Excerpt from a past edition of OhioTraveler
Along a twelve-mile section of railroad first constructed in the late 1860s, the the volunteer-operated trains of the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway have thrilled kids of all ages since its founding in 1972. These trains, making the quiet journey along the Hocking River Valley, mainly during summer and fall weekends, provide a glimpse into a slower-paced life that was once commonplace long ago. Who needs Doc’s DeLorean and his flashy flux capacitor when you’ve got a real time machine at your disposal to take you through history?
But there’s still that lingering thought: life at a slow pace. What a novel concept! Imagine an afternoon with the kids aboard an authentic train ride, taking in the history and still-remaining industries of a valley once vital to a growing nation. These trains, usually taking about two hours to make a full trip, depart the former brick-producing capital of Nelsonville, a quaint town with an emerging art district on the original Public Square. The Square is home to unique art galleries and shops, as well as the equally impressive Stuart’s Opera House. Nelsonville’s depot has ample parking around it and is only a short walk from the Square and its famous neighbor: the Rocky Outdoor Gear Store.
Out of your coach window, you’ll take in Ohio’s Appalachian foothills, including the tranquil Hocking River, a favorite of canoe and kayak enthusiasts. These hills are absolutely spectacular during October when the leaf color change is at its peak! Remnants of the area brick industry, once an economic powerhouse and primary job source, are still visible and pointed out to you by a knowledgable volunteer via the speaker system installed throughout the train. Other sites include Lock No. 19 of the Hocking Canal and Haydenville, Ohio’s last company town. Additionally, other mining activities on-going in the valley include a two gravel mining operations and an impressive lumber mill, indicating untapped natural resources still abound in the area.
In addition to the weekend trains operating from May through October, the volunteers of the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway put in the extra hours to bring special themed trains to life. Can’t-miss events include Ohio’s Friendliest Train Robbery, the traditional Santa Trains, and the New Year’s Eve Train and Fireworks.
Ohio’s Friendliest Train Robbery features bandits on horseback attempting to stop the train—Old West-style! With guns making noise and the thunderous gallop of the horses bringing the train to a stop, you’ll be a part of the action! And the kids absolutely love it! Partnering with Smoke Rise Ranch, the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway’s volunteers put on quite a show! This as an incredibly popular event, so you’ll want to book your tickets as soon as possible.
Due to high demand, in October, the railroad expands into the week, operating extra trains on Thursdays and Fridays from Nelsonville at 1:00 p.m. between October 1st and 30th. While no different than the October weekend offerings at Noon or 2:30 p.m., these trains simply offer you a great option to take in the area and its impressive history.
Toward the end of the year, as Thanksgiving bellies are full and little hands set to writing lists to a certain Jolly Old Elf, the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway’s Santa Trains take to the rails again for a tradition that is almost as old as the railroad itself! A staple part of the railroad’s schedule, St. Nick himself—and sometimes Mrs. Claus (or an elf if she couldn’t make the long trip from the North Pole)—climbs aboard the train for a Christmas tradition you’ll want to make part of your holiday must-do list! Santa visits with each and every child during the train ride and then hands out a candy cane treat after the visit. A great opportunity to hand-deliver that cherished wish list! And, of course, the train cars are heated and decorated throughout. One of them even is heated by an old-fashioned coal stove!
The full schedule of events for the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway, complete with downloadable brochure, is available at www.hockingvalleytrain.org. You can purchase your tickets there too or by calling (740) 249-1452. Weekend trains throughout the summer don’t usually sell-out, so you can usually just wait and buy at the depot when you arrive for your train ride. But you’ll definitely want to reserve your seats ahead of time for any other train. If purchased ahead, tickets are held at will call in the Nelsonville depot. Prices vary, but the average ticket price is around $15. And keep in mind that there is a small extra fee to purchase tickets in advance. But this is arguably an easily affordable family trek in a world of ever-rising costs!
Tips to remember! There are no restrooms on the antique train cars, so you’ll want to make a stop in the depot restrooms before taking off on your journey. Parking is generally plentiful (and free!), with three lots available around the station. No food or drinks are sold on the train or at the depot, but you are welcome and encouraged to bring your own food and (non-alcoholic) drinks aboard. No pets are allowed either, so Fido will have to sit this one out (unless he’s a certified service animal). More details are on their website at http://www.hockingvalleytrain.org or call 740-249-1452 if you have any questions. You can also get regular updates from them if you have Facebook or Twitter (just search for “Hocking Valley Scenic Railway”). Finally, all trains are currently diesel-powered, but a real 1920s-era steam engine is soon to be in operation!