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By Jack M. Turner

The third part of our Summer 2017 travels took Christine and I southward from Lancaster County, PA to North Carolina.  On our northward journey we took Amtrak’s Auto Train from Florida to Lorton, VA then drove to Pennsylvania as noted in the previous two stories (see links below).

After stopping in Winchester, Virginia, we picked up the Skyline Drive at Front Royal and drove its length along mountain peaks through Shenandoah National Park.  The south end of the park is located between Charlottesville and Staunton, VA, both stops for Amtrak’s Cardinal.  Continuing south, we entered the Blue Ridge Parkway which offered a scenic drive atop its namesake mountain range all the way to our overnight stopping point at the Peaks of Otter Lodge.  Run by the National Park Service vendor, this lodge is convenient since it is located along the Parkway and relaxing due to its secluded location beside a mountain-framed lake.  We spent a relaxing evening enjoying dinner in the excellent lodge dining room followed by a mile-long walk around the lake and unwinding by sitting in lakeside Adirondack chairs.  The Peaks of Otter Lodge is located equidistant from Amtrak stations in Lynchburg and Roanoke, VA and very close to Bedford which hopes to gain an Amtrak stop in the future.  In addition, Amtrak stops in Richmond, Petersburg, and Charlottesville are within a three hour drive of this placid location.


The Shenandoah Valley seen from Skyline Drive


The James River seen from a rest area on the Blue Ridge Parkway


Entrance to Peaks of Otter Lodge along the Blue Ridge Parkway


The view from our balcony at Peaks of Otter Lodge


Abbott Lake behind Peaks of Otter Lodge


Looking across Abbott Lake toward the lodge

Continuing south the Blue Ridge Parkway crosses above the Norfolk Southern tracks to be used by Amtrak beginning this fall and a short distance later passes above the former Virginian line linking eastern and western Virginia.  By noon we arrive in Mount Airy, NC, hometown of Andy Griffith and inspiration for television’s fictional Mayberry.  The handprints of Andy Griffith are all over Mount Airy as the town has a replica sheriff’s office/jail, Wally’s Service Station, Floyd’s Barber Shop, and Snappy Lunch cafe as well as the Andy Griffith Museum.


View from an overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia


The Norfolk Southern mainline seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway east of Roanoke


Rhododendron blooms all along the Parkway in late June and early July


Mabry Mill is a popular stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia

After taking a look at the barber shop and eating lunch at the cafe, we drop in at the sheriff’s office which looks strikingly like the one shown on television right down to Otis Campbell’s jail cell.  Next door we reminisce about Gomer and Goober at Wally’s Service Station before taking seats in a 1962 Ford Fairlane Mayberry police car for a tour of the community.  Our affable driver briefly turns on the siren (pronounced “sirene” per Barney Fife) and takes us to the granite rock quarry located on the town’s west side.  He advises us that this is the world’s largest granite quarry and that it was the inspiration for one episode of The Andy Griffith Show.  We learn about the history of some of the town’s oldest homes and churches then cruise the main street as our guide tells us about Andy’s adventures in visiting many of the very businesses we are passing.  He takes us past the museum and right down the street we pass the church that Andy’s family attended and the house where Andy Griffith grew up.  The half hour tour takes us back to Wally’s and we feel like we have spent an afternoon in Mayberry.


Floyd’s Barbershop is located on Main Street in Mount Airy, NC


Mayberry Sheriff’s Office and Jail


Otis Campbell’s cell at the Mayberry Jail


Andy Griffith’s childhood home


Squad cars lined up for the Squad Car Tours company

Following our tour we visit the Andy Griffith Museum which houses a nice collection of memorabilia from the Andy Griffith Show, Matlock, and many movies in which Andy appeared.  The museum is a nice tribute to a part of the 1960s that lives on and is still popular today.  In the evening we return to the area for an evening outdoor concert by a band that specializes in Carolina beach music.  The tiered park amphitheater is the perfect venue and we learn that summer weekend nights are dotted with concerts. 
Our overnight accommodations at the Mount Airy Hampton Inn have recently been renovated and we find the hotel clean, comfortable, and modern.  The hotel is conveniently located within five minutes of all of the sites we wanted to visit and had easy access to highways heading toward our next destination.


Photos of Andy at the Andy Griffith Museum


Sheriff Taylor’s shirt displayed at the museum


Barney Fife’s salt and pepper suits


Andy Griffith’s suit and memorabilia from the Matlock television series


Statue of Andy and Opie in front of the Andy Griffith Museum


Tim Clark Band performs at the amphitheater in Mount Airy


Hampton Inn in Mount Airy offered good lodging

The next few days are spent in Boone, NC, our favorite mountain retreat, where relaxation and enjoying the fresh mountain air are the perfect respite from the July heat at home.  The Independence Day weekend is celebrated in small town fashion with parades in Boone and neighboring Blowing Rock that primarily include cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks decorated with signs and bunting rather than fancy floats sponsored by big corporations.  Large crowds line the streets in both towns and a patriotic spirit abounds.  Along the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway families and groups occupy scenic overlooks and picnic grounds as they enjoy picnics and other activities.


Blowing Rock’s Independence Day parade is a popular small town event


Boone’s 4th of July parade rolls along King Street


The parade is a tradition on July 4th in Boone

After the holiday festivities end we spend the next day at Tweetsie Railroad which remains a special place to my family.  My first visit to Tweetsie was as a child in the early 1960s when my parents, my brother, and I rode the steam train during summer trips to the area.  My wife and I continued that tradition in the 1980s and during subsequent years with our son.  That’s the way it is with Tweetsie as it is a family friendly park whose appeal continues from generation to generation. 

Tweetsie’s original steam engine, 4-6-0 # 12 is operating this week and we soon learn that she is celebrating her 100th birthday this year.  Number 12 was built in 1917 by Baldwin Locomotive Works and spent her first 33 years working for the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad between Boone and Johnson City, TN.  When that railroad was destroyed by a massive flood in 1940, # 12 was sold to a Virginia tourist railroad which subsequently was a victim of hurricane related damage.  After almost being moved to California, the resilient locomotive was acquired in 1956 as centerpiece for the planned Tweetsie Railroad.  The name “Tweetsie” was inspired by the nickname of the original ET&WNC whose locomotives were said to make a “Tweet, Tweet” sound as they steamed around the mountains.


# 12 is polished between runs


Tweetsie locomotive # 12 celebrates its 100th birthday in 2017


Guests may ride the train as often as they desire during a visit to Tweetsie Railroad


The train boards passengers at Tweetsie’s western themed town

We board the first train of the day and soon are off on a 3 mile ride that takes us over a tall trestle, through wooded hillsides, and to a couple of encounters with outlaws and Indians.  The open passenger cars provide clear views of the engine on the line’s many curves and the sound of the steam engine tackling the ruling 5% grade is memorable.  Near the end of the ride we get a brief glance at Tweetsie’s other steam engine, # 190, a 2-8-2 that ran on the White Pass & Yukon during the World War II years.


Departing the station


The uphill climb from the station


The Tweetsie line winds through woods on its 3 mile route


# 12 is in charge of the train on July 5, 2017


The 100 year old locomotive puts on a good show


Charging toward another adventure


Crossing Dead Horse Trestle


The rear of Tweetsie’s train crosses the trestle

After driving a miniature car around a replica LeMans race course, taking a spin on the old fashioned carousel, and taking in the can-can show at Tweetsie Palace, we ride the train again as the script for the staged outlaw encounter changes every time the train comes upon their hideout.  One thing that doesn’t change is the pleasant experience of riding behind an authentic working steam locomotive and guests are invited to ride the train as many times as they desire.  Aside from riding the train and enjoying the other features of Tweetsie Railroad, it is interesting to watch the reactions of children visiting the park as this is like a time warp back to the 1960s with kids displaying a look of wonder as they take in the Tweetsie experience.  Worth noting for children is the annual “Day Out with Thomas” featuring trains pulled by Thomas the Tank Engine in early June.

Tweetsie Railroad is open daily during the summer and on weekends during surrounding months.  The park is closed between January and March.   The Tweetsie Railroad web site linked below lists special events, the park schedule, and other useful information.

There are many activities in the Boone and Blowing Rock area as well as seasonal sporting events at Appalachian State University.  Drives in both directions on the Blue Ridge Parkway offer outstanding views and numerous opportunities for hiking and picnicking.  A number of chain hotels are located in Boone with our favorite, the Holiday Inn Express, located on the city’s east side, Boone’s closest hotel to Tweetsie Railroad.  The hotel features clean and comfortable rooms and suites, an outdoor swimming pool, and a satisfying breakfast buffet headlined by Holiday Inn Express cinnamon rolls.


Holiday Inn Express is a leading hotel in Boone


Our studio suite at the Holiday Inn Express offered ample space


The sitting area of our Holiday Inn Express studio suite contains comfortable seating, a flat screen television, and writing desk

After a week in North Carolina, Christine and I make our way to the Atlanta suburbs to visit with our friends Bobbye and David.  The next morning we travel 10 miles to Duluth, GA to visit the Southeastern Railway Museum.  This facility, located along the Norfolk Southern mainline, is home to an impressive array of railroad equipment most of which is located in covered buildings.  Savannah & Atlanta 4-6-2 steam locomotive # 750 is the most recognizable piece of equipment in the museum, however, it is far from the only notable item.  Heavyweight Pullman cars “Superb” and “Washington Club” are excellent examples of sleeping cars from the early 20th century.  The “Superb” was built in 1911 and is the second oldest surviving steel private car.  “Washington Club” is the lone remaining Pullman car containing a sun room along with 8 sections and a small kitchen.  A number of older passenger, baggage, and mail cars from that era are also on site.


Lounge space in a heavyweight Pullman car at the Southeastern Railway Museum


Savannah & Atlanta # 750 at the Southeastern Railway Museum

Southern Railway sleeper “Tugalo River” is one of many silver-sided streamlined cars displayed by the museum.  Southern passenger coach “Charlottesville”, Northern Pacific and Amtrak slumbercoach “Loch Arkaig”, and Wabash dome observation car # 1601 are other notable streamlined cars located at the museum.  One of the museum’s buildings contains a very good display of railroad employee uniforms, dining car china, and other items of interest.  A train ride around the museum rail yard is available and a miniature train ride is perfect for children.  Many of these cars including the heavyweight Pullman cars are open for inspection.


Dining car china from the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad


A name plate from the door of Southern Railway sleeper “St. Johns River”


Former Amtrak slumbercoach “Loch Arkaig”


Wabash dome observation car # 1601


Southern Railway coach “Charlottesville”


Norfolk Southern sleeping car “Tugalo River”

While we stopped off in Boone and Atlanta on the way home from our Auto Train trip to Virginia, it is easy to reach these locations in combination with an Amtrak trip by renting a car and making a short drive.  Peaks of Otter is less than an hour from Roanoke and Lynchburg on Amtrak’s route from New York and Washington.  Mount Airy is within a two hour drive of Amtrak stations in Greensboro and Charlotte, NC, both served by the Crescent, Carolinian, and Piedmont trains.  Boone and Tweetsie Railroad are approximately two hours from Charlotte while the Southeastern Railway Museum is within an hour of Amtrak’s Atlana station on the Crescent route. 


Peaks of Otter Lodge             

Mount Airy, NC Visitors Center

Squad Car Tours                   

Andy Griffith Museum         

Hampton Inn Mount Airy     

Tweetsie Railroad                 

Holiday Inn Express Boone 

Southeastern Railway Museum



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