If you love the Dollywood Express, this blog is just the ticket for you. For many of our guests, a ride on the Dollywood Express is a must-do when you’re here! And for us hosts, these two “leading ladies” are a familiar sign—and sound—of home. Many of our guests and most employees can tell you within seconds which of our trains is on the track just by the sounds it makes. Wait, you didn’t know we had two engines? Then it’s time for you to learn a little about the history of the Dollywood trains!
How It Started
One of the most famous Pigeon Forge attractions is certainly the Dollywood Express. To learn more about the history of the Dollywood train, you have to start in Alaska back in 1943 to first meet Klondike Katie, long before she was known as part of the Dollywood Express. 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.
When engine No. 192 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. In the early years, there was not even a workshop to house Klondike Katie.
Klondike Katie is Reunited with Her Sister
After several changes of ownership, the small park was acquired in 1977 by Jack and Pete Herschend of the Branson, Missouri-based Herschend Enterprises. Owners of Silver Dollar City in Branson, the brothers renamed the park Silver Dollar City, Tennessee. The big steam engine was acquired as part of the sale. This is just the first part of the history of the Dollywood trains!
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 and adding to the history of the Dollywood train. No matter which engine is out front the Dollywood Express is certainly one of the park’s most iconic attractions.
It’s a Lot of Work
It takes a hardworking team to keep the Dollywood Express running full steam ahead. Dollywood Express Team Lead Tim Smith describes just a little about the job his team is faced with each year.
“The train shop annually replaces around 200-300 crossties out of the nearly 6,000 ties in the track,” Smith explained. “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.”
The team balances a tricky schedule to ensure the engines receive the maintenance they need, while also staying operational for park guests to experience the history of the Dollywood trains each day.
“Our hardest part is balancing the demand of the park schedule with the needed maintenance,” Smith said. “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. On those rare days when we do have to undertake major maintenance, I assure you our team is probably unhappier about it than the guests. But we work hard to stay on our schedule and make sure as much as we can is taken care of when the park is closed.”
As you may imagine, it takes a lot to keep the Dollywood Express and everything moving. Read more in this blog about the team that keeps all of Dollywood’s vehicles (of all sizes) rolling.
If you’re looking to learn more about the history of the Dollywood train, the best thing to do is to make your plans to visit Pigeon Forge and take a ride on the Dollywood Express yourself!