One of the most famous things about Chattanooga is the Chattanooga Choo Choo song made popular by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra in 1941. If you don’t know anything else about Chattanooga, you probably know the song. Many years ago Tom and I stayed in the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel which was once the railway terminal for the Southern Railroad. The Hotel is still there and you can even spend the night in a Victorian Sleeper Car if you are willing to pay the price.
This week Tom and I rode the Chattanooga Choo Choo, also known as the Tennessee Valley Railroad. We have ridden historic trains before, but the setup here is extensive.
There are more historic working train engines here than we have ever seen in one place. Consequently, the number of trips that the Tennessee Valley Railroad can offer is amazing. There are trips to Chickamauga (including a hike on the battlefield), trips through the Hiwassee Valley, Halloween and Christmas Trains, Dinner Trains, and your choice of steam or diesel engines. Many of these run through the summer and are limited to the weekends after Labor Day. Tom and I were disappointed with that because we would love to take an all-day trip.
Instead we eagerly climbed aboard the Missionary Ridge Local. The Local runs every day of the week except Monday, twice a day. We went on a Wednesday morning and were surprised that there were more than 200 passengers. Many of them were young families taking their toddlers and preschoolers on their first train trip. This trip is perfect for that because it is only three miles out and three miles back – an hour-long tour in all.
Even though the trip is short, we got to go through the Missionary Ridge tunnel and hear about the Civil War significance of the railroads in Chattanooga. We also stopped, disembarked, and watched the train engine switch ends of the train for the return trip. There was a small roundhouse, just big enough for our engine, that turned the engine around so that it could hook up with the other end of our train.
We also got to visit the machine shop where the engines and cars are restored. There were several engines being worked on. Most of the work is done by volunteers and it can take up to 20 years, and a cost of $1 million, to restore an engine. Certainly a labor of love. We passed by some old rail cars and engines that the conductor told us were the “spare parts” in the restoration work.
Before we boarded our Chattanooga Choo Choo, Tom and I walked around the train museum at the depot. The working engines and other passenger cars were waiting for the weekend for their chance to shine. We also saw a restored caboose – remember them? I miss cabooses, mostly because I never have a chance to sing the “Little Red Caboose” song anymore.
We had a great time on the Tennessee Valley Railroad and hope to come back sometime to take a longer ride.