This 85-Year-Old Ride Is the Oldest at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge

one of the trains in motion at dollywood

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

Meet the attraction that pre-dates the park itself, The Dollywood Express, the oldest ride at Dollywood

Before there was a Dollywood or a Silver Dollar City, 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.

One of the trains that now operates the Dollywood Express was part of the original attraction when it very first opened as Rebel Railroad in 1961. Today, the Dollywood Express uses two trains. Both were originally used in Alaska during World War II to transport lumber and troops on various missions. There once was a live show halfway through the train ride, but the show has since been discontinued.

the dollywood train in 1977
Engine #192 predates the theme park itself. Today, it is known as Klondike Katie. In the Silver Dollar City days it was known as Daddy Bryson (photo contributed by Richard Melton)

What’s the oldest ride at Dollywood?

The oldest ride at Dollywood is the train known as the Dollywood Express. 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.

Dollywood Express
Both Klondike Katie and Cinderella are genuine coal-fired steam engines that served in WWII (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

So 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 were 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.

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. And those experiences are still alive and well today at Dolywood’s sister park, Silver Dollar City in Branson.

Dollywood train at Christmas
Pictured: Engine #170, Cinderella, all dressed up for Christmas (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

What is it like to ride the train today?

Today, the trains take riders on a 20-minute five-mile journey through the mountains. Riders are encouraged to wave at the bystanders. The bystanders are also encouraged to wave at the riders. The train ride is included in the park admission price.

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.

Do keep in mind that it’s an authentic 110-ton coal-fired steam engine that burns two tons of coal each day. This means the engine throws off tiny black pieces of soot that can leave marks on light-colored clothing. So don’t wear white if you can help it. And 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 wind can be chilly in winter months so be sure to bundle up depending on the weather conditions.

riders on the dollywood express
Open-air passenger carts mean chilly winds in the winter months and the occasional piece of soot on your clothes, but it’s all part of the experience (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Have you ridden the Dollywood Express train in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.? Let us know in the comments below.

Have a question or comment about something in this article? Contact our staff here. You may also contact our editorial team at info@thesmokies.com.

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12 thoughts on “This 85-Year-Old Ride Is the Oldest at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge”

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

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

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  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.

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    • 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.

      Reply
  6. I remember riding the train in 1961 when it was the REBEL RAILROAD.
    Each child was sworn into the confederate army & helped protect the gold on the train when the Union Army soldiers attacked the yraun from horseback.
    It was fun.
    Cabr imagine that happening in today’s world.
    Anyway, after Rebel Railroad, it became GOLD RUSH JUNCTION.
    Indians then attacked the professors carrying gold on the train.
    Later it became Silver Dollar City & finally Dollywood.
    Still like to meet Dolly, we have same birthday!

    Reply
  7. We would camp at the campground there when it was Goldrush Junction. They had a huge swimming pool where the parking lot is now. You paid once to get in at the park and it as well as the pool was free the rest of the time you were in the campground. We would ride the train up the mountain at least three times a day. We would sit in the back car with the soldiers who change clothes to be one indians and jump off the train to run up to the powwow, where they signed a peace treaty with soldiers who were already there. Such fun as kids! ☺️

    Reply

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