RUSK – It’s just not fall without great pumpkins.
Throughout October, the Texas State Railroad is celebrating the return of autumn with its popular “Pumpkin Patch” rides and the launch of the new “Pints in the Pines” beer tasting.
The fall schedule, which precedes the popular Polar Express Christmas rides, includes a host of new historical exhibits, colorful gift shop and full-service cafe.
Even the management is new - Utah-based The Western Group oversees daily operations, having replaced the previous owner, Iowa Pacific.
“This year we put a whole lot of money in the depot and passenger cars,” said Sabrina Whetsell, guest services manager. “The railroad is owned by the state and this railroad is probably never going anywhere.”
The railroad is actually open weekends this month and certain select times throughout December to make unique holiday memories in a less hurried way.
General Manager Greg Udolph said there are limited opportunities these days to see steam powered vintage trains and the Texas State Railroad is one of only a handful in the United States to have one.
“We’re preserving the history of the railroad,” he said. “We’re also trying to give people a full experience … not only do they get to ride, but they can physically touch it.”
The old rail system dates back to 1881 when East Texas prisoners built a track to connect Rusk and Palestine.
Passengers today can experience the results of their early labor as they ride in 1900-era coaches and soak up the rustic qualities of the East Texas landscape.
For upcoming Halloween fun, trick-or-treaters of all ages can ride the rails every Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 7-29, to a special pumpkin patch cultivated just for the historic rail line.
This family friendly fall fun features 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. departure times. Rides start at the railroad’s Rusk Depot, 535 Park Road 76, and are appropriate for goblins of all ages. Costumes are encouraged.
The 90-minute layover at the Pumpkin Patch also includes games, hayrides, spooky tunes, prizes and a safe Halloween experience during a special visit to “Trick or Treat Street.”
Youngsters can hop around in the bounce house and select their own pumpkin to haul home.
Ticket prices range from $35 to $75 per person.
CRAFT BEER TOURS
People who love craft beer won’t want to miss the inaugural kickoff of a two-day “Pints in the Pines” event, designed for riders to sample tasty Texas brews aboard a historic train.
Organizers said it’s a great time to sample the rich flavors of the fall harvest while enjoying some of the most beautiful scenery East Texas has to offer.
The Piney Woods beer tours - the railroad’s interpretation of Octoberfest - are offered at 6 p.m. on Oct. 7 and 21 to participants at least 21 years old in select rail cars during the round-trip journey from Rusk to Palestine.
The event is expected to include snacks and a varied lineup of Texas created ales, from light Kolsch and Hefeweizen to zippy lagers and ales, such as coppery-red Scotch, dark stouts and chocolate porters.
Participants of the Pints in the Pines events receive a souvenir tasting glass and a barbecue dinner during a stopover in Palestine.
The return trip allows participants to enjoy a full serving of their favorite brew and compare notes with others, organizers said.
Accommodations are available in First Class, Presidential and Caboose, with tickets ranging from $99 to $125 a person.
Immediately after pumpkin season, the Texas State Railroad begins to prepare for Christmas.
Service to the North Pole is offered at select departure times from Nov. 11 – Dec. 27, offering a magical journey to the land of ice, snow and Santa Claus.
The excursion up north allows passengers departing the Palestine Depot to begin reliving the heart-warming children’s classic, The Polar Express, written by Chris Van Allsburg.
Polar Express rides depart from the railroad’s Palestine Depot, 789 Park Road 70.
Participants are encouraged to wear their pajamas and bring along a copy of the book, which is available for purchase through the railroad’s ticket office.
As the story unfolds, railroad chefs will serve hot chocolate and cookies to help round out the merriment, which includes a special greeting by Santa Clause and his elves as well as a special gift.
The return trip includes a group singalong of Christmas carols and seasonal favorites.
Tickets are still available, but trains tend to fill up fast as the holidays approach.
The 24-seat Presidential Car features keepsake Polar Express mugs, hot chocolate and cookies with first class offering seating for parties of four.
Coach seating offers snacks and large windows for enjoying the sights of Santa at the North Pole.
Ticket prices, times and availability for the Polar Express and all Texas State Railroad events are available at www.texasstaterailroad.net or 855-632-7729.
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