As I mentioned in my first article in the series about Palestine Texas, our first event was a ride on the “Moonlight Special Dinner Train”. Breezy Lake-Wolfe, Marketing Manager for the city of Palestine Texas, picked us at the Hampton Inn and we arrived at the station at around 6:00 PM, as the train was scheduled to depart at 6:30 PM. I immediately recognized that this was a larger operation than I anticipated and asked Breezy to take Kim and my photo for posterity!
We headed into this wonderful piece of history for the state of Texas and started looking around. As a foodie I first noticed that they had a very decent spread of cheeses, crackers, fruit and champagne. It was a nice transition, as some passengers were not dining on the ride, like we were. We refrained and it was a good thing, as the line was at least 50 people deep! Must have been great snacks! Kim did manage to obtain a glass of champagne!
Music was played by a gentleman named Paul, on what I thought was a banjo. After he finished a tune I approached him and asked him how long he had been playing the banjo. He quickly corrected me and stated it was a Banjolin (It had 4 strings and a shorter neck than a banjo). It still was a great way to sit and wait for the train to leave and his music was excellent.
There are magnificent areas inside of the station, that reflect the train history and depict several annual trips. I was in love with several of the photos, awards and plaques from over the years. I even found a copy of an old ticket for my hometown of Austin, St. Louis and a ticket for a Mr J.W. Boyce and wife from Texarkana Texas to Longview Texas, purchased in 1950 about the time I was born! They had photos of Palestine from circa 1920, past employees and one for the “Polar Express” which runs from November 22 to December 28 this year. It is a magnificent trip for families with children.
We decided to leave the waiting area and venture out to where the locomotive was located and I wanted photos of this wonderful steam engine, originally built in 1901. You can obtain the history and all pertinent facts at the Texas State Railroad web site. In 1972, the railroad constructed in 1881, was turned over to the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife and the first public rides began in 1976. The railroad was privatized in 2007 and American Heritage Railways operated the line until 2012 when Iowa Pacific Holdings assumed operations. I am not sure if I can accurately describe the feeling one gets appropriately, when you see the steam engine emitting its strong waves of steam. Its almost an emotional experience or at least it was for me.
I was allowed in the engine compartment and started asking questions immediately about the train. Both gentlemen were more than open and eager to share their stories and answer my questions about the age of the engine, where it as made, by what company, etc. I discovered it was originally assembled in Patterson New Jersey, by Cooke Works and was Identified as Engine #316. I inquired if it was the oldest and they told me it was second oldest behind a steam engine in Grapevine Texas, built in 1886 that used to run on this line. The Fireman was Kenneth McCarty and this is the Engineer Scott Rohal. If you get the opportunity to ride this wonderful train make sure you stop and talk to these two employees. They are very friendly, courteous, and highly informed on the history of the train!
As the departure time neared Kim and I gravitated to what appeared to be the loading dock and as other passengers were lining up, we assumed we were following procedure. All of a sudden, just like in the movies, a loud speaker bellowed out “All Aboard”, “All Aboard for the Maiden Voyage of the Moonlight Special Train Ride”, “All Aboard”! I was taken back, as I wasn’t prepared for this melodramatic sounding and I wasn’t aware this was a “maiden voyage”. Kim and I entered the train and immediately fell in love with all its grandeur and enhanced decorations. Each and every passenger was greeted and treated like royalty. Perhaps I had slipped back in time.
As the steam bellowed from the locomotive and the whistle blasted through the pines, I felt shimmers run down my spine and reminisced how it must have been at the turn of the last century. The train continued to announce our exodus from the terminal, with loud blasts of the whistle and Kim and I settled in. There are three types of seating available on the excursion “Premium Lone Star Seating” (which we opted for, as it had a complete dinner–note it is a BYOB, if you are so inclined), “Standard Coach” with upholstered seating and enclosed car and the “Open Air” with bench style seating in an open car (Probably more authentic, but we are spoiled)!
The staff were great at attending to our needs and immediately started dinner service with beverages and a salad. Rolls were set on the table but to my displeasure, not refilled after the first consumption. Not that I really need the calories, but I wanted one with my meal. I never needed water, as my glass was continually topped off and the salad was a good healthy course with a spinach base.
The main course consisted of be pork medallions with brown gravy. Side dishes included a special recipe mashed potatoes and veggie bundles of asparagus, zucchini and carrots. I must confess I started the main course and had to take a photo after a couple of bites. I have to improve on this function, but sometimes it looks so good that I can’t help but dive in! Dessert was individual mini-cheesecakes with strawberry and raspberry toppings. My apologies again. The desserts looked so good I forgot to take photos at all. The mini cheesecakes were fabulous and very tasty!
After dinner I left the dining car we were in and traveled up to the “Open Air” car with the wooden bench seating. It was a cloudy night and I hoped I would be able to capture the full moon. I took many photos and used my zoom, but the clouds wouldn’t lift. Alas, it was not to be and this photo displays the best moon picture I was able to get.
As we entered Maydelle the train came to a complete stop. I noticed we passed a fire engine with lights aglow and I feared there had been an accident at the crossing. Lo and behold the engine disconnected and traveled to a turntable right outside our window. It took the locomotive approximately 25 minutes to turn 180 degrees and prepare to hook up and take us back to Palestine. The engine started and then stopped right beside the fire engine. I realized at that moment that the fire engine was reloading the locomotive’s water supply, to provide for the steam. It was a “Duh” moment for sure.
We flew back home to Palestine, at around 25 MPH I am guessing and returned a few minutes after schedule. Kim and I enjoyed the ride and learning all about the steam engine and the Texas State Railroad’s history. It was a delightful evening and we were were ready to hit the hay. We needed our rest for Saturday, the big day with several events including tours of historical sites and homes, a couple of culinary events and a few vineyards. Not too full of a schedule! Stay tuned for Article #3 in regard to the homes and historical district! #palestinetx!
*** My trip to Palestine Texas was sponsored by the City of Palestine Marketing Department. All opinions are solely mine and as always, generated without any influence.