No. 12 still links theme park to its Tweetsie namesake

Brandon Paykamian • May 6, 2017 at 11:20 PM

BLOWING ROCK, N.C. — The Tweetsie line no longer runs from Johnson City to near Blowing Rock.

But the history does.

Locomotive No. 12 still ties Johnson City, the old East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad and its namesake theme park, the Tweetsie Railroad, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

Once a draw itself, the No. 12 was the theme park’s only locomotive when it opened in 1957; today the 1917 engine continues its “run,” helping Tweetsie Railroad give families a taste of “Wild West fun.”

Established in 1866, with construction beginning in 1868 — a year before Johnson City was chartered — the ET&WNC hauled iron ore and other minerals from the Cranberry Mines and lumber from the forests of North Carolina beginning in 1888. It connected to the region’s standard gauge rail system in Johnson City, which was home to smelting operations.

The narrow gauge portion of the railway was abandoned in 1950.

More recently, Johnson City bought the 10-mile portion of ET&WNC tracks from Johnson City to Elizabethton and converted it to a rails-to-trails recreational area. The Tweetsie Trail opened to hikers, runners and bikers in August 2014.

There has been talk of expanding the trail through the remainder of the Carter County portion of the route, from Elizabethton to Roan Mountain. The old ET&WNC depot in Johnson City is now home to Yee-Haw Brewery and White Duck Taco.

The Blowing Rock theme park with which the trail shares its name recently opened for its 60th anniversary season. Billing itself as a great place for family fun, especially for children who are interested in the history of the frontier, the park promises to give guests a trip back to the days of the American frontier. 

Guests can ride the locomotive on a three-mile adventure through the mountains, then take a walk through the park’s “Main Street,” where they can mingle with the city folks of Tweetsie Railroad. The Wild West-era theme was initiated at the park in 1958.

The park also operates the No. 190 “Yukon Queen,” which is from Alaska’s White Pass & Yukon Railway. It was built in 1943.

There are also live performances at the Tweetsie Railroad Palace.

On May 27, David Holt and the Lightning Bolts will kick off this season’s live entertainment at the theme park. Tweetsie Railroad will also host special events like the Ghost Train, a Day Out With Thomas and its July Fourth Fireworks Extravaganza — which will also officially mark the park’s 60th anniversary.

The annual fireworks show, one of the largest in the country, will be even larger this year to mark the occasion.

For more information on Tweetsie Railroad and the events happening this season, go to www.tweetsie.com or call 828-264-9063. You can also order tickets at 877-TWEETSIE.

Business office hours for the May-October period are 8:30 a.m.- 6:30 p.m. daily.

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