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There is something whimsical and magical about taking a train ride, traveling the way people did in times past. Passenger railroads are woven tightly into the fabric of our history. My family has wanted to take a long-distance train trip for some time; traveling across the country via train is on our family’s bucket list. Since that is still some time away, we have been researching shorter train trips we could enjoy as a family here in Arkansas. While traveling recently, we came across the Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway.
While visiting the picturesque town of Eureka Springs, you can take a short excursion ride or enjoy a lunch or dinner meal on a dining car. As you enter the depot originally built in 1913, you are quickly transported back to a time when travelers purchased tickets, sat on wooden benches awaiting the train and chatted to the passengers next to them. The depot is filled with train memorabilia, signs and lights from actual stations, miniature train models and so many other bits and pieces of interesting information.
As the time neared for us to board, you heard the train whistle and the children’s heads looked up quickly. They were so excited for the ride. As the locomotive pulled in, the conductor was all smiles, tilting his head slightly and waving to the children. I can only imagine the thrill it would have been to see the conductor years ago and know that they were taking you on adventures. The current locomotive is a 1940-era diesel locomotive, which pulls both the dining and excursion cars. They were built by Standard Steel Car Company of Chicago for the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific in 1927.
Then we heard the famous, “All Aboard” call!
When we climbed aboard the train, the conductor greeted each of us. He was kind enough to pose for a picture with my excited children. Each of the cars is about 100 years old and their age shows. But the age adds great character. In the excursion car sits a period wood-burning stove that would have been used to provide heat to the passengers. There was no air conditioning at the time, so instead passengers enjoyed fresh air from the open windows.
The day we traveled was a beautiful, warm day. The breeze coming in the windows was lovely as the conductor visited with the passengers and shared the history of the railway. We learned the steam locomotive in the yard was built in 1906 by the American Locomotive Company. It was saved from being deposited into the ocean and is one of three known surviving locomotives that worked on the Panama Canal.
Along the way we stopped, allowing the children to get out and lay coins on the track. The train then rolled over and flattened them. We collect pressed pennies and this is one they will never forget making.
In the dining car, passengers are pampered a bit more and enjoy an air-conditioned ride. I suggest making reservations and choosing your meal selections. The lunch menu includes chicken salad with fresh fruit, beef stroganoff, a ham and turkey croissant and more. They serve fresh, hot rolls and drinks of your choice. The lunch train is more casual but still very exciting.
The dinner menu includes Chicken Eurekan, the Conductor’s Prime Rib, the City of New Orleans Trout Almondine and other options. Entreés are accompanied by the chef’s special soup & salad, freshly baked rolls, rice pilaf, mixed vegetables with hollandaise and flaming baked Alaska. Children must be over the age of five to join the dinner train.
The chef prepares the meals before loading the train, so I suggest making reservations. The excursion car and dining car board from the same platform but on opposite ends. So be sure to check that you are waiting in the correct spot. Once on board, the conductor will travel through the train to collect and punch your tickets. Both of my children loved the interaction with the conductor.
The ride was about an hour and a half long. We enjoyed passing by a small stream, thick Arkansas foliage and the historic train pieces placed in the yard behind the track. Young and old alike enjoyed our time aboard the train. The children loved the mobility they had and my husband and I enjoyed being able to relax, look out the window and watch the outdoors.
I can see why many refer to train travel as romantic. Taking a step back to a time when a slower pace meant time to enjoy the moments and watch the scenery pass. Enjoying each other’s company is a perfect way to spend an afternoon in Arkansas. All Aboard!
While you are in Eureka Springs, we recommend visiting some of the other unique destinations the location has to offer.
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