All Aboard: Take a Ride into the Past Aboard the Tennessee Valley Railroad

Written By: William Powell

FOR MANY JUST HEARING the name Chattanooga brings to mind the 1940’s Glenn Miller hit song, “Chattanooga Choo Choo” in which the singer asks: “Won’t you choo choo me home?”

The song makes sense as Chattanooga’s history is tightly entwined with the history of the railroad. Chattanooga was one of the most important rail centers in the South from the earliest days of railroads before the Civil War through the late 1960s. After the city fell to the Union Army in 1863, General William T. Sherman planned and staged his Atlanta campaign in Chattanooga, using the rail system to his advantage.

In those early days, Chattanooga was known as a rail line connector between larger cities. Today the town is a destination offering several historical, educational and cultural opportunities and just plain fun things do for the whole family.

The Tennessee Aquarium, with both freshwater and saltwater tanks, displays aquatic life from around the world. The Southern Belle Riverboat offers cruises on the Tennessee River, especially enjoyable at sunset with a meal on board. There are several lovely art galleries and a wonderful children’s museum in the city as well as an antique car museum. However, the draw for many is the storied railroad.


You can take a trip back in time with a visit to the Tennessee Valley Railroad, which celebrated its 60th anniversary

in October. The TVRR operates several restored trains on more than 100 miles of tracks in the area, including a train that connects North Georgia to Tennessee with a 50-mile roundtrip Hiawassee Loop ride through the lower Hiwassee River gorge. The 4.5-hour trip showcases the slower-paced era when travel by rail was the way of life. Getting on one of these trains is a walk back in time and a fun way to spend a few hours in the beautiful countryside.

Several other rail excursions are leaving from Grand Junction Station, the headquarters of the TVRR, located just outside of the city. The Missionary Ridge Local is a 55-minute trip crossing several

bridges and through the historic pre-Civil War Missionary Ridge Tunnel. This train stops at the East Chattanooga station with a roundtable that turns the engine around, making the return trip to Grand Junction Station. While stopped, passengers can visit the restoration shops where skilled workers are restoring passenger cars and locomotives. Dinner trains are popular with a four-course experience in a restored 1924 dining car.

For the holidays, you can enjoy the dinner rides with the two-hour Christmas Dinner Train available in November and December, the one-hour North Pole Limited Christmas Train for families, the 1.15-hour Hiwassee Holiday trip, and a two-hour New Year’s Eve Dinner Train.

These Dinner Trains offer a dining experience in the grand manner of deluxe train travel up to the mid-1960s. The TVRR has restored the 1920 Clover Colony Pullman car to the 1940’s décor. Each Friday and Saturday night, they offer white-linen fine dining while taking a two-hour train ride into the city of Chattanooga and back.

Dinner seating in the Clover Colony is two to a table and semi-private. One has a choice of several entrees, including carved English Roast of Beef, topped with a Madeira sauce and, of course, delicious desserts from which to choose. The train travels slowly, so there is no jostling of drinks. The meal is relaxed and enjoyed in air-conditioned comfort while looking out the window at pretty scenery.

There is a restored traditional-to-the period Dining Car for those not wishing to dine in the Clover Colony car with standard table seating for four.

Several Pullman cars from the early 20th century are undergoing restoration at the TVRR at the tune of $800,000 each, the centerpiece Car No. 98, which was built in 1917 for the private use of Daniel Willard, the then-President of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. No. 98 has quarters for a crew, a kitchen, dining room, staterooms and a lounge with mahogany paneling, leaded glass, brass fixtures and an open rear observation platform.


You cannot sleep on the trains today but you can enjoy the next best thing at the former Terminal Station, now restored as the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel. Listed as a Historic Hotels of America, the property was once the very first railway station in the South. Built in 1909, it was designed in the Beaux-Arts style. The hotel boasts scrumptious on-site dining, a romantic rose garden and shops to enjoy. It would be nice if the rooms stayed true to its roots in décor and style, but they look like traditional hotel rooms. For a truly memorable stay, be sure to book the beautifully restored sleeper cars, once reserved for only the wealthiest of passengers, and now a wonderful nostalgic getaway for your family. Try the Standard Queen or Double Train Car for two or the Family Suite Train Car with a queen bed and two daybeds and trundles.


The Tennessee Valley Railroad is offering several special rides during the winter holidays.

CHRISTMAS DINNER TRAIN Take a ride in a restored 1924 dining car and enjoy a fourcourse dinner on your two-hour ride. The train departs from Chattanooga’s Grand Junction Station and travels through East Chattanooga. All meals are prepared and served on the train with rides available November 27 and 28, and December 3, 5, 10, 18, 19, 23 and 27.

NORTH POLE LIMITED CHRISTMAS This one-hour train has been a tradition since 1999. Families are treated to refreshments and storytelling while kids write their own personal letter to Santa. Arriving at the North Pole, kids can meet Santa. Rides available Fridays through Sundays through December 19 and December 21, 22 and 23.

HIWASSEE HOLIDAY Just over an hour in length is another holiday option through the Hiwassee River Gorge. This ride provides chocolate milk and gingerbread cookies while kids write a letter to Santa and get to see him during the ride. The ride is offered on Saturdays and Sundays in December through the 19th.

NEW YEAR’S EVE DINNER TRAIN Enjoy a four-course dinner on New Year’s Eve with this twohour train ride through East Chattanooga. Choose from roast beef, herb-roasted stuffed chicken breast, crusted filet of salmon or vegetarian lasagna. Passengers can ride in a vintage dining car with four to a table or at tables of two in a Pullman Car Clover Colony car. There is a 5:30 or 8:30 p.m. option.

VALENTINE TRAIN RIDE Fun for all ages, this two-hour, four-course dining experience is similar to the New Year’s Eve offering except on Valentine’s Day.


Tennessee Valley Railroad


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