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Branson Scenic Railroad 9/22/2022

by Chris Guenzler

Elizabeth and I woke up at the Quality Inn in Branson and following her Internet duities, she helped me with the Eureka Springs story before we went Bob Evans Restaurant where I enjoyed French Toast and bacon and Elizabeth had the Western Omelette and banana bread. Elizabeth drove us to the Bass Pro Shops parking lot where we parked the car.

Branson Scenic Railroad history

The comfort of the vintage passenger cars is quite a contrast to the harsh realities the railroad pioneers found when they undertook bringing rail service to the Ozarks. Laying the tracks for the White River Railway was possibly the most difficult construction task ever undertaken in the Ozarks. It meant creating hundreds of miles of level surface where there were only rugged hills and valleys. It meant stretching tall trestles across valleys and blasting long, damp tunnels through mountains of solid rock. The project required thousands more workers and millions more dollars than railroad construction in a more accommodating terrain. But its difficulty is surpassed by the accomplishment and the opportunities the railroad provided the struggling Ozarks pioneers.

The railway was built in two sections: a northward line beginning at Batesville, Arkansas, and the other going south from Carthage, Missouri. Construction began in January 1902, and the final spike was driven on December 29, 1905, which joined the northern and southern sections. The 239 miles of track cost more than $12 million-about six times normal rail construction costs. According to the White River Railway, an intricately detailed book by Walter M. Adams, in October 1901, laborers were paid $1.25 to $1.50 per day, and men with teams were paid $2.50 to $3.00 per day. This helps to put the total cost of the railway in perspective for that time in history.

The town of Branson is a product of the railroad. Adams writes, "It started out, as did most Ozark towns, as a country store owned by one Rueben S. Branson who was granted a post office in 1882 while on Bull Creek, north or in this case down river from the present location. In 1883 Branson moved to the confluence of Roark Creek and the White River. Here speculators established a small town called "Lucia" and on May 2, 1901, the post office was renamed Lucia". With the arrival of the railroad, rival land speculators got busy and bought up land to the west and north of Lucia. This was the Branson Town Corporation with Charles R. Fulbright as president. Fulbright also held the title as "immigration agent" for the Iron Mountain Railroad. The official plat of Lucia was filed on October 2, 1903 while that of Branson was filed October 26, 1903. When it became obvious that the railroad would run only through the Branson Town Company's plat the land owners of Lucia sold their interests to the town company. Both "towns" maintained their own newspapers for a time, the Lucia "Locomotive: and the Branson "Echo". On June 11, 1904, the post office was renamed "Branson: and the adjoining communities were finally incorporated as Branson April 1, 1912."

The construction of the White River Railway in the early 1900s made the area accessible for tourists and is largely responsible for the development of Branson and the Ozarks as a tourism destination. Before the area's economy was based on tourism, the railroad served a traditional industrial purpose, which continues to this day.

The railroad is known as the White River Route. The route crosses the White River in Branson, now Lake Taneycomo, and then runs along side of it after taking a fifty-mile "short cut" over the Ozark Mountains. This was part of the Missouri Pacific Railroad between Kansas City, Missouri, and Little Rock, Arkansas. It became a part of the Union Pacific after the UP bought the MOPAC. The Missouri and Northern Arkansas Railroad now operates the line. In 1993, the Branson Scenic Railway was formed, and through a lease arrangement with the MNA, runs excursions through this historic route March through December.

Our trip

We crossed at the crosswalk and went inside the station to pick up our tickets for the trip. Elizabeth then bought a T-shirt for me (she had bought one for herself during our last visit in 2014), a Christmas Ornament and a magnet. Later we walked across the street to see an old friend from the past.

Branson Scenic Railroad F9PH 98 built by Electro-Motive Division in 1951, ex. Maryland Area Rail Commmuter, exx. MARC 7183, exxx. Baltimore and Ohio 4566, nee B&O 369. This engine is out of service at this point.

St. Louis-San Francisco caboose 1156 built by the railroad in 1951, originally numbered 156. We walked back across the street to wait to board and agreed that it was the most chacotic boarding process we had encountered due to a couple of large groups. We boarded the "Silver Eagle" taking the last two seats in the car.

Our tickets for the trip.

My beautiful wife Elizabeth as the train left the station. Today we would be going north and we were both on new mileage. This route was very forested and there was little opportunity for views of the train.

Royal Oak Charcoal plant in West Plains, Missouri, one of the few remaining buildings in the Gretna area.

Bull Creek.

Peaks along the way. We passed through the 2,000 foot Tharp's Grade tunnel, through which we kissed and continued north, 19.6 miles total, then stopped and reversed back to Branson.

Missouri Pacific caboose 13502 built by International Car in 1971.

To clear the switch, we had to cross Lake Taneycomo to access the station. Elizabeth and I walked forward to the third car where we stayed until we stopped. Unloading took some time and Elizabeth returned to the car while I photographed our consist.

Branson Scenic Railroad Lounge Observation "Westport" 251 built by Budd in 1939 for Atlantic Coast Line and used on their Champion trains.

Branson Scenic Railroad dome-lounge 9540 "Silver Island" built by Budd in 1947, originally Chicago, Burlington and Quincy and used on Twin Cities Zephyr. As I walked back across the street toward the car, the gates went down and I had an empty coal train to photograph.

Union Pacific 8191 West with Union Pacific DPU 2715 came through Branson.

Branson Scenic Railroad 48-seat dining car 8503 "Silver Chef", nee Chicago, Burlington and Quincy 201, built by Budd in 1955. This car ran on the Denver Zephyr.

Branson Scenic Railroad dome-observation 9320 "Silver Terrace" built by Budd and was originally Chicago, Burlington and Quincy 365. It ran on the Kansas City Zephyr.

Branson Scenic Railroad dining car 8521 "Silver Belle", nee Southern Railway 3306, built by Budd in 1949. It ran on the Crescent, Southern's flagship passenger train between Washington and New Orleans and was also used on the Royal Palm, Southerner and Tennessean services. It was acquired by Amtrak in 1979 when the railroad turned over its Southern Crescent to Amtrak and numbered 8880. It was rebuilt to head end power and numbered 8521 in 1984 then in 2012, it received a major overhaul and was retired in 2015.

Branson Scenic Railroad buffet-lounge 3118 "Silver Lake", nee Pennsylvania Railroad parlor car "Casimir Pulaski", built by Budd in 1951 then converted to a buffet lounge by Amtrak.

Branson Scenic Railroad dome-lounge-coach "Silver Garden", nee Chicago, Burlington and Quincy 320, built by Budd in 1952. Used on the Kansas City Zephyr.

Branson Scenic Railroad 60 seat coach "Silver Eagle", nee Texas and Pacific 461, built by Budd in 1949.

Branson Scenic Railroad power car built by Budd.

Branson Scenic Railroad GP30M 99, nee Chesapeake and Ohio 4625, built by Electro-Motive Division in 1962 and rebuilt in 1982.

The train set in Branson.

Branson Scenic Railroad 60 seat coach "Silver Echo", nee Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac 856, built by Budd in 1947. From here we drove to Springdale and stopped at the depot to see a friend.

The wonderful Sarah Jennings who sold us Christmas ornaments, two magnets and a pin.

Arkansas & Missouri Springdale station. When the St. Louis San Francisco Railway came to Springdale in 1881, the town began to shift its center from the town square which was located in the block where Shiloh Museum is now located. Businesses began to develop along the railroad. While the area timber business was a major beneficiary and contributor, to the railroads, in Springdale, the fruit industry took great advantage and was soon shipping hundreds of car loads of apples, strawberries, peaches, tomatoes and later grapes and poultry. In 1912, a train loaded with orphan children from the New York area came to Springdale and the children were located in area homes.In the 1940's trains passing through Springdale included six passenger trains and 20 to 25 freight trains with as many as 350 freight cars. Today a few freight trains travel through and a tour train run by the Arkansas-Missouri Railroad operates between Springdale and Van Buren.

Arkansas & Missouri caboose 150 is originally Reserve Mining 15 then went to St. Louis Car Company, then Rail Cruise America and finally Arkansas and Missouri.

Arkansas & Missouri coach 104 "Biloxi Blues", built by Pullman in 1914 as Delwaware, Lackwanna and Western 596.

Arkansas & Missouri open air car. We went to the Holiday Inn and checked in and after putting our luggage in our room, we went back downstairs to sign in. After that, I worked on the Branson Scenic story while Elizabeth checked her e-mail before we went to dinner with Doug and Ellen Scott at the MarketPlace Grill where I had a Prime Rib sandwich and Elizabeth enjoyed turkey kabob and a strawberry shortcake dessert. I returned to the room and finished the story and Elizabeth returned soon after.