Rolling Exhibits

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The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is not your usual train museum.  It is as the title states a “rolling exhibit” that offers us a living history!  Everyone gets to experience what train travel was like when trains were the most popular mode of transportation.  A nostalgic trip for some and an educational one for others.  Many excursion trains are theme oriented and even though they also serve an important purpose, this is the real deal.  Sit back and enjoy the ride, lunch in a genuine dining car and experience what it was like when the rails were king!

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As the Bluemoonistic Team was preparing to board the Summerville Special for our trip from Chattanooga, TN to Summerville, GA, the sun popped over the Grand Junction Depot and caught the famed Mikado-type #4501 Locomotive steaming up in the morning sunlight.  It was built in 1911 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, PA. It is the sole survivor of hundreds of such locomotives used by the Southern Railway during the steam age. That moment made us realize that we were in for a magical ride.  We still look at this photograph and feel the steam rolling around us, but then that is the magic of photography.  Capturing such moments is what keeps history alive for all of us.  We enjoyed taking photographs of all the cars before we climbed on board!

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The ride takes almost an hour before the train winds its way slowly out of the city of Chattanooga and hits the country side.  We passed several landmarks along the way and our knowledgeable Conductor pointed them out and gave us a wealth of historical information.  We passed Missionary Ridge and went through the Missionary Ridge Tunnel.  Civil war history is rich in this part of the country and we passed the Chickamauga Battlefield and the Chattanooga National Cemetery.  Once we were out of Chattanooga we were already into the state of Georgia.  The scenery became more pastoral and we rolled on to our destination of Summerville, GA. 

Halfway to our destination we were served lunch in a traditional dining car complete with helpful waiters, real table cloths and silverware.  It was such fun to enjoy a delicious meal and watch the countryside pass by.  It gave new meaning to “fast food” but in actuality our speed was probably not more than 25 miles per hour. 

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When we arrived at the Historic Summerville Depot we were greeted by local arts and crafts including a local musician by the name of Matt Foster.  This town knows how to entertain the train passengers upon their arrival.  The city’s southern hospitality is the best we have ever experienced on a train ride.

The Historic Summerville Depot is located in the heart of this little town and is a beauty.  The Chattanooga, Rome and Columbus Railroad was built to Lyerly, Summerville and Trion Georgia in 1889.  The depot was constructed at the time but as was typical the original one burned as did a second one in 1901.  The current depot was built at that time.  The depot closed in the fifties, but fortunately the Chattooga County Historical Society bought the depot in 1988.  It has been restored and placed on the National Historic Register of Historical Places. 

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Summerville has another piece of railroad history not far from the depot.  A massive 90 ton steel turntable used to rotate the locomotives.  It was donated to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum by CSX and was built in 1916 in Ambridge, Pensylvania by the American Bridge and Iron Company.  All the passengers on the train were able to watch as they turned our 4501 locomotive around to head back to Chattanooga. The town of Summerville, Georgia, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum should be applauded for all their efforts to make sure folks can see another piece of railroad history in action.

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The Bluemoonistic Team feels like “Rolling Exhibit” is indeed a perfect description for our day on the Summerville Special.  There is no better way to learn about railroad history than to experience it first hand. We were given the opportunity to ride the rails in 1940s style! Our hats are off to all the local preservationists who are so dedicated to saving steam locomotives and equipment for future use.  Let the Good Times continue to roll…

All photos taken by Dale R. Carlson - Bluemoonistic Images