I’m one of those people who dig indulging my nostalgic side. Modes of transportation available before interstate highways and air travel have always appealed to me.
I’m not a die-hard “train guy” though. You won’t find me tinkering with a model townscape, gluing miniature bushes down, and making sure my hillside is flecked with the right amount of mica. Still, the historic Branson Scenic Railway tour seemed like a good fit for me—I live in Branson, Missouri and have more than a passing fancy with mid-19th century technology.
The Branson Scenic Railway is still a functioning freight operation, and their heritage passenger train services are subject to the whims of the commercial schedule. You can ride either North or South, depending on the day—I recently took the 40-mile excursion, which was a nice way to spend a couple of hours in the afternoon.
The seating is unassigned, and I sat in the car furthest back. This is the smoothest ride of all the cars, which the guide informed us is due to its concrete base. Boarding numbers are called in the order the tickets were bought, so if you want the pick of the litter, reserve in advance (the “dome” cars are especially popular). If you’re a single passenger, expect to make some new friends due to the cozy seating arrangements. The antique rail cars are restored, but not pristine.
The concession car appealed to my romanticized notions of vintage passenger trains, though I hear they also have a four-course, candlelight dinner train with prime rib and other goodies, which sounds pretty legit. The prices at the concession stand are reasonable and the offerings decent (though, just a tip: people really like free water…or the option of bringing their own on board).
I heard other passengers talking about some scenic “pruning” along the route, suggesting the rail line cut down some of the thicker foliage next to the tracks to allow for wider views. I don’t necessarily agree, but can see their point. The panoramic views were beautiful, though I’d definitely be interested in taking another trip when the autumn foliage is bursting with vibrant scarlet and marigold hues.
The train winds through several trestles, tunnels, and ghost towns (more ghost, less town), which the narrating guide details with a dash of history and a bit of humor. Occasionally tour guides seem to confuse themselves with standup comedians, as if people take a tour in order to get a glimpse of their witty repartee. This fellow was much more relaxed, offering interesting snippets at the right times, not a constant barrage of ‘Dad’ jokes.
A little history, the track was completed in 1905 (same with the historic depot). The town of Branson, Missouri is a by-product of the railway and has been a ‘tourist town’ since its inception. If you’re not interested in vintage train travel to begin with, this might not be the excursion for you. And small children would probably be bored out of their gourd for the duration of the trip. For railroad nuts or those who reminisce on days of yore, this should be right up your alley. Now, back to making plans for an extended EuroRail vacation. One of these days…
David Bryce is a blogger, golfer, and grandfather who does much of his writing at the Branson cabins. He also knows the best place to have a bubble-gum blowing contest (spoiler alert: it’s a chew-chew train).