|Location||Blowing Rock, North Carolina, U.S.|
|Owner||Tweetsie Railroad, Inc.|
|Opened||July 4, 1957|
|Operating season||April - November|
|Area||200 acres (81 ha), 30 acres (12 ha) developed|
Tweetsie Railroad is a family oriented railroad and Wild West theme park located between Boone and Blowing Rock, North Carolina, United States. In addition to a 3-mile (4.8 km) ride aboard an authentic steam locomotive, the park features amusement rides and other attractions geared towards families with children.
Opened in 1957, Tweetsie Railroad began as an excursion train ride aboard steam locomotive #12, the only surviving narrow gauge engine of the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad (ET&WNC). Built in 1917 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works, #12 is a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge 4-6-0 coal-fired locomotive that was used to haul passengers and freight over the ET&WNC's 66-mile (106.2 km) line running from Johnson City over the Appalachian Mountains to Boone, North Carolina.
After the 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge portion of the ET&WNC ceased operations in 1950, the locomotive was purchased by a group of railroad enthusiasts and was taken to Rockingham County, Virginia to operate as the small "Shenandoah Central” tourist line in 1952. Floodwaters from Hurricane Hazel washed out the Shenandoah Central in 1954, and Locomotive #12 was once again put up for sale. Hollywood actor Gene Autry optioned the locomotive with the intent to move it to California for use in motion pictures.
Instead, Grover Robbins, an entrepreneur from Blowing Rock, North Carolina, purchased Autry's option and bought the locomotive in 1956. Robbins moved the #12 locomotive back to its native Blue Ridge Mountains as the centerpiece of a new “Tweetsie Railroad“ tourist attraction. 1 mile of track was constructed near Blowing Rock, North Carolina for the train to run on, and on July 4, 1957, the locomotive made its first public trip over the line. In 1958, the track was extended to a 3 mile loop around the mountain, and the trains at Tweetsie have traveled that loop ever since.
Tweetsie Railroad became a popular tourist attraction, and evolved into one of the nation's first theme parks. A western town and saloon were built around the original depot area. A train robbery and Indian attack show were added to the train ride, playing off the Wild West theme that was very popular at the time on television and movies. The theme was enhanced by regular visits from WBTV television personality/singing cowboy Fred Kirby, who hosted a popular children’s show. In 1962, a chairlift and amusement ride area was constructed on the central mountain inside the rail loop, and over the decades the park has been expanded with additional rides, attractions, shops, zoo, and restaurants.
The Tweetsie Railroad theme park is open from mid-April through October of each year. It hosts numerous special events each season, including a very popular nighttime "Ghost Train Halloween Festival" in October. In addition to the Wild West train adventure and the amusement rides, Tweetsie Railroad has a variety of live entertainment shows featuring talented performers selected from the immediate area and from the Southeast.
Tweetsie acquired another coal-fired steam locomotive, USATC S118 Class 2-8-2 #190, the “Yukon Queen” from Alaska’s White Pass and Yukon Route in 1960. Built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1943 for the US Army, the engine was part of an 11-locomotive fleet of “MacArthur” 2-8-2s originally purchased for use overseas. During World War II, the locomotives were sent to Alaska for use on the White Pass and Yukon.
In 1961, Grover Robbins built another train ride and tourist attraction called "Rebel Railroad" in the Smoky Mountains near Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Renamed "Goldrush Junction" in 1966 it was operated by Robbins until his death in 1970. In 1976, Jack and Pete Herschend of Branson, Missouri bought the Pigeon Forge facility and redeveloped it as "Silver Dollar City". In 1986, country music star Dolly Parton became a part owner with the Herschends, and the theme park was renamed Dollywood to reflect her involvement.
The name "Tweetsie" was given to the original East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad by area residents who became accustomed to the shrill "tweet, tweet" of the train whistles that echoed through the mountains. The nickname stuck with the train and became more identifiable than the railroad's original name. Bachmann Industries has produced several sizes of scale models of locomotive #12 and its accompanying rolling stock, both with the original ET&WNC markings and the newer Tweetsie Railroad markings.
- National Register of Historic Places #NPS–92000147 — East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad Locomotive No. 12.
Tweetsie Railroad's operating season is from mid-April to the first weekend in November. The park is open weekends in the spring and autumn, and daily from the weekend after Memorial Day weekend until Mid August. In addition, the park is open on Friday and Saturday nights in Late September/October/Early November for the “Ghost Train Halloween Festival". Special events are held throughout the season, including Railroad Heritage Weekend in September, that focuses on the history of the narrow gauge locomotives, and a firework display on the Independence DayFourth of July.
Tweetsie is located on US 321 between Boone and Blowing Rock, North Carolina.
Rides and attractions
Rides at Tweetsie Railroad include:
- Drop Tower ride
- Round Up
- "Tornado" spinning ride
- Ferris wheel
- "Tweetsie Twister" ride
- "Turnpike Cruiser" ride
- The Mouse Mine (child-oriented loop-track train ride through a tunnel with an animatronic show)
- Several small children's rides
Other attractions at Tweetsie Railroad include the Tweetsie Palace Saloon and show, other live shows, gold panning and gem mining, Deer Park zoo, a variety of specialty shops and dining facilities, and an arcade.
- Land of Oz (theme park): another park developed by Robbins
- www.tweetsie.com (official website)
- Cy Crumley ET&WNC Photo Collection (johnsonsdepot.com)
- "Tweetsie Comes Home" article in the October, 1957 issue of Ties, the Southern Railway System magazine.