Meet the Texas Doctor Also Skilled in Chocolate Making

By Tom Adkinson

GRAPEVINE, Texas – Sue Williams wanted to be a county agricultural agent, but she became a medical doctor and a chocolate maker instead – and the world is a better place for that.

Just ask anyone who visits Dr. Sue’s Chocolates, one of dozens of independent shop on the main street of Grapevine, a vibrant little city with a distinct identity in the urban region that is the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.

A box from Dr. Sue’s Chocolates is guaranteed to contain tasty treasures. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

When Dr. Sue (that’s what everyone calls her) finished undergraduate school, her dream of being an ag agent died because the times dictated that was not a job a woman should have. Instead, she went to medical school, honed the candy making skills she learned from her mother and gradually developed a local reputation for chocolates as well as for healing sick patients.

Sue Williams — medical doctor and chocolatier. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

“I always liked to cook and entertain. My mother was a great cook, as so many Southern women are, and I learned from her,” Dr. Sue said as she showed visitors around her cozy shop.

She loves medicine – and continues to practice – but dark chocolate became a passion. She even attended the Chocolate Academy in Chicago for specialized training.

What fills the walls and display cases inside Dr. Sue’s Chocolates is true artisan chocolate. All ingredients are natural and non-GMO, and color in any of the specialty creations comes from an organic vegetable powder, not dye.

The most popular item in the shop is cherry pecan bark. It features toasted Texas pecans, tart Michigan cherries, organic brown sugar, organic butter, ancho chili  powder, natural vanilla, sea salt and Texas port wine. The wine comes from a neighbor just down Main Street, the Messina Hof Winery.

Samples aplenty at Dr. Sue’s Chocolates inspire more purchases. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Another in-demand item combines dark chocolate, blueberries and ancho chili powder. The blueberries offer fruity sweetness, and the chili powder provides a slightly delayed kick. An unusual item to many people is ginger fig chocolate that is made with Turkish figs, organic crystalized ginger and sea salt.

“I promote the consumption of good things, the use of good ingredients and the reading of food labels,” Dr. Sue said, showing she really can combine being a doctor with being a chocolatier.

Chocolate maker Aaron Drew shows off chocolate Texas souvenir. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

There’s a feel-good aura inside Dr. Sue’s Chocolates, and that comes not just from the feel-good sensation of eating decadent chocolates. It also comes from knowing that the shop is plugged into the local charity scene by supporting approximately 50 charities a year.

“Grapevine is a community of artisans. We are woodworkers, bakers, vintners, glassblowers and more,” Dr. Sue said. And every artisan in town would add chocolatier to that list, too.

(Grapevine, named for wild mustang grapes that were abundant in the early 1800s, is between Dallas and Fort Worth. In fact, part of the sprawling DFW Airport is in Grapevine. It is the location of GrapeFest, the largest wine festival in the Southwest. Travel information is available from the Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau.)

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Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, “100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die” is available at CornersOfTheCountry.com.

Times Square, 1 Hour, 10 Photos – Now GO!

By Tom Adkinson

NEW YORK – You’re in Midtown with an hour to spare before your next appointment. What do you do with that small amount of time, just 60 minutes?

My decision was a personal challenge – get 10 photos in Times Square that capture the essence of “the crossroads of the world.” I ended up with a dozen because two of the images begged to be paired with related images (a human Statue of Liberty and strangers taking photos of each other).

Practically everyone knows Times Square, if only from movies, television shows and New Year’s Eve. You can find various definitions of what exactly Times Square encompasses, but go with the most basic. It’s Broadway at 7th Avenue and between West 42nd and West 47th Streets.

Stated simply, it’s a circus people and neon, towering buildings and human connections that usually are fleeting, but still quite real. It’s big and brash, flashy and fun. It’s discounted Broadway show tickets at TKTS, it’s acrobatic buskers who risk life and limb for tips, it’s selfie heaven.

Take the Times Square Photo Challenge yourself someday, and compare your photos to this selection.

The vehicular traffic never stops flowing around Times Square . . . (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

. . . and neither does the pedestrian traffic in “the crossroads of the world.” (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

The model-pretty couple asked a stranger to take their photo . . . (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

. . . and the stranger turned the tables on the couple. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

A buff busker thanks a passerby for being part of his act. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

 

What’s Times Square without a dancer promoting a show? (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Just another typical tourist blending in nicely in a sea of other tourists. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Sometimes Lady Liberty is an unmoving object. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Sometimes Lady Liberty just has to make a call. {Photo by Tom Adkinson)

“Gee, Officer Krumke.” (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

George M. Cohan’s spirit fills Times Square. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

The sensory assault of Times Square almost always has a commercial message. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, “100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, 2nd edition” is available at CornersOfTheCountry.com)

Barbados, Bajan, Beautiful

By Tom Adkinson

Junior outside of his restaurant in Speightstown. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

About 270,000 people call Barbados home, and the face of every one of them almost cries out to be photographed.

From the Friday fish fry at Oistins toward the south end of the island, to the markets and docks of Bridgetown, to rum shops and restaurants at Speightstown on the Caribbean Sea, to the north end in St. Lucy Parish and around to the East Point Lighthouse on the Atlantic Ocean, smiling faces and intriguing countenances constantly greet you.

Strike up a conversation. Drink a beer or a rum with your new Bajan acquaintance. Ask for a photo for a remembrance.

Professional baker Ralph Skeete, 81. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Bartender at the John Moore Bar. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pineapple carver at a Bridgetown market. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Cricket coach Vas Drakes at Kensington Oval. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Photographer Glyne Strickland. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weary waitress in Oistins. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

A serious tomato inspector in Bridgetown. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Red snapper for her. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One cool dude with two hats. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Papayas, carrots, broccoli and more. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Admiring the Neon Rainbows of Las Vegas

Photo by Tom Adkinson

By Tom Adkinson

LAS VEGAS – Neon lights are to Las Vegas what the Golden Gate Bridge is to San Francisco or the Statue of Liberty is to New York.

The colorful use of an inert gas inside glass tubes is so important to this entertainment mecca that neon signs even have their own museum – the Neon Museum, which opened in 1996.

Photo by Tom Adkinson

The museum is a major attraction, although undoubtedly ranking lower on the Las Vegas popularity list than slot machines, stage shows, conversations with bartenders and certain behaviors you don’t care to talk about back home.

Whether or not you visit the Neon Museum, you can see several of its sign restoration projects on public streets, and you certainly can bask in the glow of a multitude of neon signs advertising businesses of all types.

Photo by Tom Adkinson

Photo by Tom Adkinson

Freemont Street, the first paved street in Las Vegas, certainly has its share – both under the canopy of a pedestrian mall called the Freemont Street Experience and out under the stars, where you do have to be mindful of traffic when you try to line up a particularly good angle on a photo of a towering martini glass or a gigantic can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

Consider these sites during your trip planning: Las Vegas CVA and Travel Nevada.

Photo by Tom Adkinson

Photo by Tom Adkinson

Dogsledding Where the Dogs Speak French

All these powerful dogs want to do is run and run and then run some more. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson.

“Unless you’re the lead dog, the scenery never changes.”

OUTSIDE QUEBEC CITY – That axiom from the world of dogsledding doesn’t apply if you’re the musher. Standing on the runners of a sled with six or seven powerful, yelping dogs in front of you offers a commanding and ever-changing view. For any novice who is  “behind the wheel” so to speak, it’s a daunting view, too.

An outfit called Aventure Inukshuk introduces total newcomers to dogsledding at Station Touristique Duchesnay, a Quebec provincial park about 30 minutes from the historic center of Quebec City. It’s an encounter with nature not far from the frenetic urban frivolity of Quebec City’s annual winter carnival (Jan. 26-Feb. 11, 2018).

Open fields and quiet forests of maple, cherry and birch trees are the setting for the park’s trail system, where you can try this exhilarating sport. The quiet, of course, is shattered by the near-constant baying of the harnessed dogs when you are on the trail.

A dog team has no problem pulling a pair of excited humans. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson.

When you step out of your vehicle at Aventure Inukshuk, you are a few hundred yards from a compound where more than a hundred baying, howling, yelping canine athletes await you.

“All they want to do is run,” said owner Carol Lepine, a big man who seems far less bothered by the cold than his guests do.

Lepine is proud that he runs only small trips – a maximum of three sleds, with the lead sled guided by a highly trained dog handler.

Recreational dogsledders bundle up for an exciting, but cold, ride. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson.

The guide on my trip was Joe, and I stood on the right sled runner while he stood on the left. No one was in the sled’s basket, and it was clear that he wouldn’t have been happy if I had wanted to ride instead of stand with him. A good sense of balance came in handy.

Even though I was traveling with a professional, I still felt like a 16-year-old who had been given the keys to a Ferrari. I could only imagine what the solo drivers in the two sleds behind me felt like. Later, one of them told me he felt as if he was stomping on the brakes of a runaway train.

I’m not a dog person – having a German shepherd bite you in the back at age 8 will do that to you – but I loved Lepine’s dogs. Mixtures of husky, malamute and other breeds, they are powerful, beautiful and smart.

An experienced leader offers instruction to some first-time dogsledders. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson.

In the winter, they run and run and run some more. After the snow melts, they’re on vacation. A good sled dog can have a 10-year career, Lepine said.

Beyond dogsledding, there are numerous, quieter winter diversions at Station Touristique Duchesnay. Among them: cross-country skiing on 47.5 kilometers of trails, snowshoeing, ice fishing, skating and spa treatments.

There is lodging, too, if you want to add some Mother Nature time to an urban visit to Quebec City.

(Quebec City visitor information is right here.)

Scores of canine athletes are kenneled in anticipation of runs through the forest. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson

 

Celebrating on the Watauga River

The sun-dappled Watauga River supports trophy trout after decades of industrial pollution and attracts international fishermen to Tennessee. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson

By Tom Adkinson

The Watauga River rises on Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina and gets interrupted by two Tennessee Valley Authority Dams in Tennessee. About 78 miles from its headwaters, it flows into the Boone Lake impoundment of the South Holston River, and a stretch
of water below the second TVA dam at Elizabethton, Tennessee, attracts fishermen from around the world.

My Watauga introduction was one of celebration – the combination of a friend’s birthday and retirement and my own retirement. We had joked about “fishing on Wednesday if we wanted,” and now we could.

TVA controls the flow and is conscious of river levels, both for fishermen and rafters. The Watauga is ideal for driftboats, and there are some stretches where wading is practical.

The Watauga, whose flow is controlled by a TVA dam, is ideal for driftboat fishing.          Photo (c) Tom Adkinson

Our trip was a driftboat day with Jason Reep of East Tennessee Fly Fishing. He’s easy to spot on the river. His Stealthcraft driftboat, which he calls the Cadillac of driftboats, has a brown trout paint job. Reep said he was one of the first three or four guides on the Watauga back in the early 1990s.

“There are close to 15 full-timers now, and about a thousand on weekends,” he said with a wink. They all work the Watauga and the South Holston, which is only about 45 minutes away. Reep also offers wading trips on smaller streams in Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.

Our float with Reep was an easy trip of about five miles, starting at Hunter Bridge in Elizabethton
and ending at Lovers Lane. Along the way, the
Doe River flows into the Watauga, but it doesn’t appreciably change the stream’s size. Below our takeout is a 2.6-mile “Quality Trout Zone,” where the TWRA enforces a possession limit of two fish 14 inches or longer caught on artificial lures.

Guide Jason Reep, whose driftboat sports a brown trout paint job, watches a client to fish a pretty run. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson

Because the Watauga is a tailwaters river, it’s fishable all year, although Reep says volume drops after Thanksgiving, only to revive as warm spring days come along.

Reep enjoys the river’s beauty and recalls one client from England, who was overwhelmed.

“He couldn’t believe that just anybody could buy a license and go fish on a river,” Reep said.

Scuds and midges predominate in the stretch between Wilbur Dam and the Doe River confluence, and the insect variety increases below the confluence, with more caddis, mayflies and even a few stoneflies, according to Reep.

“Blue wing olives are around from spring almost through Thanksgiving, and there’s usually a big caddis hatch around Mother’s Day. You can barely open your mouth without eating a caddis fly then,” he said.

A small brown trout pulled from the Watauga is about to return to grow bigger and excite future fishermen. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson

Reep had rigged 10-foot, 3-weight Syndicate rods with #18 and #20 scuds for us. My norm is a showy #12 dry fly as an indicator and a #10 or #12 beadhead nymph for small streams in the Great Smoky Mountains, so Reep’s flies looked too tiny to be logical.

They didn’t look that way to the numerous brown and rainbow trout we caught fairly consistently. We certainly would have caught even more had we been as attuned to strikes as Reep was. He patiently told us to react more quickly.

“A two-inch fingerling or a 20-inch trophy can present the same strike,” he observed.

As pretty and as healthy as the Watauga is now, it has a dark history. For decades, much of the Watauga was dead – really dead – because of industrial pollution, primarily from a rayon plant and a nylon plant in Elizabethton.

David McKinney, now TWRA’s chief of environmental services, was with the Tennessee Department of Health and Environment’s Division of Water Pollution Control in the 1980s. He paints a grim picture of the Watauga below those two plants that dated to the 1920s and 1930s and were significant to the war effort of the 1940s, but were gross polluters.

“Long before (serious) pollution controls, the river was devoid of all life,” McKinney said.

The cleanup effort proved to be a watershed moment (pun intended). Instead of the prevailing theory of simply reducing the volume of pollutants in a river, the idea of neutralizing the pollutants’ toxicity was suggested.

A cardinal flower proves that trout are not the only source of color along the Watauga River.           Photo (c) Tom Adkinson

“When the toxicity was removed, the river immediately began to recover. The benthic community took off. Once there were insects, the trout thrive,” he said.

“I remember when the first fish were put out. A year later, we electroshocked with no expectation of success. Not only had the trout survived, they had thrived,” McKinney said, calling the effort one of Tennessee’s greatest environmental success stories.

TWRA stocks about 40,000 rainbows a year from March through September. There are good numbers of holdovers among the rainbows, and the holdovers begin to take on characteristics of wild trout. Browns naturally reproduce in the Watauga.

Reep, whose wife had shuttled his vehicle to the takeout point while we were enjoying the river and who does the same for other fishermen, said he was disappointed we didn’t catch a true bragging-size fish.

We weren’t. We were too busy celebrating the fact we were fishing on a Wednesday.

The Watauga River Lodge outside of Elizabethton is on the river’s trophy section.                                Photo (c) Tom Adkinson

Agritourism — It’s a Real Thing

Orchards such as this one in Adams, Tenn., are growing visitors as well as fruit. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson

ADAMS, Tenn. – Simply taking a city kid to a farm isn’t likely to inspire him or her to choose agriculture for a livelihood, but it certainly can provide some entertainment and show that food originates somewhere other than the grocery store.

Apples go up a conveyor before dropping into a press. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson

Farmers across America have found new revenue streams by welcoming visitors, and in the process, they inspired a new word – agritourism.

Agritourism runs the gamut. It can be everything from offering a few acres of strawberry fields for a you-pick-‘em opportunity to operating a bed-and-breakfast, perhaps with a chance to do some real farm work, too.

Other agritourism activities include wandering in cornfield and hayfield mazes (just be sure to go home with all the kids you bring, unlike a certain family in Utah), picking a future jack-o-lantern at a pumpkin patch, enjoying a hayride, fishing in a farm pond or learning how cheese or apple cider are made.

Finding an agritourism activity isn’t difficult. States such as mine, Tennessee, have vibrant promotional campaigns. Tennessee’s online presence is PickTNproducts.org, which goes beyond

Color, motion — and tractors in the fields — entertain youngsters. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson

argitourism information to include recipes, lists of Tennessee-grown items and even county-by-county databases of farmers markets and where to buy compost for home gardens.

Tom and Sarah Head, whose Shade Tree Farm and Orchard is northwest of Nashville at Adams, offers blackberries and blueberries for early-summer visitors and apples from part of their apple orchard for autumn visitors. In autumn, you get the bonus of watching the multi-step process of producing apple cider. It’s fun to buy a gallon to take home, but it’s more fun to enjoy an apple cider slushee before you head back to the city.

The Heads also have a small farm store with a variety of goods, country lunches on some weekends, wagon rides through the orchards and occasional special events, such as a night of scary stories just before Halloween.

Tom Head transfers another pail of fresh cider from the press. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson

Tennessee’s agritourism website has the recipe for this apple stack cake.

If you leave Shade Tree Farm and Orchard with a bag of apples to go along with your good memories, you then can revisit PickTNproducts.org to find recipes for an apple stack cake or a traditional apple pie.

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I Never Wanted To Visit the 9/11 Memorial

(Editor’s note: Today is Sept. 11, 2017. As Americans deal with the agonies of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Irma in Florida and wildfires across the West, this also is a time to remember where we were 16 years ago.)

I was in New York City last week for the first time since the terror attack of Sept. 11, 2001, and I had said aloud that I did not ever want to visit the World Trade Center site. Why  resurrect the trauma of that day, a trauma that remains close enough to the surface anyway?

Despite that declaration, I went. I had filled my spare hours on a business trip with other diversions – a Broadway comedy, a walk on the High Line, oysters at Grand Central – but I was drawn to the memorial.

Sept. 11, 2001, was a most peculiar day for me back home in Nashville. The day before had ended with my termination after 22 years of a corporate job in the hospitality and entertainment industry. I had volunteered to clear up unfinished projects over the next couple of weeks, and my employer agreed. As I left, I said not to expect me early the next morning.

I awoke to the first news reports, knowing that my oldest child lived in New York and was to fly to St. Louis that day. I didn’t know his schedule or airport.

As the horror unfolded, I headed to the office for what I knew would be a challenging day. My job was media relations, and I worked for one of the city’s biggest employers and one of the nation’s biggest hotels. What was happening in New York would affect us quickly.

At work, everyone’s shock grew as America’s air transportation system shut down and the scale of what we learned was an attack became clear. We had thousands of guests. More were expected.

I technically wasn’t on the payroll, but two decades of experience jumped into high gear. We worked with the existing and incoming meeting groups. We communicated with our employees. We began to get questions from the media.

“What will this mean to future business?” was the basic inquiry.

My hotel general manager recoiled at the question, and I admired his devotion to the core tenet of his profession – the wellbeing of guests.

“Our concern right now is caring for the people under our roof. They are confused and hurting. We’ll worry about the future later,” he said.

The day proved to be a paradox. It simultaneously was the best professional day of my life amid one of our nation’s most tragic. Somewhere in the midst of work, I learned that my son’s flight was at midday and that he had never left New York.

The myriad memories of that day pushed to the front of my mind as I rode the No. 4 subway to the Fulton Street station. I emerged into a weather day almost identical to 16 years ago. The air was cool, and jet airplanes coursed through a brilliantly blue sky. However, it was eerily – yet appropriately – quiet for a space in the middle of a huge city.

I walked the two blocks to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum and completed my trip back in time.

An Art-Filled Stroll in Chattanooga

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – The Bluff View Art District is a quiet retreat high over the Tennessee River that features a B&B operation in three houses, an art gallery, a chocolate kitchen, a bocce court, a nice restaurant, a fancy restaurant, a coffee roaster and more.

In the “more” category is a collection of outdoor sculptures that makes the Bluff View Art District so unlike many other enclaves of escapist businesses, Some of the sculptures are located around the various businesses, but most are in the River Gallery Sculpture Garden.

Some are thought provoking, such as one called “Prodigal Son.” Some are whimsical, such as a park bench in the silhouetted form of a couple or one called “My Black Belt,” which has nothing to do with martial arts. Some have classical allusions, such as “Icarus,” which is ready to soar off the bluff.

The garden has a permanent collection, and it hosts an annual changing exhibition. It is listed in the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Gardens and is among 195 worldwide on a list from the International Sculpture Center. Access is free.

(All accompanying photos are © Tom Adkinson.)

Keeping the Trains on Time at Tweetsie Railroad

 

Locomotive No. 12 is the only surviving engine from the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad, which operated from 1882-1950. (Photo © Tom Adkinson)

BLOWING ROCK, N.C. – Scott McLeod has had a dozen or more jobs at Tweetsie Railroad, including cowboy actor, pyrotechnician and haunted house designer, but he’s hanging on to the one he has now.

He supervises the train shop that keeps Tweetsie’s two locomotives rolling through the hills and hollows of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Blowing Rock and Boone, N.C.

This is a big year for McLeod because it’s the both 60th anniversary year of the western-themed park and the 100th birthday of the park’s biggest attraction, locomotive No. 12. No. 12 the only surviving locomotive from the real-life East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad that stopped chugging through the mountains in 1950.

Scott McLeod and his team keep the trains running at Tweetsie Railroad. (Photo © Tom Adkinson)

Describing No. 12 as the park’s biggest attraction is literal. It may be a narrow-gauge locomotive, but it’s still hefty and powerful. It rolled out of the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia in 1917 measuring 54 feet long and weighing 60 tons.

No. 12 and the younger No. 190, also built at Baldwin in 1943, carry passengers in open-air coaches on a three-mile loop multiple times a day. You can ride as many times as you like, watching the scenery go by and laughing along with a very campy show featuring cowboys, train robbers, Indians and frontier soldiers.

How campy is campy? It’s fun enough for the kids on the train to shout out warnings to the good guys when the train robbers are sneaking up on them and tongue-in-cheek enough for the adults to snicker good naturedly, such as when the train robbers introduce themselves as Texas Pete, Tabasco, Picante and Cayenne – the Hot Sauce Gang.

Cowboys in North Carolina? Why, sure, since they are characters in the comedic train robbery skit at Tweetsie Railroad. (Photo © Tom Adkinson)

In addition to train rides, the 200-acre park offers 14 very child-friendly rides and six shows. One of the shows features high-kicking mountain clogging and pays tribute to nearby Tennessee by featuring “Rocky Top” as the closing dance number.

There are a classic carousel and an open-air chairlift, both ideal of family photos of children, parents and grandparents. At the highest point in the park is a place for the children to feed goats, deer and other animals.

McLeod says he never had to perform in the clogging show or herd goats, but he’s dedicated enough that he’d try if called upon. Instead, he’d rather work on No. 12 or No. 190 or offer help to owners of steam locomotives across the U.S.

Tweetsie Railroad’s train shop is respected nationally for providing or repairing what McLeod calls “pieces and parts” to trains at Disney World, Cedar Point, Busch Gardens, Carowinds, Knott’s Berry Farm, Dorney Park, Six Flags St. Louis and many other places spread across the country.

“They send wheel assemblies, air compressors, brake components, drive wheels, road and more to us to work on,” McLeod said, adding that the Tweetsie shop has done full restoration jobs on locomotives, although those are less common.

When the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad, which once connected Johnson City, Tenn., with Boone, N.C., went out of business in 1950, locomotive No. 12 was bought by railroad enthusiasts in Harrisonburg, Va. Their idea for a tourist attractions got derailed, and Blowing Rock native Grover Robbins Jr. brought it back home in 1956 and opened the Tweetsie Railroad attraction in 1957. That grew into North Carolina’s first theme park.

Locomotive No. 12 pulls open-air coaches on a three-mile loop through the wooded hills of Tweetsie Railroad. (Photo © Tom Adkinson)

“Every day I’ve been around No. 12, I’ve wished it could talk and tell me stories about the people who have been on it over the past century. With proper care, No. 12 will run indefinitely,” McLeod said.

Tweetsie Railroad is open weekends in spring and autumn and daily in summer, and it will have its first Tweetsie Christmas season this year on Friday and Saturday evenings from Nov. 24-Dec. 30. Tweetsie Railroad is a member of Southern Highlands Attractions, a collection of 20 classic tourist attractions, including See Rock City, Luray Caverns and the Barter Theatre.