Two of Dollywood’s most famous leading ladies have celebrated milestone birthdays this year. Katie celebrates her 75th, while “Cindy” enjoys the big 8-0 this season. Both ladies have the opportunity to entertain thousands of guests each season, and their performances turn heads and garner waves of admiration wherever the track takes them.
They both admirably served in the U.S. Army during World War II, but now enjoy their retirement years at the world’s friendliest theme park.
The two Baldwin coal-fired steam trains—Klondike Katie, No. 192, and Cinderella, No. 70—were built in 1943 and 1938 respectively by Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia. Both trains served in Alaska during World War II, transporting troops and lumber on various missions across what would become the 49th U.S. state. Both engines were still in use when they were purchased from the Army. The two locomotives now work together to serve guests as The Dollywood Express.
Klondike Katie has worked most of the season while her co-worker Cinderella underwent a months-long refresh. She now looks much like she did back in 1938, with similar cosmetics and a font type close to what would have been on her originally.
Dollywood Express Team Lead Tim Smith says maintaining the workhorses is a labor of love for his team. For many of them, their current jobs were dreams many years in the making. “We do most of the work ourselves,” he said. “It gives our group a sense of pride in what we do to know we’re able to keep these trains running and give our guests memories they’re always going to hold on to.
When Klondike Katie first arrived in Pigeon Forge in 1961, the area looked much different. She anchored a new attraction that had just been built that provided visitors with a five-mile journey through the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. After several changes of ownership, the small park was acquired in 1977 by Jack and Pete Herschend of the Branson, Missouri-based Herschend Enterprises. The big steam engine was acquired as part of the sale.
That same year, the Herschends acquired engine 70 and shipped her to the park to work alongside No. 192. After Dolly Parton and the Herschends formed Dollywood in 1986, and the number of visitors continued to climb, the two locomotives continued faithfully serving. For thousands of guests, The Dollywood Express is their main reason for visiting. Smith and his hardworking team balance a tricky schedule to ensure the engines receive the maintenance they need, while also staying operational for park guests each day.
“Our hardest part is balancing the demand of the park schedule with the needed maintenance,” Smith explained. “We try to do our maintenance when the park is closed so we don’t inconvenience our guests. We try not to do major projects when the park is open, but there are times that we have to do it. It probably upsets us more than it does the guests because we love how it feels when you take them up the mountain and they come back with smiles on their faces.”
And while most folks may think maintenance stops with the locomotives, the crew in the train shop also has to maintain the tracks and the passenger cars. It adds up to a great deal of work each season.
“The train shop annually replaces around 200-300 crossties out of the nearly 6,000 ties in the track,” Smith continued. “We occasionally replace entire sections of the track during the winter months. The locomotives, cars and tracks are looked over constantly looking for anything unusual by the team. We generally try to do our most extensive maintenance during the winter. The cars are inspected top to bottom and repainted each winter. Each locomotive is checked over inside and out. Some winters we may be just replacing a few rod brasses and then some winters we may have the whole engine disassembled.”
For the untrained eye (and ear), it may be hard to tell the two apart, except for the numbers emblazoned on their sides. For the many locomotive enthusiasts who visit the park, as well as the Dollywood hosts who work alongside them every day, each has its own personality. Klondike Katie originally was built for speed, while Cinderella had more power and torque to pull heavier loads. In addition to the visual cues, the engines sound very different; especially as they begin their climb out of the Dollywood Express Train Depot for the 20-minute roundtrip experience. Even the folks who work on the pair have their favorite—they just don’t let the other engine know it. Even Smith does a great job of hiding which is his “true” favorite.
No matter which locomotive is pulling the train, The Dollywood Express is a guest-favorite for many who visit the park. Happy Birthday Klondike Katie and Cinderella!
Now if you still have nothing planned for your things to do this fall, give us a visit!