Fayetteville, TN/ TN Central Railroad

Marian and I have ventured far north in our travels this time. So far, in fact, that we ended up in Tennessee. Well, okay, we intended to be in Tennessee all along, I just said that. We debated whether or not to post Tennessee travels on a Mississippi web site, but finally decided to just go for it since we hadn’t been able to do any Mississippi traveling for a couple months anyway. So, here goes.

Friday, October 29

We went to Fayetteville on Friday so that Marian could see Sir’s Fabrics, a store I’ve been telling her about for years and a place that turned out to be all she had hoped it would be! That’s rare, you know, places you hear about for years almost always turn out to be a disappointment when you finally see them. We got there via I-24, a beautiful drive that took us through Lynchburg, Tennessee, a town that has really spiffed itself up in the last few years. We vowed to go back some day soon and check it all out. Then we zipped on over to Fayetteville.
This old home was fabulous, as you can readily see --
just a block away from Sir's.
Notice the outside staircase that connected the porches.

Sir’s is where (and how) I make the purchases that allow me to maintain my extensive fabric collection which – by the way – pales in comparison to Marian’s fabric collection. (M. -- yep, I win this race!) We both enjoy the collecting much more than the actual sewing, which is much harder and less fun, and we found plenty of lovely, colorful items to add to our stashes. Like always, we went in vowing only to buy things we could use to make immediate gifts for our family and friends but, like always, we just bought what we liked. Our new fabrics will join the older, more established stacks of unused fabrics that enhance virtually every spare drawer, shelf, and closet in our homes. ( M. here.... I've actually USED some of the fabric lately and really needed to restock some of my stash -- really, I did.....)

Sights around Fayetteville's town square.

Fayetteville has undergone quite a change since I was last there. New businesses have come to town – primarily antique shops (yea!!!) – and we found a new “coffee place” for lack of a better term – a warmer sort of Starbuck’sish place. We ate lunch there and it was fabulous! We had the daily special (a lasagna roll and salad, if you’re interested) and maybe it was just because we had gone there not expecting much, but it was great. We also walked/drove around town a bit, shopped a few antique stores, and were generally impressed. Fayetteville is a cool town full of beautiful old homes. The town square should be a guide to other town-square towns trying to gentrify themselves, because Fayetteville did it right. They’ve painted, fixed up, and – most importantly – have not torn down these charming old buildings. Really pretty.

The stores are brightly colored and well detailed...downtown Fayetteville. The blue storefront is actually an old theater, with the name spelled out against a blue tile background.

We left Fayetteville to drive back to Nashville on I-65, which is by far the better route between the two places – Fayetteville’s closer to I-65 and there are no small towns to pass through. It’s also faster because the countryside right outside Fayetteville is home to one of the grandest boondoggles in the entire country: the four-lane highway that connects the town to the interstate. Miles and miles of four-lane it is, with a wide median and both inside and outside shoulders of approximately eight feet. Did I mention that this is in the middle of nowhere? It is. There are breaks every so often to allow drivers to turn (but they must be used only to turn around because there is no place to turn into) and some of the driveways/roads/paths off the shoulder have been paved for the first ten or twelve feet, even though they don’t go anywhere except to someone’s pasture. It’s the sort of sight that makes one ask: Who has this kind of pull? And, can such a feat be pulled off by a state legislator, or must a project of this size and level of absurdity be the “work” of a national legislator? I imagine finding out who owns the surrounding land would answer at least one of those questions, even if only in part. Admittedly, it’s a beautiful drive, although slightly less so for knowing that my tax dollars paid for it.

Saturday, October 30

Our Fayetteville trip was a wonderful diversion, but the real purpose of our get-together was Saturday’s trip: a ride on the excursion train to Cookeville, Tennessee, a small town on the Cumberland Plateau. Cookeville is ninety miles east of Nashville, a distance that can be covered in approximately an hour and twenty minutes on Interstate 40, or three hours by train. Hmmm.

Excursion trips are actually fund raisers for the Tennessee Railway Museum; Nashville has no passenger train service. Volunteers organize a dozen or so such trips every year because it takes a lot of money to keep trains maintained and in running order, given that they are old trains to begin with and not getting any younger. Many, if not all, of the cars have a bit of their history posted on one of their walls – how old it is, what railroad line it was with, what route it worked, etc. I noticed that one car dated to the 1950s, and I imagine most of them were around the same age, because these are old, clattering train cars, nothing at all like the whisper-quiet Amtrak trains running between, say, D.C. and NYC. Those trains whisk passengers along; the museum’s trains chug passengers along.

The museum has 4 separate layouts of HO model trains.

The museum offers quite a few types of excursions: Thomas the Tank Engine trips, Santa Claus trips, murder/mystery trips, a spring trip to see dogwoods in bloom, winery trips, two fall leaf-peeper trips, and maybe a couple of others. They’re virtually all sellouts. It is amazing the lengths people will go to to ride a train when their town has no rail service. We trainless folk tend to romanticize train travel when, in fact, if you really think about it, a train ride is little more than a really slow flight with more intimate views and nastier bathrooms. Travel is travel, after all; it’s all a matter of attitude.

The outside of the cars were very spiffy -- all polished up
and emblazoned with Tennessee Railroad.
The bright orange caboose was at the end of the train for our return trip.
Marian and I have a great attitude! And, we were able to do something on a train that neither of us has ever been able to do on a plane – buy a full-fare first class ticket. Actually, we were willing to spring for the dome car, an expensive ticket to be sure – but what a view! There is only one dome car though, and it only holds twenty people, so it was already sold out by the time we heard about the trip. Maybe next time. A first class ticket buys you comfy two-by-two seating and a window. Well, in truth, it just rents you those things. There’s coach seating as well, which consists of four to six chairs around a table. That could be fun if you’re with a party or get interesting people at your table, but miserable if you land a batch of blowhards or whiners. That’s too big a gamble for us, so it was first class all the way.
We got to the museum/depot very early for our 8:00 a.m. departure, but lots of people got there before us. And they just kept coming and coming and coming. (Marian -- Dave, our Wilford Brimley look-alike conductor, told me this leaf-peeper trip carried about 400 passengers.) As we all moved en masse toward our assigned cars, it looked like we were at a busy train station, really going somewhere – like we were boarding The City of New Orleans, or the California Zephyr or something. Of course, it also looked like we had all, simultaneously, forgotten our luggage.

Marian and I settled into our seats, and at precisely 8:00 the train pulled out of the station. Despite the fact that railroad tracks tend to run through the ugliest parts of town, we found the scenery fascinating. We were just so happy to be riding a train! Marian had never ridden one before – not too surprising since Tupelo has no passenger service – although Barry did remind her that she had ridden the train at Disney World. Seriously. He told her that. Lucky me, I’ve ridden lots of trains but still find it exciting. (M. -- The chugging of our old passenger train delighted more than just the riders -- all along our route we saw people who had brought their children to see the passenger train go by....smiling and waving ...made me feel like a celebrity..)

That's the front of our train...4 engines to pull the 15 or so cars.
See the caboose? It's right behind the 4th engine.
On our return trip, the engines were swapped to the other end of the train,
leaving the caboose to trail us -- as well it should!

Most of our fellow passengers fell into the 40-60 age group. The younger people tended to be part of large family groups, with the exception of one carload of folks who had rented the whole car for a party of some sort. That had to be fun! They didn’t go into Cookeville with us; the train stopped a few miles west of Cookeville, at a winery, to let them off and we picked them up on the way back. That really had to be fun!
Roy, our conductor...84 and enjoying his "retirement".

The train attendants were an older group as well. (Some were actually pre-war.) I never saw the engineer, who in my mind’s eye was a young, healthy individual, skilled at his work and dedicated to the job of keeping me safe. But the staff I did see – they’re all volunteers – were very nice and very chatty, and I worry that there is no one coming along to replace these fine people and keep the museum going. There was only one young guy working (he may have been in high school, actually), and he looked for all the world like the railroad conductor in a children’s book. He really did. He even wore a dark, conductor-looking suit. I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised if he had pulled a little metal thingy out of his pocket and punched everyone’s tickets. (Ticket punching would have been a nice touch, but it didn’t happen.)

At any rate, I doubt there is a harder working group of volunteers anywhere. This was a 12-15 hour day for them,
and not only are they in charge of crowd control, announcements, and tidying up, but in Cookeville they must physically turn each dome and first class seat around so that people don’t have to ride backward all the way home.

There was a bit of color..in spite of the drought and winds.
The scenery along the route was beautiful – albeit in a mostly leafless sort of way (thanks to the drought and a recent storm). It was especially pretty as we neared the plateau and began climbing a couple of mountains. Well, they are more foothills than mountains, but to people from Mississippi they are mountains, and as we climbed, the train traveled on tracks that appeared to have been carved into the very edge of the mountainside. Our neighbors across the aisle – who, incredibly, slept through a good part of the scenic train ride they paid for – had nothing but a wall of trees and brush right up against their window; Marian and I had an expansive vista. We could see for miles around. We could see everything except the ground alongside the track we were traveling on because there was no ground alongside the track we were traveling on. There was just a sheer drop straight down the mountain. It made Marian nervous, and I’ll admit it was somewhat daunting to press your forehead right up against the glass and look straight down and see nothing there to hold up the train. We ventured outside once to stand between the cars and feel the fresh air and see the scenery up close, although admittedly, we stood on the mountain side, not the chasm side.
(Marian -- Oh, my...this is one of the most vibrant memories of the train trip. Although the conductor told us that each car on the train weighed nearly 250,000 pounds and wouldn't tip over, I had serious doubts about his ability to predict the future. As I looked out my window, it appeared that we were on the edge of a cliff with nothing except a few small trees between us and the river/rocks/land below. Susan, the brave one, wasn't sitting on the edge of air ...she kept telling me to look out toward the horizon, not down. Easy for her to say!)
Our caboose --yep, it was orange! Hey, we're in Tennessee!

The weather was perfect, by the way, and when we got to Cookeville everyone piled off to shop or dine or both. Cookeville is a small town, and I imagine having a train come along and bring hundreds of hungry shoppers right to your doorstep for two and a half hours is a great boon to local merchants. We browsed through several cute gift shops and a couple of antique stores, but it was such a beautiful day that we just wanted to walk around and enjoy being outside. Well, actually it was the siren song of that cupcake shop just off the main drag that lured us out and away, but still, we walked outside. Then we boarded the train for the ride home which, surprisingly, was as much fun as the ride up. 

Tennessee countryside.

(M.... I would like to add one little note....the couple who was seated across from us asked if we would like to switch sides for the return trip down the mountain. I really didn't want to see the bottom of that chasm again from the outside fringe of the mountain and Susan didn't mind...so, we switched. They promptly fell asleep with the rocking of the train, again....)

An old steam engine in Cookeville.

So, that’s our latest adventure. We came home exhausted, but after a good night’s sleep we rallied over coffee Sunday morning and then Marian got to drive the Natchez Trace back home. The Trace between Nashville and Tupelo is the prettiest part by far – nothing like the pleasantly dull drive from Tupelo to Jackson. It inspired Marian to plan a Trace excursion as one of our future trips – when we can find someone going to or from Nashville to drop one or the other of us off. Then we can ride the length of the Trace together, stopping at all of those sights/sites that look so interesting on the signposts, but are a bit too secluded to stop at when you’re alone.

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