Almost every little kid grows up saying they want to be a train engineer. At least, I know I did, and so does my little boy. He was actually a train engineer for Halloween last year, or what he would call a “choo choo man” with his own Dollywood Express stuffed train.
For Tim, Dollywood’s Train Shop Lead and an engineer, he actually did grow up to be a train engineer. After spending some time with Tim, I was able to learn all about a day in the life of a train engineer at Dollywood—and let me tell you, I’m jealous!
The train crew consists of seven full-time and three part-time employees. Of the total crew, only six of them are train engineers—meaning they are the only ones who can drive the train. The train shop team and train crew work two different shifts throughout the week: either in the shop or on the train.
The train shop crew arrives at 7 a.m., and each day starts with inspections and duties to get the train prepped and ready to make multiple trips with guests around the park.
Visual inspections of the track, engine and cars are done first thing each morning. The train shop team checks the entire track to make sure the tracks are clear, and they inspect all aspects of the train engine. This team changes the coal fire to begin heating the water to create steam pressure that makes the train move.
When I met with Tim, inspections and changing the fire were completed, so the crew was oiling the bearings on the wheels.
They also were filling the tender with coal that the fireman will shovel into the fire box throughout the day.
The train shop crew continues to prep the train for its daily rides until the crew on the train arrives for the day. Once on the crew on the train arrives, the train engineers on shop duty are busy for the rest of the day working on different maintenance projects. Right now, Engine 192, also known as Klondike Katie, is going through a complete overhaul.
Klondike Katie was having new front wheels installed the day I visited. Tim thought the old wheels being removed were original from 1943 when the train was first commissioned! To learn more about Dollywood’s train maintenance, check out this other Insider post.
Crew members on train duty for the day arrive depending on how late the park is open. When I visited, the crew on train duty arrived at 10 a.m. because the park was open until 8 p.m., working a 10-hour shift.
When on train duty, the train engineer’s main duty is driving the train, multiple times each day for hundreds of Dollywood’s daily guests. When I visited, the train engineer would drive the train for seven scheduled trips, the first one beginning at noon.
After each trip, the train crew will do a visual inspection of the engine. After every three or four trips, the train fireman will grease the rods and oil the bearings, in addition to maintaining the water and fire.
Dollywood Express’ train engineers also have a celebrity status among guests, so you can often find them answering questions, taking pictures and talking with guests between trips.
I felt like a kid again getting to talk to Tim and learn all about a day in the life of a Dollywood train engineer! Next time you’re at Dollywood, take a ride on the Dollywood Express through the beautiful Smoky Mountains and say hello to the train engineer after your ride. If you see Tim, tell him I sent you!