Riding the Train for Christmas


“We had relatives and neighbors who had moved away come back to celebrate Christmas with us. There was lots of people who went to Texas about eighty, ninety years ago. They bought land there, got land cheap. They got into wheat farming and raising cattle, and they made money; they done well. Then they’d come back here about every Christmas, you know. They’d get a round-trip ticket on the train back then for about fifteen or twenty dollars. Then after Christmas, they’d go back home. The train came to Murphy [North Carolina] back as far as I can remember.”

—Bass and Lucy Hyatt – “A Foxfire Christmas”

The train no longer comes to Murphy, but Bass Hyatt still lives down the road from me in Brasstown.

Last night’s video: Mountain Path 18.


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  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 18, 2021 at 6:42 pm

    There used to be a coal fired steam train that came through here in the fall that traveled (I think) from Salisbury to Asheville and back. You could hear it coming for miles. It seemed forever before you would see the billowing black smoke and the white blast of steam from its whistle rocketing skyward. Soon you could see the puffs of steam that vented the pistons that drove the driving wheels. As the locomotive passed you could see the clockwork like mechanisms that thrust that mass of steel plate and rivets up the mountain. I would just stand there fascinated as if I had been suddenly transplanted into another era.
    All too soon the train would pass. All too soon it passed its last and the world lost a beautiful thing!

  • Reply
    December 18, 2021 at 2:16 pm

    I have always loved trains. Our classes took the train from Richmond, Va. to Washington, D.C. when I was in the 5th and 6th grades. Now the station houses our science museum. The Main Street Station still is a train station and we have another one not far from my house. My oldest daughter and her fiance are coming home on the train for Christmas.

  • Reply
    December 18, 2021 at 1:54 pm

    I grew up next door to a family whose dad was a conductor on Seaboard Air Lines railroad. As an employee he got family fares at greatly reduced rates. His wife would sometimes ride the train from Raleigh to Richmond where she would shop all day then return home in the evening. I made the trip with here when I was about 6 years old. That was an amazing thing for a boy who had never been out of Wake County. I’ve ridden trains in Europe and Canada and even the GSM Railway from Bryson to Dillsboro, but none ever matched the thrill of that trip to Richmond in the ’40s when trains were still kings of long distance travel.

  • Reply
    Angelyn McLain
    December 18, 2021 at 11:05 am

    The only time I have been on a train was going from Rome to Naples in Italy. I remember how it reminded me of the trains in WWII. I think it was the sounds of it that made me think that way. I would love to take another train ride.

  • Reply
    December 18, 2021 at 11:00 am

    Who don’t like a train ride. At Dollywood, we always ride the train. Specially when they blow the whistle. My Son in law use to work for the Railroad. He would tell us stories. I know they work hard. Loved this story Tipper ❤

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 18, 2021 at 10:28 am

    I wish trains still ran passenger service and not just excursions. I saw the tag end of it between Cincinnati and New Orleans I guess it was. I’ve ridden a few excursion trains but I’d like to take a long trip. It is prohibitively expensive and very much slower than even driving. Too bad as I could board the train right here in town.

    This post reminds me of Cynthia Rylants children ‘s book “Silver Packages”. It is about a Christmas train that ran through the coal camps and brought gifts for the children.

  • Reply
    December 18, 2021 at 10:10 am

    Nice story from Bass Hyatt. When trains are gone from an area, it is much like losing an old familiar friend. Old unused rusty train rails lay all over areas of southern West Virginia. No longer do we have the frequent road blocking, as they hauled so much of the black gold out of our mountains. There is still a track where there can be delays in an adjoining county. You will not find the impatience often found in cities, because West Virginians are accustomed to delays. There is no sound quite as soulful as the distant train whistle off in the distance. I love Google’s description as. “The whistle sounds like a forlorn call in the night.” That is such a great description of the sound that was once so familiar.

  • Reply
    Sharon Cole
    December 18, 2021 at 9:47 am

    Good morning, Tipper! I’ve always enjoyed a train ride. When I was young we lived near a train station. My daddy would take us to eat breakfast or lunch at the diner inside the station. I can remember always watching the people coming off the train and would imagine where they came from. Take care and God bless!

  • Reply
    Margie G
    December 18, 2021 at 7:46 am

    That story sort of reminds me of seeing military bases empty out during Christmas to New Years. There are literally thousands of young people pouring into airports, train stations and used car lots all trying to get home to show people how they are doing and prospering as well as visiting the ones they love. Most are young, it’s their first time away from home and, yes, most soldiers come from poor families and join the military hoping for opportunities of education and lucre. Times change but people’s needs do not… a Merry Christmas to all our military and a HUGE thank you for all you put on the line ( like your life) each and every day…

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    December 18, 2021 at 6:59 am

    I have ridden trains all over Japan and all over England, Scotland & Wales. But the greatest thrill was my only train ride in the US. A few years back a family member and I rode the Smoky Mountain RR steam train from Bryson City to Nantahala and back. We wish they would open it up all the way to Murphy! My family member’s mother would ride the train from Bryson City to Murphy in the 1940’s holding a baby in her arms. Sometimes soldiers riding the train would give her a break and hold the baby for her!

  • Reply
    Martha D Justice
    December 18, 2021 at 6:30 am

    Just listened to Pap and Paul play and sing WE THREE KINGS and it was beautiful. We are so blessed to have so many of your memories captured on film that we all can share. Thanks Tipper! MERRY CHRISTMAS ❤

  • Reply
    Rita Speers
    December 18, 2021 at 6:27 am

    I just love these photos. The furnishings and clothing mirror my own childhood although I am older than you are.

  • Reply
    donna sue
    December 18, 2021 at 5:56 am

    Reading your post this morning reminded me of old pictures and artists drawings from the 1920s- 1950s, that I have seen in San Diego over the years of people traveling by train to visit sunny Southern California, San Diego and Los Angeles. Oranges always figured prominently in those pictures because of all the citrus groves all over the place there back in the 1900s through the early 1960s (before the city asphalt ran over all those beautiful farms, sadly). Oranges played a big role at Christmas across the country, because for some children, years and years ago, that’s all they got for Christmas. It was a tradition since the Victorian times, I think, maybe even before then. I am going to have to research that now. My curiosity is spiked. We always got oranges in our Christmas stockings, even though I was a kid a long, long time past the Victorian days. We got a lot of other things besides oranges as gifts, but I am glad my mom kept that old tradition alive for us kids. It means a lot to me now as an adult, it brings a very old Christmas tradition close to me through my own memories. Funny, though, how a piece of fruit that I eat everyday, can make me think of traveling at Christmas. I remember only one time when we traveled to Washington state to visit my aunt and uncle at Christmas. Can you imagine loading 5 kids in a car, and somehow all their presents so they didn’t see any of them, and driving for three days from sunshine to snow? Most years, my aunt and uncle drove down to San Diego with my 4 wonderful cousins for Christmas with us. I miss those times of us all being together. The phrase that triggered my comment, and reminiscing here, was “traveling by train” – in all those ads beckoning people to visit Southern California during the winter, not only were oranges in the pictures – but those beautiful old streamline trains were, too.

    Donna. : )

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