Thrill of a Lifetime

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 The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway's 2004 season ended on Thursday, December 30. This was the 13-mile tourist line's seventh year carrying passengers between Blue Ridge, Georgia and Copperhill, Tennessee, along the banks of the Toccoa River in northwest Georgia. It was a record year passenger-wise, but it remains to be seen if it was a profitable year.

 

Meckley Thrill Lifetime 1

Photo by Maidie Meckley © 2007

.As a subsidiary of the Georgia Northeastern Railroad, the BRSR has to rent its locomotives from the parent freight line, and 1,800-horsepower diesel engines, even if old, are not cheap. And then there is the cost of the diesel fuel that powers the locomotives and the generators on the passenger cars. The price of diesel fuel skyrocketed in 2004, along with the price of gasoline. Fortunately, the tourist line's 10 to 15 mph speed limit, and the fact that the northbound trip is downhill helps. However, coming back, the single engine on the south end of the train must pull the heavy passenger cars up a winding hill to ascend the 285-foot change in elevation from the river valley to the watershed of Dry Creek, which the tracks then follow into Blue Ridge. Add a little frost on the rails, or morning dew, or rain, and it becomes a challenge. Often, the engineer will have to back down the hill and try a running start, although he is still limited by the 10 mph speed restriction, which, naturally, begins at the steepest part of the grade.

As a conductor/brakeman, riding in the engine is the best part of volunteering. And I hate to admit, but even though I'm a fully qualified conductor, I always work as trainman. Conductors have to stay relatively clean; trainman can get dirty. I work in an office all day; I want to get dirty on the weekends. On the downside, it is the trainmen who must empty the sanitary holding tanks after every couple of trips. I've worked the train since 1998 and still haven't figured out why passengers need to use the bathrooms as soon asMeckley Thrill Lifetime 2

Photo by Maidie Meckley © 2007

they board the train and then have to visit them again several times during our one-hour trip. There are no bathrooms in the locomotives, and I manage to do all right, both ways.

The close of the 2004 season was important for me in one respect; my two-and-a-half-year-old grandson took his very first ride on a "real" train while visiting with us over the Christmas holidays. He's ridden the steam-powered train at the Omaha Zoo several times, and loves it, but this was his first trip in real 80-foot passenger cars on a full-sized train that went from Point A to Point B and had a conductor in uniform punching tickets and hobnobbing with the passengers.

My wife and daughter tell me, though, that Evan's real thrill was when they took him up to the open-air car behind the locomotive and he saw me turn around and wave to him from the cab. I didn't know he was back there; I was just looking back to check the train like I do on every left-hand curve and wave to the passengers brave enough to ride the open-air car in 25-degree weather. Believe me, I was even more thrilled than Evan when I looked back and saw him. The wide-eyed look of surprise when he recognized me, and the way he shouted my name and waved his arms are memories that will last a lifetime. Someone said there is no longer any "romance-on-the-rails." Don't you believe it; the tears in my eyes weren't from the wind blowing in my face.

Bob Ciminel © 2007