At Dollywood, wintertime is prep time. And there’s a lot of prep going on in the train shop. No, that’s not a place where you can buy trains, but the place where the Dollywood Express is maintained and repaired.
I had the chance to get a special behind-the-scenes tour of the train shop to see how Dollywood takes care of their long-time star attraction! Tim Smith, the Train Shop Lead, showed me around and talked about how they keep the trains running like new and in great shape.
Every year, the passenger cars are sanded and repainted. It takes about seven weeks to make the cars look spectacular for the new season. Seats are repaired, running boards replaced, and the brakes are overhauled. They will even contour the wheels if needed. (I found out that contouring the wheels means they put them on a metal lathe and remove a little bit of the metal to make it ride smooth again.)
I watched the maintenance crew install the jacks and roll the wheels out into the yard to be cleaned. Good thing they roll because that’s hundreds of pounds to move. Talk about a workout!
The engines are winterized and readied for any maintenance and overhaul. They get a major overhaul about every ten years. This is an overhaul year.
During my visit, Cinderella was outside the shop and had just been pressure washed, which is always one of the first steps. The engines have to be cleaned and de-greased before they’re worked on, because they get even greasier during the overhauls. Cinderella had her front smoke box door removed for maintenance work; call me a train nerd, but she still looked beautiful sitting on the siding.
Klondike Kate was warm in the shed and was in the middle of having her wheels and bushings redone. Tim explained a lot of technical terms—my head is still spinning from all of the work that they do. They had the right side rods/coupling rods removed. The rod is about 800 pounds and was longer than me (I’m six feet tall)!
The maintenance crew works diligently all year-round to keep the gorgeous trains of Dollywood looking and running their best.
The Dollywood Express is a signature attraction. It’s also the original 1961 attraction, when the park was called Rebel Railroad and is the sister train to Tweetsie Railroad in Boone, North Carolina.
Every time I visit Dollywood, I make a loop on either Cinderella or Klondike Katie—whichever engine is running. It’s a must-do for me, and I always recommend the train to first-time visitors. The 2.5 mile loop of the Dollywood Express takes you from The Village (near the carousel), through the borders of Craftsman’s Valley, Rivertown Junction, and Timber Canyon before heading north into the wilderness surrounding Dollywood. The return trip takes you by Country Fair and the Dollywood train shop.