As an engineer at Tweetsie Railroad, North Carolina’s oldest theme park which is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I have the pleasure of not only operating beautiful antique steam locomotives, but also working in one of the most scenic and stunning areas of the country. I meet people from all walks of life each and every day, from a 5-year-old aspiring cowboy to grandparents who ride the train and remember times long past. I arrive around 7:30 a.m. each morning, and our team checks the tracks, gets the coals hot and prepares for a Wild West adventure as I lead Tweetsie theme park guests on a three-mile loop filled with cowboys, Indians, the occasional bandit and breathtaking mountain landscapes.
I’m also a member of Tweetsie’s acclaimed steam locomotive repair shop, where we preserve a lost art which includes repairing and restoring locomotives for other theme parks and museums. I started at Tweetsie as a cowboy 13 years ago, and looked up to the same talented crew that are now passing down years of railroad knowledge to me. But it’s the people that I get to meet at Tweetsie that I love the most. I’m covered in soot at the end of each day, but I also shake hands, give hugs and make people smile. And that makes me smile even more.
Join me at Tweetsie Railroad – it’s an institution, a tradition, and my “officeviews” are like no other.
“Slow down, tiny girl!” I called after my youngest daughter, who had taken to her first trip to Tweetsie with a gusto she usually reserves for eating chocolate and hopping over cracks in the sidewalk. She was barreling down the hill, arms and legs flying around her as if untethered to any socket, a 3-year-old Gumby looking for her next adventure. She had more to see and do – specifically, the Ferris wheel – and Mom and Dad’s fears of a skinned knee, and the crying that would inevitably follow, were not going to bring her down.
But she did have a partner in her enthusiasm, as she always does: her 5-year-old sister, who backs her up in all her endeavors. Since we became a family of four, they’ve been each other’s final puzzle piece. And this summer has been particularly sweet. At home, they’ve built towers and they’ve built fortresses, and sometimes they’ve built towers inside fortresses. They’ve played hide-and-seek and chased each other in circles for what seems like hours, letting loose great squeals of delight. They’ve told each other knock-knock jokes until they’ve collapsed from fits of laughter – even if they are the only two in the world who understand the punch lines. They have hugged and they have fought and then they’ve hugged again and made up. They’ve been best friends.
They’ve had firsts: loose teeth, big-girl beds and plunging underwater to swim for the first time. And in a few days, many things will change for them. My oldest will start kindergarten, a big new place with new faces who won’t always understand her the way her sister does. My youngest will go to her first day of preschool, where she’ll make friends who have nothing to do with her sister’s orbit of activities. They’ll each grow up in their own ways. They’ll be independent, but buoyed by each other all the same.
So to be here, at Tweetsie, on one of the last days of a memorable summer, watching them urge each other on – “You did it! You went on the Tilt-a-Whirl! You were so brave! Mommy, wasn’t she brave?” – was a gift. We think of a place like this as one that is permanently paused on childhood, where every day is like sitting at the top of the Ferris wheel, looking at the possibilities all around. I find that this is the kind of place where my children grow up the most, where they feel safe to test their fears, stretch their dreams, expand what they are capable of, and begin to fly away.
I have a picture from our day that says it all for me: two wild-haired, blonde-headed adventurers, piloting an F-80, with joy and determination on their faces. In their eyes, you can see their belief in all they can do, and in all that they haven’t yet done. I could sit up here at the top of my figurative Ferris wheel and watch that scene unfold forever – though I know that I can’t.
Slow down, tiny girls? Not a chance. Not when the ride is this much fun.
“Your park is so clean and everyone is so friendly. It's a real relief from the real world we live in daily. My son dresses up for the occasion and loves the cowboys. I don't know anywhere else you could park a stroller full of goods and go ride a train and it all be there when you return. Thanks again for all you do. It's worth the two hour ride to see his face!”
-Guest from King, NC