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