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Enhanced Editorial

On the Rails of History
Riders will discover a sense of yesteryear as they travel American Heritage Railways’ three time-honored train routes.

Once upon a time, railroad tracks marked the coming of civilization. They were the hallmark of commerce; a mainstay of communication; a foundation of industry. Where the railroad tracks went, so went the country.

It is no exaggeration to claim the railroad built the America we know and love.

American Heritage Railways trades upon that claim with a trio of historic railroads that haul folks over terrain in very different parts of country. With its railroads, American Heritage Railways looks to connect the legacy of railroading with those interested in relating to a time when the nation still relied on trains.

Ultimately, the hope is passengers will feel a renewed sense of America’s can-do spirit; that it was not just the verve of an adolescent nation growing into itself. Indeed, it is the spirit needed to guide the country today.

Climb aboard and find it for yourself!

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

The Durango & Silverton Railroad began in 1881 as the Denver & Rio Grande Railway, thanks to the need to carry loads of silver and gold out of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. (Since then, more than $300 million worth of precious metal has been taken on the railroad’s tracks.) But the tremendous terrain traversed by the railroad began to entice tourists into buying tickets so they could see the sights for themselves.

RailMore than 100 years later, the D&S is still taking guests into the mountainous scenery. And the trips are taken on cars that have been around for much of that time. (Concession Car No. 212 is the oldest car in service—it was built in 1879. The locomotives date to 1923 and 1925, respectively.)

The D&S makes it easy for its guests looking for the best places to spot wildlife or take photos by designating mile markers with the most potential. For example, between markers 458 and 459 (the numbers designate how many miles west of Denver the respective marker stand) stands the Animas Valley, where during winter elk often graze. Other notable spots are 465.75—a bridge highlighted in the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; 475.25—Soaring at Tall Timber Resort, a zip-line adventure accessible only by helicopter or train; 490.5—an alpine panorama; 494.65—the former site of the King Mine in a deep gulch.

In addition to the ride on the train, a national historic landmark, there is the stop in Silverton, which is a well-preserved mining town; so well preserved, in fact, that the entire town is a national historic landmark. The stopover is a great opportunity to shop, explore and gawk at the surroundings. In Durango, passengers can experience a community founded as a company town, but what has grown to become the largest community in southwestern Colorado, complete with all the amenities travelers seek.

The D&S operates in all seasons and has cars heated for comfort during the winter. It also has open cars for riding in the summertime. (Several classes of service and a variety of cars let the D&S meet the expectations of passengers.) To let its guests get the most from their train adventure, the railroad offers packages that combine train travel with area activities, such as hiking, rafting, off-roading and snowmobiling.

For more information, visit www.durangotrain.com.

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

History and scenery comingle on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, which showcases the wonder of western North Carolina. The history of the line lies in the Murphy Branch of the Western Carolina Railroad’s effect on the region. When it came in 1880, it brought a route to the rest of the country. On it came goods residents had never seen before. And passengers rode it in throngs.

railThe railroad also allowed industry to flourish as copper ore was taken out of the Carolina Mountains. In addition, it made the Fontana Dam possible. The massive public works project represented the railroad’s heaviest duty. But as was the fate of most railroads, usage declined and tracks were ripped up.

Fortunately, the state purchased the Murphy Branch to keep it in place, and eventually, forces came together to preserve local railroading with the GSMRR. Now, 200,000 riders annually take part in the railways multiple itineraries, ranging from a few hours long out of Bryce City, N.C., to all-day round-trip excursions.

What they see are the Carolina Mountains, which form more than half of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park—the nation’s most-visited national park, as well as river gorges, forested hills and abundant wildlife. Moreover, passengers also get to experience small-town ambience and are able get away from it all.

This year marks a great time to travel the region, as 2010 marks the 75th anniversary celebration of the Blue Ridge Parkway—another great transportation route that showcases the Smokies. Construction on the parkways began in September 1935 near Cumberland Knob, N.C. Today, the road is a 469-mile-long beauty that connects Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Cherokee Indian Reservation and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. An unforgettable journey aboard GSMRR lets riders experience the stories and beauty of this region through which the Blue Ridge Parkway passes.

The GSMRR also offers combination packages for those interested in expanding their exploration of the region. And it runs specialized touring trains, including The Polar Express, The Great Pumpkin Express and its Mystery Dinner Theatre Train.

For more information, visit www.gsmr.com.

Texas State Railroad

The Texas State Railroad was built by the state prison system to feed fuel wood to the state-run iron smelter at the Rusk Penitentiary. (Iron smelted there was used in the Statehouse dome.) In time, the railroad was extended to Palestine, Texas, and into the area’s mainline railways, bringing prosperity to the region. Traffic was discontinued in the 1920s and the tracks were leased to other railroads. In the 1970s, the railroad was developed as a state park and opened to passenger traffic in 1976 to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial. American Heritage Railways assumed operation of the railroad in 2007.

RailDesignated as the Official Railroad of Texas by the state legislature, the TSRR takes its passengers into East Texas’ piney woods and along its creeks lined with timber, and in all seasons. (The trips are powered by both steam engines and diesel engines.) Along the way, riders can see crossings such as Neches River, Gibson Road and Robertson Ranch, the sites of several movie shoots.

The TSRR’s trains depart from Victorian-style depots in both Rusk and Palestine, including themed sojourns such as The Polar Express, Peanut—The Great Pumpkin Patch Express and the Lone Ranger Event Train Ride. The railroad also holds RailFest every summer in Palestine, which celebrates railroading with music, rides, tours, children’s activities and more.

For more information, visit www.texasstaterr.com.

For more information about the railroads’ parent company, visit www.americanheritagerailways.com. For trip-planning assistance, visit AAA.com/travel.

Mar/Apr 2010 Issue

This Enhanced Editorial was paid for by a promotional fee from an advertiser.

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