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Meet the Dollywood Train, the Attraction That Pre-Dates the Park

dollywood train

The Dollywood Express is run by two trains which were used in WWII (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

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Before there was a Dollywood or a Silver Dollar City TN, there was a railroad track and a dream. In 1961, a pair of brothers from North Carolina desired to recreate the success of Tweetsie Railroad, a popular theme park between Blowing Rock and Boone, North Carolina. As a result, they purchased a pair of US Army Transportation Class steam engines S118 Class 2-8-2. One of those steam engines went to North Carolina. The other became the main attraction at the theme park which eventually became the Dollywood theme park.


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Where did the train in Dollywood come from?

The Dollywood train is known as the Dollywood Express. But it is operated by two steam engines, named Cinderella and Klondike Katie. Back when Dollywood was known as Rebel Railroad in 1961, #192 Klondike Katie made its way to East Tennessee to be the main attraction at the theme park in Pigeon Forge. In addition to the rail ride, the original park had a general store, a blacksmith shop and a saloon. The national obsession of frontier life and the Wild West was still quite popular in the late 50s and early 60s.

The Dollywood Express with steam
Both of the trains that run the Dollywood Express are coal-fired steam engines (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

How old is the Dollywood train?

The park became Silver Dollar City after it was purchased from the Herschend Family and added its second WWII veteran to the railroad lineup – #70 Cinderella. The Dolly Parton website confirms that both steam trains are Baldwin class – built by Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Cinderella was built in 1938 and its younger sibling Klondike Katie was built in 1943. Both were originally used in Alaska during World War II to transport lumber and troops on various missions.

While the park around the train ride grew and evolved, the steam engines endured years of extensive maintenance, paint jobs and modifications. The Wikipedia entry talks a lot about the addition and eventual subtraction of something called balloon stacks. It’s a wormhole I didn’t go down. In other words, there were balloon stacks, then there weren’t. I could never learn enough to satisfy true train enthusiasts, and I’d only anger them by trying.

Dollywood Express
Klondike Katie is the theme park’s original train (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

Does the Dollywood train still have a show?

Not anymore, but it once did. In 1986, Dolly Parton joined the Herschend Enterprises family and created the park as we know and love it today, Dollywood. While the trains and the railroad largely remained the same, the changes in ownership meant a few elements did not stand the test of time. The live actors and mid-ride shows did endure for years into the Dollywood era. I have vague memories of the train stopping so a little old battle could play out. But eventually, it became outdated. What was cool and fun and amusing in 1961 was hopelessly cheesy in the late 1990s.

Dollywood train at Christmas
The Dollywood train decorated for Christmas also (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Does Dollywood still have the train?

Yes, Dollywood still offers the train ride that takes riders on a breathtaking five-mile journey through the mountains. But, as I mentioned, it simply no longer has a show. Dollywood wisely dropped the actors years ago, and now the train offers a leisurely, scenic ride through the park – complete with a lot of waving as riders are encouraged to wave at the bystanders. The bystanders are also encouraged to wave at the riders. It’s just one of the reasons that Dollywood is known as the friendliest theme park.

Is the Dollywood train still free?

The train ride is included in the park admission price. If you’re looking for a one or two-day park ticket, you can purchase them online before your trip.

Can you go to Dollywood and just ride the train?

You can, but you would still have to pay for regular park admission. So, you might as well catch a few other rides and shows while you’re there.

dollywood express depot
You can choose to ride in the front or the back when you queue up for the Dollywood Express (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

How long is the Dollywood train ride?

The train ride is about 20 minutes long. Your five-mile journey of the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains begins with a whistle. Seating is first-come, first-served. Departure times from the Dollywood Express Train Depot are somewhat limited and subject to delays or closures due to inclement weather conditions. Visitors will want to get there well ahead of scheduled departure because the lines can be long, and there’s nothing worse than getting your Thomas-the-Tank Engine-obsessed little one all fired up to ride the steamer and then be turned away.

The train ride remains incredibly popular, therefore, it’s always a good idea to consult the Dollywood Express schedule when arriving at the park. After all, the train features Dollywood’s most famous ride vehicles. It’s a classic staple of the theme park.

riders on the dollywood express
Riders and guests are encouraged to wave at each other when they see the train (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Dollywood train ride tips and tricks

Tips for riding the steam locomotive itself? It’s a fascinating trip that’s worthy of your theme park time, but there are a few things you should consider. Keep in mind that it’s an authentic 110-ton coal-fired steam engine that burns two tons of coal each day. Be aware that the engine throws off tiny black pieces of soot that can leave marks on light-colored clothing. Don’t wear white if you can help it.Because the flying black specks can, on rare occasions, land in an eye and cause irritation, some form of glasses is a good idea.

Also, the seats aren’t particularly comfortable, so if you can figure out a way to cushion your backside, good on you. Those with back problems may need to assess if they can sit uncomfortably for the 20-minute mountain excursion through the mountains of Pigeon Forge. But otherwise, on hot days, a breezy ride to see the most beautiful views on the train can be quite refreshing. Conversely, the wind can be chilly in winter months so be sure to bundle up depending on the weather conditions.

mallard duck display at dollywood
Dollywood features seasonal festivals throughout the year, like the Flower & Food Festival in the spring (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

What else can you do at Dollywood?

You can do most things that you could do at any theme park. Dollywood features world-class coasters like the Lightning Rod, Wild Eagle or Tennessee Tornado. The park also offers shows, seasonal festivals and a variety of eateries and restaurants. If you want the true Dollywood experience, make sure to grab some cinnamon bread from the Grist Mill during your trip. What locomotives have you been on?

Have you ridden the Dollywood Express train in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.? Let us know in the comments below. View the web story version of this article here.

9 thoughts on “Meet the Dollywood Train, the Attraction That Pre-Dates the Park”

  1. I think the train ride needs to to splash country and let people see the smokie mountains in their beautiful colors

  2. I ran across this article because I recently found a photo of Klondike Katie 192 from 1968. Guess what – she has a balloon stack. Ha!

  3. So… Bit of forgotten history with the balloon stack on 192…

    When they finally removed the balloon stack, her original smokestack she was built with in 1943 had completely deteriorated beyond repair. The smokestack she has today is from former White Pass & Yukon 71, which also sat on park property until recently.

  4. I must be cheesy because I do miss the live action show they used to put on, now the train ride is to boring for me.

  5. I remember whenwe went there when our kids were small. The train robbery scared them … These men came running out of the bushes andheld up the train. The kids thought it was real and were scared. Finally we realized it was all in fun.

    • Most sources say it transports about 5,000 people per day. Since the trains run about every hour, I’d estimate (very roughly) maybe about 300-500 people, but that is a guess.


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