Earlier this week my sister and I took a drive to Branson to ride the Branson Scenic Train called "Ozark Zephyr". It was a lovely Autumn day with lots of sunshine and pleasant temperatures. The leaves on the trees are just now starting to change, and the air was nice and crisp. We had a wonderful drive to Branson and after going around the block a few times we located the Train Station. It is located in the historic area of downtown Branson adjacent to the sparkling new Branson Landing complex.
The Train Station is a is an authentic 1905 railroad station with the loading platform at the front. Inside the building is where you buy your tickets and they have numerous train souvenirs to buy. I was disappointed with the merchandise offered though because it seemed most was mass produced and possibly from China. Because of that, I got to save my money.
After purchasing a ticket we waited outside on benches for the train to arrive and be prepared for loading. Our ticket was stamped with a boarding number, mine was 131. Since we were taking the second tour of the day I imagine the first tour wasn't too busy. However as we waited the platform filled with people, mostly older tourists but also some families. Finally the "Ozark Zephyr" arrived and after the first tour had off loaded we were allowed to board.
We were instructed to proceed through the first car which was set up with concessions and then were told to decide where we wanted to sit. The aisles were very narrow, some of the cars had rooms that appeared to be private quarters, all marked off limits. There were three 1948 Budd-built stainless steel Vistadome cars that had two levels, the upper level had a very narrow and steep steps which brought you up to a glass domed seating for panoramic views. However the seating in the upper level was limited and unless you were first to board they were occupied.
The seats were varied, some cars had tables with chairs, these are set up for dinner if you are taking a later tour. The other cars all had a 4 seat layout, a pair of seats facing another two seats. This layout was particularly nice since the train didn't fill up we had the opportunity to change seats on the return trip and as a result, were always facing forward.
During the nearly 2 hour ride a lively narration points out the landmarks such as Crest Tunnel, Cricket Tunnel, Walnut Creek Trestle, Barren Fork Trestle, and Tharp's Grade; and the extinct communities of Gretna, Melva, and Ruth are described as they were in the early 20th century. We traveled south into Arkansas and had a chance to see wonderful scenic vistas, we passed over trestles and through two tunnels and got to see territory largely inaccessible by car. The routes take passengers about 20 miles from Branson before reversing direction and returning on the same tracks. The railroad on which the train travels is a functioning line that was constructed between 1902 and 1905 at a cost of more than $12 million a phenomenally high price at the time for 239 miles of track. The line is still in use for commercial traffic today. The Branson Scenic Railway has been operating since 1993. Each year, nearly 90,000 visitors take a ride on the vintage passenger train.
This was a most enjoyable trip and I would recommend anyone visiting the Branson area to do it. I have posted some pictures here and also have a Flickr page with more pictures.
The facts for this article were collected from the following articles: