Jefferson Railway recreates the Golden Era of Steam Railroading
With steam hissing, whistle blowing and pistons chugging, the Historic Jefferson Railway recreates the Golden Era of Steam Railroading. The Robert E. Lee is a live steam, narrow gauge railway that takes you on a scenic 5-mile ride along the Big Cypress Bayou. The narrated tour is about 40 minutes long and runs on private property.
The train was built in 1964 for Six Guns Territory in Florida and moved to Jefferson in 1986. It is a Crown Metals reproduction of the 1870’s American class 4-4-0 steam locomotive christened the Robert E. Lee and known as Engine #7. The open car coach seats still carry the custom medallions cast into them designed especially for the Six Guns amusement park. It is one of few running steam trains in the U.S.
Crown Metal Products Company built this train and was one of the largest producers of park trains. Crown entered the park train industry when Ken Williams, owner, bought a small park engine. Before long, he had built his first steam engine and ultimately began producing live steam park engines. He built about 18 engines like Jefferson’s steam train.
The train can carry over 150 passengers and is a favorite of rail fans because of its authentic 1800’s look and operation.
Jefferson Railway Restores a Piece of History
Francene and Don Rainey purchased the property in April 2002 and opened for business on Labor Day 2002 after completely restoring the steam train, rolling stock and replacing about 1000 railroad ties. The rolling stock consists of the steam train, tender, enclosed coach and three open-canopied observation cars. An antique gas-powered locomotive was also purchased several years ago.
When they bought the train, the enclosed car had been totally vandalized and exposed to the elements for several years. Rainey completely restored the enclosed coach. He was lucky to find an original set of seats and curtains in the attic of the River City Mercantile. They had been there since 1986! David Sinclair and Bob Haynes graciously donated the seats and curtains to the train.
Jefferson Railway Brings History to Life
In 2017, a newly built flatbed railcar was pushed by the Jefferson Railway Steam Train during the Great Locomotive Chase to add authenticity to the skirmishes along the track, during Jefferson’s Civil War Days. Confederates and their cannons occupied the flatcar and battled the Federals along the Big Cypress Bayou to protect the City of Jefferson from Federal invasion.
Riders can see one of the few remaining Confederate Powder Magazines along the tour as well as the 1800’s historical ruins of the Clark and Boice Sawmill and the first iron foundry in East Texas. A narrator talks about the history of Jefferson and the ecology of the area. The excursion is a relaxing ride through the wetlands along the Big Cypress Bayou with views of the natural terrain and wildlife.
The Saturday day trains include a stop at the Diamond Don Gator Pit that is home to seven alligators. Alligators have been around for millions of years and can weigh more than 1,000 pounds and grow as long as 14 feet. The alligators on this tour range from 4 to 9 feet. The Gator Pit is an educational display permitted by Texas Parks and Wildlife. The gators are in their natural habitat in a 30,000 sq ft enclosure.
The Historic Jefferson Railway keeps Jefferson a Train Town
Jefferson is known as a train town. Union Pacific recognizes Jefferson in their “Train Town USA” registry, so you can make it a full train weekend in Jefferson by including a visit to the R.D. Moses T & P Model Railroad Museum, a beautiful replication of the Texas and Pacific train; and touring Jay Gould’s “Atalanta” private railroad car. The famous railroad tycoon’s private parlor car is on display on Austin Street.
Amusement park trains have had a long and varied history. Many of the earliest park trains were custom built. Until the 1930’s and even into the amusement park renaissance of the 1970’s and 1980’s, they were usually powered by live steam. Often, the park engine was a scale model of a famous locomotive. People like the look of the steam locomotive. This fact enabled Crown Metal Products and a few other companies to continue to produce live steam locomotives into the early 1980’s.
Steam locomotives were first developed in Great Britain during the early 19th century and used for railway transport until the middle of the 20th century. The first steam locomotive, made by Richard Trevithick, first operated on 21 February 1804.
From the early 1900s, steam locomotives were gradually superseded by electric and diesel locomotives, with railways fully converting to electric and diesel power beginning in the late 1930s. The majority of steam locomotives were retired from regular service by the 1980s, though several continue to run on tourist and heritage lines, like the Jefferson Railway’s steam train.
Whether you enjoy shopping, outdoor adventures, a romantic stay in a B&B or learning more about the history of the area, a visit to Jefferson is perfect for you and the family. Enjoy a day trip or a weekend in romantic, historic Jefferson.
Jefferson is nestled deep in the Piney Woods of East Texas and seems frozen in time. It is a charming town and an elegant reminder of a bygone era. There are over a hundred buildings in the city with historical markers. Many historic homes offer bed and breakfast accommodations. Dozens of other historic buildings house museums, craft and antique shops and restaurants. Two historic hotels grace Austin Street, where you drive on the brick pavers laid in the late 1800’s.
With so much to see and do, a visit to Jefferson should be included in your travel plans. You may never want to leave.