and she said the temperature was fine but they wish they had brought cushions to sit on.  Of course that was before the summer heat set in too.  We bought tickets on the adults only air-conditioned dining car (there wasn't dining on our trip, just snacks). We thought it well worth the extra $30 to have air conditioning and no noisy children. This is our car, number 44, and you can see the windows with condensation from the air conditioner on the windows. There were only about eight couples in our car, and all of the women were freezing. That air-conditioner really worked.  I didn't have a jacket, so I snuggled into Hubby.  Good thing we still enjoy being close after forty years!  Every two cars had a personal attendant who kept us supplied with beverages and chex mix, and that was nice.  She was friendly and knowledgeable about the train and the area, which made the trip more interesting.

And this is the engine right in front of our car. It switched to the other end of the train for the return trip and it was much easier to hear then (it's whistle was reallllly loud). But that's when we noticed that there were speakers on the car, and probably the whole train, playing the same song over and over.

The water tower, with a spout that lowered to fill the engine with water. It was a steam engine after all. I don't know whether they used this tower anymore or even if our engine was really a steam engine.  I'm sure a train aficionado would be able to tell by looking at the engine. (Thank you Marly for pointing out that this couldn't be a steam engine because there was no spout.  I looked on the website and it is a diesel engine.)

Before our train left the station, the attendant made an announcement saying that there was only one family with a baby and two small children in the air-conditioned car for families but the air-conditioner wasn't working well in that car, so would anyone mind if they moved into our car. Well, gee, what could anyone say? No, we want a family with a baby sweating it out in that other car? Of course not. Luckily, they were pretty good for most of the trip. When the baby got particularly fussy, the grandmother took her into the other car. During our lunch stopover, we had to walk through that train car to get out, and the temperature felt pretty good to those of us who were freezing. The air conditioner was working, just not as cold as our car. I thought of sitting back there on our way back, but it would be a burden on our attendant to have to come back to that car just for us, so we toughed it out. The air-conditioner was either set to to a higher temperature on our return trip or we acclimated a little. Next time, I'll remember to take a jacket.

Because I didn't know how much walking was involved, I took the small camera.   As it turned out, I could have taken the heavier Canon.  I don't know if the Canon would have taken better pictures through the windows, but nearly every photo I took while we were moving, even at the low speed of 25 miles per hour, looked like this.

I took one photo when we stopped to let the Palestine train pass.

For the most part, the tracks were just feet away from the forest of trees, so the view didn't change a lot. I'll spare you any more pictures of just trees and leaves. I still enjoyed looking at every bit of it though and made a game out of trying to identify trees and shrubs. The piney woods start in this county and I love the amazing height of these trees. It was sad to see the colonies of bamboo and some other non-natives that have filled in some open areas along the track though. I hope the park crew will eliminate those, but more likely they will be allowed to grow unchecked until they crowd out some natives.

There were a few clearings along the route, and this odd assortment of little buildings was in one.

Halfway between Rusk and Palestine, our train met the Palestine train. Ours was sidelined to let them pass, and both trains stopped across from each other while the engineers manuvered all that. The passengers on each train waved at each other, and while we were stopped, we gained a few passengers.  Our attendant said they sometimes they reinact a train robbery, but most of the time they just board and visit with passengers, and that is what they did this time.

We had a stopover at the Palestine depot for lunch. We had the option of buying a box lunch or bringing our own lunch, and we brought our own. There were picnic tables under the trees by the station, and the attendant made sure everyone's cup was full before lunch too, so we had a soft drink instead of the water we brought. The instructions online said that ice chests and carry on bags had to fit under the seat, so we brought the smallest cooler bag we had. Turns out that that was a rule that wasn't enforced and most people had larger ice chests. I don't know where they would have put them if the train had been full though.

There wasn't as much to do at the Palestine depot as at the Rusk depot so it wasn't the best place to spend the extra time after eating. The gift shop was closed there and there was less to look at. So we sat in the shade and walked around the depot until the train was ready to head back. Here are some of the sights at the Palestine depot.

And so we left the Palestine depot and headed back to Rusk.

And back to the Rusk depot where everyone headed for the air conditioned restrooms and gift shop before leaving.  At both depot parks, there are camping spaces, but again, the Rusk campground has more facilities than the Palestine campground.  Next time we go, maybe we can stay at the campground.


Marly said...

Thank you for sharing your interesting day. I have given up trying to take photos through the windows of a moving vehicle. Firstly they are usually none too clean, and secondly the reflections in the glass interfere with the image. By the way, I don't think that's a steam locomotive; it doesn't have a funnel/ chimney!

Tired Teacher said...

Thanks for the ride along. It looks like it was a fun day.

MartiDIY said...

Yes, these windows weren't great. There were a lot of scratches from brushing against tree limbs and shrubs, the tracks were that close to the woods. Thanks for the heads up about the engine. I looked it up on their website and found out that it was a diesel, an old military engine.

MartiDIY said...

Oh yes, it was a fun day. Very relaxing too.

Grandma K said...

I LOVE that trip. The scenery is so beautiful. I was going to tell you it was a diesel, but you discovered that yourself. Usually the train is very full, and you are right. I don't know where they would have put the large ice chests, but people don't follow rules.

Taking pictures from a moving train is difficult! That's why I got the newest camera with a pretty fast shutter. You did well!

MartiDIY said...

Have you been on this trip? If so, do you know what those odd buildings are for?

Minoru Saito said...

Hi! Nice train trip. The scenery is very beautiful. Both depots are very elegany. Thanks for sharing.

toniaconner said...

Marti, Your pictures are alway so clear and sharp. What type of camera do you use. Now that I'm retired I might have the time to learn how to use a good camera. Did You have any problem with the motion?

Patricia Bacon said...

Super train photos, Marti. Also, loved the great story behind the building of the RR.

MartiDIY said...

Thank you! I never feel they as good as photos other people take. The camera I used on this trip was a little Fugi S5100. I did have problems with the motion and probably should have changed the setting, but left it on auto for all these pictures.

MartiDIY said...

Thank you. I agree that the depots are both really pretty.

MartiDIY said...

Thank you on both counts. It really felt like taking a trip through history.