Dollywood Express on track for decades

PIGEON FORGE (WATE) – The Dollywood Express train is one of Dollywood’s most popular attractions, and the coal-fired engines that are unique to our area require a lot of delicate care.

The train winds its way through the park sometimes more than a dozen times a day giving a glimpse at the history in the mountains. It pulls an average of 5,000 people per day, and the loop is about five miles long.

The train came to the area in 1961 when the park was known as Rebel Railroad. It has been known as the Dollywood Express since May 1986 when the park became Dollywood.

Two engines take turns on the tracks, named Klondike Katie and Cinderella.

“You can learn to run it but it takes a long time to get good. It takes years of experience,” said Train Shop Lead Tim Smith.

Long before they pack on the passengers each day the trains are going through extensive maintenance.

“It can be done in about two hours. We generally take about three because we also have to check the track,” Smith said. “It’s pretty neat what we do.”

Smith is living out his childhood dream.

“I’ve always been interested in them. I’d say my great-grandfather got me into it. He always used to tell me about the story about the train coming to town in North Wilkesboro where I’m from and it just grew from there,” he said.

Each morning at the park’s train shop Smith and his coworkers warm up the trains, replace old coals, clean out ashes and getting the engines ready to roll.

Despite their size, the more than 70-year-old trains’ cast iron parts can be somewhat fragile. The train engineers at Dollywood are able to build most of the replacement parts they might need right there on site.

“Winter is when we do our heaviest maintenance. You come in here in the winter and you’re liable to see the drive wheels out of the locomotives or the cars will be in the shop with the trucks out,” Smith said.

When all the behind-the-scenes work is done and the cars are hooked up and ready to go, it is the smiling passengers that make it all worth it.

“Best part of the job is watching everybody enjoy it,” Smith said.

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