The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

The Lonesome Pine Limited

Steam engine

Between morning and evening milkings Saturday, I collected my mom and went back in time to the nineteenth century. The age of steam!

Old and new trains

Mom and MaggieBack when steam trains were starting to go out of style, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum started buying up engines and passenger cars in an effort to keep at least a few of these old-timey trains on the rails. They renovated the steam trains, and now you can take short or slightly longer trips behind a coal-powered locomotive. When I saw that a day trip was leaving from Bristol (1.25 hours from our farm and a five minute walk from my mom's house), I was hooked. My summer adventure had been decided!

Appalachian farm country

After enjoying the rush of watching the steam locomotive back the train up to the historic Bristol train station, Mom and I climbed aboard and settled in to watch the scenery pass by. Although we were paralleling a minor highway (11E) the whole way, it was intriguing to see the countryside from a different perspective. Even just a few miles from the highway, the landscape was pastoral, full of cattle pastures, ancient farm houses, and the occasional backyard garden.

Tennessee mountains

I'm pretty sure I noticed someone emulating Salatin's egg-mobile along with an example of Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening method. There were blooming mimosas and trumpet vines, one wild deer, and at least a hundred interested people parked at crossroads with cameras in hand, ready to record the steam locomotive's charismatic presence (and to wave us on our way).

Me smiling

About halfway through the journey, Mom and I decided it was time to explore! So we set out to walk to the commissary car in the middle of the train, four cars forward. I loved the gaps between cars, where you could hear the wheels turning beneath you and felt closer to the world whooshing by outside.

Bull's Gap festival

And then, before we knew it, we'd reached our destination --- the tiny town of Bulls Gap, Tennessee. It felt like all 719 residents were involved in welcoming us with a festival erected in our honor. There were tents full of sale items, two museums opened for our perusal, and a delightful bluegrass band playing live music.

Bulls Gap, TN

Yes, with nearly a quarter of the town's population living below the poverty line, I'm sure the goal was to grab some much-needed tourist dollars. But the event had the feel of a down-home welcome anyway, and Mom and I dove right in.

Old wringer washer

Old seed packetsThe museums were a little too packed for comfort (at least for this introvert), but the homeplace of Archie Campbell was more my style. The house is furnished with period stoves, beds, and other paraphernalia, and nothing is marked as hands-off. You can play with the wringer washer and hand-cranked record player and can pick through ancient packets of flower seeds to enjoy the artwork. If you're ever in the area, I recommend dropping by Bulls Gap to see for yourself.

Train painted on saw

Back in the melee of tents, Mom picked up a book by a local herbalist (which came with a free plant), and then we marveled over a scene painted on a saw blade. The section photographed above shows the very engine we rode into town behind.

Mom eating blueberry

We were allotted an hour in Bulls Gap, which was just about right. Although the train folks kindly provided us box lunches before we reached our destination, I'd also packed homegrown goodies since I don't trust the outside world to feed me properly anymore. So Mom and I munched on cucumber sticks, blueberries, and brownies, washing it down with slowly-thawing jars of frozen goat's milk. I felt a bit bad for the folks trying to sell us hot dogs, popcorn, and soft drinks...but, really, which snack would you prefer?

Train coming around the bend

And then engine 4501 pulled back into the Bulls Gap downtown and we climbed aboard.

Mom in front of the train

(Here's an extra photo of Mom with her plant in front of the locomotive, just because.)

Looking ahead

The ride home was quieter as we all drifted back into the beauty of the surrounding scenery.

Home in the rain

And just when I was starting to think that Abigail would be pissed if I was gone much longer, we pulled up to the Bristol station in a pounding rain. Maggie had kindly brought the car down to pick us up so we didn't get soaked, and she'd cooked up Lamb Chop's right front leg into a delicious supper.

But more on that later since this post is already far too long. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed coming along for the ride!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I had a similar type train ride in Australia. It was lovely. Albany is NY's capital. I wish we had our train station up and running so we didn't have to travel to another city for the train. I also wish we could access these trains and travel up to the adirondacks. Time will tell.
Comment by hilary Mon Jun 29 08:33:09 2015
The summer before I got knocked up Doug and I did a train ride out of Bryson City into the Nantahala Gorge. It was amazing and I highly recommend it. It's done by the same company, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Etc...
Comment by Emily Mon Jun 29 09:53:32 2015
Hey Anna! I'm glad you had a good time. We had a great time too, but I think that you got some better pictures than I did. Thanks for sharing the pictures and all the fun you had!
Comment by Kayla Mon Jun 29 11:34:45 2015

Our trip has opened up for me the heyday of rail travel, not only in the 20th century, but before the Civil War--and the part railroads played in that war. I found a book at the library, Conquering the Appalachians, and was amazed to learn about the Clinchfield RR, which went from Spartanburg, SC, thru Marion, NC, Kingsport, TN, St. Paul and Dungannon, Va (Anna and Mark's territory), thru Dante, Nora, and Haysi and into Elkhorn City, KY...Bull's Gap was actually a hub, once.

Thanks, Anna, for such a wonderful adventure!

Comment by aadrianne Mon Jun 29 11:46:19 2015
How wonderful that you got to ride the train! We saw it come by here a few times and I really want to be on it next year.
Comment by Brandy Mon Jun 29 16:35:47 2015

Just over a century old, and still looking good.

I wonder which machines built in 2015 will still be running a century later?

Comment by Roland_Smith Mon Jun 29 16:56:09 2015

First of all, I'm Jealous! I had no idea this kind of entertainment existed. Can you direct me to a website that might have this info? My brother, the original rail fan, would also love to be able to do something like this.

And I'm so glad you had such a good time! Like I said, I'm jealous! :)

Comment by NaYan Mon Jun 29 20:47:28 2015

Fun to see so many locals comment on this post!

Na Yan --- The link to the company who runs the train rides is the first one in this post....

Comment by anna Tue Jun 30 11:50:39 2015
This sounds great--Is it a regularly scheduled event? How do you find out about it? I'd love to do this sometime. BTW, who is the young lady with your mom in the first picture--Maggie? Is she your sister?
Comment by Jennifer Thu Jul 2 12:56:08 2015

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