Privately owned and operated, it is one of the few tourist railroads in Texas that does not depend on any state or federal funding. The train travels through the piney woods of northeast Texas, a densely forested region of the state. Along the way, passengers are able to view the location of the first artificial gas plant in the state of Texas, the only remaining Confederate powder magazine from the 1860s, as well as the location of a sawmill and remnants of a blast furnace. Each excursion takes about 35 minutes.
A series of private owners attempted to resurrect the line, but a combination of factors (including lack of maintenance) caused a complete shut-down by the mid-90s. By 1999 , a local entrepreneur had purchased the train, track, depot, and property in order to keep the riverfront free from development. Aside from running the train sporadically to keep easement access, the railway remained closed. During this period, "Hangtown" became neglected and eventually collapsed.
The present owners, a family partnership, acquired the railway in early 2002 . The intervening years had not been kind to the train or track, and nearly six months of work were required to bring the locomotive boiler up to inspection standards. During that time, over 1,000 railroad ties were replaced, and the entire line was gauged. The locomotive's boiler presented a few challenges; in addition to a damaged crown sheet (the critical sheet of metal on top of the firebox) there was no manufacturer's stamp to be found. A special permit was granted by the state, and the boiler was stamped in the presence of an inspector. The crown sheet was replaced, and the locomotive was once again certified by the State of Texas.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony occurred during Labor Day weekend, 2002. The first public runs in years were deemed successful, with attendance in the hundreds.
Magnolia, sweetgum, pine, oak, maple, redbud, and dogwood trees line the track, with the train under the forest canopy for most of the ride. The sights, smells, and sounds of the woods are experienced by the passengers in the train's open coaches. During special times of year, an enclosed coach is provided.
Wildlife is abundant on the railway property. Approximately 60% of trips include views of white-tailed deer, with armadillo, red and gray fox, and squirrel also making frequent appearances. Bird-watchers especially enjoy the ride, as multitudes of fowl are active in the area.
In addition, several sets of ruins are visible from the train, most dating back to the mid-1800s. The only extant structure visible is the powder magazine, which has been restored and sits across the river.Crown Metal Products replica of an 1870s 4-4-0. In Whyte notation, the 4-4-0 is known as an "American" class locomotive or, alternately, an "eight-wheeler". The four small wheels under the front of the engine aid steering, while the four large wheels (drivers) apply power to the rail. There are no wheels underneath the locomotive cab. The 4-4-0 was the most prolific and popular wheel arrangement in the United States during its time, leading to the nickname "American Standard", later shortened to "American".
The locomotive carries the number 7, and the name "Robert E. Lee". Both were original to the Six Gun Territory and have been preserved out of respect. Her diamond stack suggests a wood-burner, but the wood on the tender is strictly ornamental, as she has been converted to burn propane. (The use of feminine pronouns when referring to locomotives carried over from ships)
Built in 1962 on special order from Six Gun Territory, the locomotive boiler is welded (as opposed to riveted, like her prototype) and operates at a working pressure of 170 PSI. All functions critical to the operation of the locomotive are steam-driven, including the air compressor and water injectors. Water is injected into the boiler with Penberthy-type live steam injectors, rather than crosshead pumps typical of the 19th century.
Another popular event is the weekly "Ghost Train of Jefferson", which is another ride in the dark, minus the jump scares. A narrator provides "true" ghost stories as the train cruises with only a small amount of light provided. Halfway through the ride, the lights are extinguished and the stories continue in total darkness. Jefferson's reputation as the "most haunted town in Texas" attracts amateur and professional ghost hunters of all ages, and the "Ghost Train" is highly popular. As of this writing, it is the only regularly scheduled event of its type in the United States.
Each Christmas, the U.S. Marine Corps' Toys for Tots program is hosted at the railway. On a selected date in December, underprivileged children from the area are invited to pick up their presents, have a picnic lunch, and take a free train ride with none other than old St. Nick. Santa tells stories (including the popular Polar Express) during the train ride, and poses for photos afterward. Combining all these elements leads to many smiles and memories.
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