The tracks of our heritageDec 06, 2023 12:41PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
Photos by Jim Coarse
Text by Richard L. Gaw
Over the course of our lives, there are few permanent markers. Save for our family and our friends, we are for the most part transient beings, gathering up new moments and memories and people along our journey, like a child with an armful of seashells at the shoreline.
For those who read this article, however, it is safe to say that the Wilmington & Western Railroad has defied the odds and held on like a faithful companion from our childhood to adulthood. Churning through the colorfully changing landscapes of the Red Clay Valley, we have climbed aboard its locomotives and passenger cars and cabooses to share the ride beside our grandparents, our parents, our siblings, our friends and now our own children.
From Greenbank Station, we have boarded charter rides to celebrate special occasions; sung “Happy Birthday” at countless parties; tilted our glasses at wedding celebrations; and ushered in countless holiday seasons on the Holiday Lights Express and the Santa Claus Express. Following in the footsteps of founder and long-time steward Thomas C. Marshall, Jr., the Wilmington & Western Railroad is fueled in part by the infectious exuberance of its volunteer staff.
“We are predominantly volunteer-run, so for anyone to volunteer to shovel coal for 12 hours on a 98-degree day, they have to have some passion for what they are doing, and that passion spills out to our passengers, who see the enthusiasm that our volunteers have,” said General Manager Kevin Martin. “All of us here want to share our train with you. We want to share the knowledge that our train crew has about the car you sit on and the beautiful Red Clay Valley.”
For generations of passengers, the Wilmington & Western Railroad has served as “a museum in motion,” as part of an educational mission that also includes a 5,000-square-foot education center, the popular Rail Road 101 course and the Railroading Summer Camp for children.
“If we can get a five-year-old to get on the train and learn that the coach they are riding on was built in 1914, that is a piece of their education,” Martin said. “They are learning to enjoy a mode of transportation that has drastically changed over the years but is far from a lost industry. Every year, we meet so many children whoa re fascinated by trains and want to know more about them.”
Passenger by passenger, generation after generation, the Wilmington & Western Railroad is a magical journey that will remain a permanent one in the lives of those who climb aboard.
Include the Wilmington & Western Railroad in this year’s holiday plans. The Holiday Lights Express takes off from Greenbank Station for hour-long evening rides from Dec. 6 to Dec. 30. Passengers can also climb aboard the Santa Claus Express for 90-minute trips through December 23.
To learn more about the Wilmington & Western Railroad and make your reservations, visit www.wwrr.com.