Blessings by broadband

Faith communities are embracing the Internet to share the gospel

By Kerry Scott

ChurchThere was a time when the word “tablet” in church conjured images of Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with two great stones inscribed by God with the Ten Commandments. But that is quickly changing.

These days, the word most likely brings to mind a very different image: one of the high-tech wireless devices that keeps us connected to the world via broadband Internet.

Local churches, including First Baptist Church of New Hope and Owens Cross Roads Church of Christ, are beginning to see an increasing number of members using tablets and smartphones to read Scripture, take notes on sermons or Bible lessons and come up with new ways to connect with their congregations.

When NHTC’s Central Office Manager, Steven Campbell, went on vacation recently, he and his family were able to watch the Sunday service from his iPhone while traveling. “It was amazing to feel like we were right there and didn’t miss a thing,” he says.

At First Baptist Church of New Hope (, the church has gone so far as to install a wireless router in the sanctuary, making it possible for members or visitors to use their devices. Even Pastor Tim Verhine uses an iPad for his sermon notes. While not many are doing so now, it’s a trend that will continue to rise.

The church also displays Scripture on a large projection screen so the congregation can follow along with the pastor. “The Scripture is large and easy to read for members who might have trouble reading small print,” says Bob Freeman, who manages the sound room. “Different preachers like different translations of the Bible, too. We’re able to switch to just about 40 different translations with our MediaShout program.”

Steven Campbell says he’s grateful OCR Church of Christ is using broadband to broadcast some services live via the Internet. “We’re putting the message of salvation out there; that’s what it’s all about,” he says.

Steven Campbell says he’s grateful OCR Church of Christ is using broadband to broadcast some services live via the Internet. “We’re putting the message of salvation out there; that’s what it’s all about,” he says.

That lines up with what is taking place nationally. A study by The Barna Group, a research organization focused on spiritual development, concluded in an April 2012 study that more than 65 percent of Protestant churches now regularly use large screen projections during their services compared to only 39 percent in 2000.

While the church has had an Internet presence for years with their website, they now use it as the primary tool for keeping members informed. “I use email quite a bit,” says Rhonda Cain, the church secretary. “I have a master list that I send emails to whenever we have a sickness, death, urgent need or an event we want to let people know about.” She says that those with Internet access help spread the word to the increasingly smaller number of members who don’t have Internet.

The Barna study noted that 62 percent of Protestant churches have an Internet presence and 26 percent are using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Gigabytes of Gospel

Broadband is also giving churchgoers access to a greater range of material. “Once you get tied into it, it becomes an indispensable tool,” says Freeman. He’s using it to stream videos from sources like YouTube that can help illustrate a particular Scripture lesson, and are sometimes just for fun.

“Some people may have been a little hesitant about broadband at first,” says Freeman, “but they appreciate it now.”

A few miles down the road at Owens Cross Roads Church of Christ (, they are doing many of the same things. They’re also using their fiber connection to make Sunday morning services available live online to members. It’s been used to stream weddings and even funerals, too. “It’s a tremendous blessing for loved ones who can’t travel to be able to see a service that they couldn’t make,” says Campbell, who also serves as sound technician at the church.

Bob Freeman runs the sound room at First Baptist Church of New Hope. They have a Wi-Fi enabled sanctuary, making it possible for members to look up Scripture and commentary on their tablets and smartphones.

Bob Freeman runs the sound room at First Baptist Church of New Hope. They have a Wi-Fi enabled sanctuary, making it possible for members to look up Scripture and commentary on their tablets and smartphones.

He’s not the only person working though. “One person just doesn’t have enough hands to do everything, so we have an entire team that works together to make sure everything runs smoothly,” he says. Their team consists of Tony Harrell, Mark Burleson, Zack Cavender, Todd Morrison, David Bingham and Justin Pannell.

Pannell, who is the youth minister and associate pastor OCR COC, believes broadband also serves as a research tool for the community. “New people in town, or someone looking for a church, can go online and see what a service at our church is like and see if it’s somewhere they think they can join in,” he explains.

The fiber network NHTC is building throughout its service area will make future upgrades possible, too. One day, OCR Church of Christ hopes to stream high-definition video. “We would have to make some upgrades on our part to do that, but the infrastructure is there if we choose to do so,” says Pannell.

He has a theory about all this technology. He believes that since all truth comes from God, any scientific achievements or technological advancements we make are gifts from Him. “One way we glorify God is by maximizing technology,” says Pannell. “He allowed us to create airplanes, so now we take those planes to foreign countries to share the gospel. We should use the Internet to fully maximize it for His glory, both now and in the future.”

From rodeos to a reality show

By Kerry Scott

The CMT reality dating show “Sweet Home Alabama” featured Justin Barnes of Grant as one of the country boys looking for love.

The CMT reality dating show “Sweet Home Alabama” featured Justin Barnes of Grant as one of the country boys looking for love.

Viewers of the CMT reality dating show “Sweet Home Alabama” watched what appeared to be a romantic picnic on a pier in the Mobile Bay, complete with a fiery sunset streaking the sky and glistening off the waters. If they could turn around and see what was on the other side of the lens, there would have been several cameras, producers and a huge production crew only a few feet away capturing the entire scene and reminding the couple to “just act natural.”

That’s how 25-year-old Grant native Justin Barnes describes his first on-camera date, adding that competing on the show happened quite by chance.

Cody Harris, who was on the first season of “Sweet Home Alabama,” met Barnes at a barrel race in Jackson, Mississippi, and told him he was helping cast for the next season. He asked Barnes if he might be interested in being on the show.

“I really didn’t think anything would come of it,” Barnes says. But three months later, when producers contacted him, all that changed. After a series of phone calls and Skype interviews, Barnes was one of 22 men — culled from about 15,000 — selected to vie for a chance to win the heart of Southern belle Kelsey Smith.

Grant native Justin Barnes was cast in the CMT reality dating show “Sweet Home Alabama” searching for love.

Grant native Justin Barnes was cast in the CMT reality dating show “Sweet Home Alabama” searching for love.

He and 10 other country guys, along with 11 city guys, spent the next several weeks competing with each other on camera to win “dates” with Kelsey. At the end of each episode, Smith would eliminate at least one of the contestants until she chose her dream man.

While Barnes says he was there looking for love, some men were more interested in promoting themselves. “I know some guys went on the show to gain exposure and hopefully open doors,” he says.” But I had been in a long-term relationship that had ended. Honestly, I was looking for that special girl. I didn’t know if it would work out, but I thought, ‘Why not give it a shot?’”

Barnes won the first date with Kelsey — that romantic picnic on the Mobile Bay. Everyone also expected him to have the first kiss. “I got ragged so bad for not doing that, but I wanted her to know that I was a Southern gentleman,” says Barnes.

The Mobile Bay in Fairhope was the setting of the reality show.

The Mobile Bay in Fairhope was the setting of the reality show.

And when he returned to the house that evening after his date, Barnes also got into the first fight. Alex Stein, a car salesman from Los Angeles, thought it would be a good idea to knock Barnes’ hat off, something you just don’t do in the South. Fortunately, some of the other guys kept them from throwing any punches or he could have been sent home. Stein was sent home later after disrespecting Boyd, an older gentleman running the estate where the contestants were staying.

With so many men from different walks of life, Barnes says it was natural to have some clashes. The 22 men were sequestered at Dorgan’s Inn, a beautiful estate in Fairhope, without TV, phones, Internet or contact with the outside world. Sometimes during filming of dates, the other guys would have to stay indoors with the windows closed. “I haven’t been around that much drama in my whole life,” says Barnes. “But by the top 10, I think we were all there for the right reasons and were all pretty much friends.”

The competition actually proved too much for some guys though. Jeremy from Wisconsin actually left the show because of it. “He was there for the right reason,” says Barnes. “He wanted to find a wife. He’s a super nice Christian guy, but just couldn’t handle all the talk from other guys about what they were doing on their dates with Kelsey. He said the contest wasn’t for him and left.”

On location in Louisiana, Justin won time with Kelsey and was able to share a letter he’d written for her.

On location in Louisiana, Justin won time with Kelsey and was able to share a letter he’d written for her.

In the end, Barnes made it to the top five before being eliminated, but he has no regrets. “It’s funny,” he says. “I’ve never been in a situation like that before, where I was competing with 21 other guys for one girl. We didn’t know her personality or know if we would be compatible. It was a shot in the dark. It didn’t work out in the end, but it was a good experience.”

And he’s proud that he had the support of his family and hometown throughout the process. “My family knew that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, and they supported me fully,” says Barnes. “I was told that almost everyone in Grant would get together to watch the show, too. It was great to learn that they were all rooting for me.

It was city guys versus country guys fighting to win Kelsey’s heart on the show.

It was city guys versus country guys fighting to win Kelsey’s heart on the show.

“Overall, I think people got to see the real me,” he adds. “Yeah, there’s stuff I wish they had seen, but I understand the producers have to edit to fit everything into a one-hour show, and drama equals ratings so that’s what they’re going to air.”

Now that “Sweet Home Alabama” is in his past, Barnes has returned to his life in Grant. He’s still working for a defense company, buying and selling horses, managing his ranch and barrel racing, too. Being on the show has also afforded him some new opportunities, including being signed by The Block Agency in Nashville.

And, he’s still searching for true love. “I am definitely still looking for the right girl,” says Barnes. “I feel like time is precious, and I’m not going to waste it with just anybody. When I find that right girl, I’ll know it. Until then I’m just doing the same thing.”

CARE Center events

I Grill Because I CARE

Oct. 18 • Downtown New Hope (next to city hall)

$100 entry fee for each team

KCB Sanctioned Event

Categories: Chicken, Ribs, People’s Choice

Grilling begins at 8 a.m.

Judging begins at 4 p.m.

  • Live music throughout the day
  • Inflatables for kids
  • BBQ plates for sale

Proceeds support the CARE Center. For more information visit: or call 256-723-2273

Community-Wide Picnic

Oct. 19 • Downtown New Hope

Potluck picnic for the entire community

For more information visit: or call 256-723-2273

I Golf Because I CARE

Oct. 20 • Robert Trent Jones Golf Course, Hampton Cove

10:30 a.m. Registration

11 a.m. Lunch/Warm Up

1 p.m. Shotgun Start

$150 entry fee for individuals OR $600 entry fee for teams

This is a flighted event

Proceeds support the CARE Center. For more information visit: or call 256-723-2273

Happy 100th Birthday! Let’s celebrate!

Margie Sneed is turning 100 and you’re invited to the celebration!

Oct. 11 • 2 – 4 p.m. • Cave Spring Baptist Church Family Life Center • 1107 Cave Spring Road, OCR

Margie Sneed-1Margie Sneed has been an active member of the community her entire life. She and her late husband raised three children. She’s held various jobs over the years, including serving as the site manager of the nutrition program at the senior center. An active member of her church, she has taught different classes and started a senior program at the church which she still participates in. She’s also still driving on the back roads and gardening!

What our job is really all about

Jim Cook
General Manager

You wouldn’t believe the amount of news articles, policy briefs, mail (paper and electronic) and other documents that come my way each week. These items remind me just how complicated the telecommunications business has become.

Jim Cook

Jim Cook

As the leader of your cooperative, it is an important part of my job to stay on top of technology and industry changes. As I do so, it’s easy to start thinking that my job is all about building a network, advocating for fair laws and policies, managing budgets and leading teams. But those are merely tasks. My real job — and, indeed, the real mission of this company — is all about growing communities and changing lives.

There have been a few times in the history of our country that we reached a turning point, a moment where we accomplished something so important as a society that life would never be the same after that. For example, when the rural electrification program lit up the countryside, it helped families automate labor-intensive chores in their homes and on their farms, enabled a healthier standard of living and empowered people to open small businesses that would provide goods and services to their growing communities.

With the interstate highway system, we opened up new parts of the country for development and created a means of moving products made by American workers to markets all over the continent.

And now, here we are in the early part of the 21st century, creating a new kind of system that will have the same level of impact on society as electricity and interstate highways have had for decades. I’m speaking, of course, about today’s broadband network.

In our service area, and in regions like ours across the country, providers such as NHTC are building a network to provide homes and businesses with high-speed data connections — not in the “big city,” but in the small towns and rural communities we call home. And like power and highways, broadband is changing lives. Consider these stories, which are playing out all across rural America:

  • A fifth-grade boy sits at a home computer taking remedial classes over a broadband connection, helping him stay current with his class and improve his grades.
  • A single mother visits a local campus at night to take broadband-enabled distance learning classes, helping her improve her skills in hopes of landing a better job.
  • A clinic runs tests on an elderly woman, then sends the results over broadband to a radiologist at a regional healthcare center to determine if she has suffered a stroke.
  • A couple opens a business in their town, filling a need in the community while creating jobs — and they use broadband to connect with suppliers and other resources.
  • Emergency responders gather in their training room, using broadband to access new information without losing time and money traveling to numerous training events.

This is what my job is really all about. And I’m reminded every day that our mission here at NHTC is about more than providing today’s most important infrastructure. Our mission really is about changing lives.

Try these award-winning puddings

Foster’s Banana Pudding

  • 1 box vanilla wafers (set aside 7 wafers for garnish)

Bananas Foster:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon banana extract or 1/4 cup banana liquor
  • 1/2 cup dark rum, such as Appleton Jamaican rum
  • 4 bananas, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/2-inch thick

Vanilla Pudding:

  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Whipped Cream: 

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Stephanie's winning banana pudding 001For Bananas Foster: In a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, melt the unsalted butter and add the brown sugar. Using a wire whisk, blend the butter and brown sugar. Once the mixture is well blended and begins to simmer, whisk in the cinnamon, vanilla extract, banana extract and rum. Bring the mixture back to a simmer and add the sliced bananas. Stir the mixture with a rubber spatula; simmer until bananas are soft, 6-7 minutes; remove pan from heat and set aside.

Vanilla Pudding: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine cornstarch, sugar and salt; mix together with a wire whisk. In a separate bowl, combine milk and heavy cream. Slowly pour 3/4 of the milk mixture into the saucepan with cornstarch mixture, whisking thoroughly so the mixture is smooth. Place the saucepan on medium heat, stirring the pudding mixture constantly until mixture begins to thicken and comes to a soft boil. Continue to boil 1 minute; remove from heat. To the bowl of remaining milk and cream, add egg yolks, whisking until combined. Slowly stream in about 1/3 of  hot pudding mixture into bowl of egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly until combined. Pour egg yolk and pudding mixture back into saucepan and return it to medium heat. Continue to whisk mixture and heat until it is thick and begins to bubble. Remove from heat. Add unsalted butter and vanilla extract; stir until combined.

Whipped cream:  In a mixing bowl, add cream, sugar and vanilla. Using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer with whisk attachment, whisk mixture at medium-high speed until peaks form.

Assembly: In a 2-quart dish, layer half of the remaining vanilla wafers along the bottom so that they overlap one another. Using a serving spoon, spoon 1/2 of the Bananas Foster over the wafers. Pour 1/2 of hot pudding mixture over wafers and Bananas Foster. Layer remaining wafers in the same manner as before; repeat Bananas Foster and vanilla pudding layer, reserving 2 tablespoons of Bananas Foster for garnish. Cover and place dish in refrigerator to cool, approximately 2 hours. Once pudding has cooled, pour off any accumulated condensation and spread whipped cream over pudding. Top with 3 vanilla wafers in the center of the dish, add remaining Bananas Foster over wafers. Crush the remaining vanilla wafers and sprinkle over the dish.

–Stephanie Lutz, 2012 winner

Banana Brickle Pudding Brulee

  • 3 cups half-and-half
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 8 egg yolks, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • Vanilla wafers
  • 6 bananas


  • Vanilla wafers
  • 1 pint heavy cream, whipped and sweetened with a little sugar

To make cookies:

  • Vanilla wafers
  • 1 cup  butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

In 3-quart saucepan over low heat, heat half-and-half, sugar, salt and cornstarch, whisking constantly until it begins to thicken. Temper beaten eggs by whisking in separate bowl with some of the hot mixture. Add tempered egg mixture back into saucepan and continue cooking until thick. Remove from heat, add vanilla and softened butter. Let cool to room temperature. In large dish, layer vanilla wafers, sliced bananas and pudding. Repeat layers. Top with whipped cream and vanilla brickle cookies.

Prepare cookies: Place one vanilla wafer in each cup of a mini-muffin pan. In a saucepan, bring butter, brown sugar and pecans to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Spoon over cookies and bake at 375º F for 10 minutes. Cool.

–Roger Tisdale, 2013 winner

Banana Queen

There’s something nostalgic about banana pudding, says Stephanie Lutz. “It always makes you feel like a kid again when you eat it. And really, what’s not to like about banana pudding? Vanilla pudding, vanilla wafers and soft, sweet bananas. It makes me smile just thinking about it.”

Stephanie Lutz can cook an appealing dessert, according to judges at the National Banana Pudding Festival and Cook-Off. They chose her dish as the winner in 2012.

Stephanie Lutz can cook an
appealing dessert, according to judges at the National Banana Pudding Festival and Cook-Off. They chose her dish as the winner in 2012.

And she kept smiling when she was crowned the 2012 cook-off winner at the National Banana Pudding Festival, which is held annually in Centerville, Tennessee. Her prize in addition to bragging rights? A check for $2,000 and a beautiful gold-and-white sash. “The kind the beauty queens wear,” Lutz says with a laugh. “I think my friends were more excited about the sash than the money.”

Lutz heard about the cook-off by chance after picking up a flyer about it at the Tennessee Welcome Center on her move from Kentucky to her new home in Spring Hill, Tennessee, in 2011.

Lutz says she “looked to my husband and said, ‘We have to go!’”

So the couple attended that year, and Lutz decided she would try her luck the following year by entering the banana pudding cook-off.

“I’ve been cooking for as long as I can remember,” she says. “I guess it started with my parents. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of my dad teaching me to flip a pancake and my mother baking brownies from scratch.”

But she created her winning recipe on her own, along with a good bit of encouragement from friends and family, plus a lot of research.

“Because it’s a custard-based pudding, I wanted to make sure it stayed creamy, but had a light flavor,” she says. “I probably worked on it for six weeks and must have made 20 batches before getting it right.”

No one complained. “I shared the batches with friends and family, and they were always happily received,” she says.

There is a five-year waiting period between wins, so Lutz can’t enter again until 2017. But her win has given her the confidence to try her culinary skills in other cooking contests when she has the time, she says. She recently graduated with a bachelor of business administration degree in marketing from Middle Tennessee State University.

This year’s National Banana Pudding Festival will feature 10 finalists onstage cooking their puddings, all a little different from each other, but all equally delicious. More puddings can be found along the Puddin’ Path where, for a $5 donation, festivalgoers can sample banana pudding from 10 different nonprofit organizations and vote on their favorite.

If you go … bananas

If a dessert could lay claim as the crowning finish to a Southern meal, banana pudding would be sitting on the throne. And in Centerville, Tennessee, banana pudding is put on a pedestal every fall during the National Banana Pudding Festival and Cook-Off.

Food Editor Anne P. Braly is a native of Chattanooga, Tenn. Prior to pursuing a freelance career, she spent 21 years as food editor and feature writer at a regional newspaper.

Food Editor Anne P. Braly is a native of Chattanooga, Tenn. Prior to pursuing a freelance career, she spent 21 years as food editor and feature writer at a regional newspaper.

This year’s festival will be held Saturday and Sunday, October 4-5, with the cook-off set for Saturday. In addition to the cook-off, there will be two stages of free entertainment, from music and storytellers to puppets and dancers. In the craft area there will be demonstrations of blacksmithing, wood turning and pottery. Craft vendors will sell pottery, jewelry, forged iron, woodworking and art; and food vendors will offer everything from rib-eye steak sandwiches to bottomless root beer mugs with free refills.

  • Hours: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (October 4); 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. (October 5)
  • Admission: $5 per day. Free parking.
  • Location: Centerville River Park, Centerville, Tenn.
  • Online:

Make a diversion for a Southern excursion

By Matt Ledger

The golden age of American rail travel may have peaked nearly a century ago, but the fascination with the legacy of locomotives is still alive and well.

From the syncopated clickity-clack of steel wheels on rails, to the unmistakable howl of a steam whistle, the sensory overload of 19th century travel rekindles a connection with the past and gives us a window into a mode of transportation that has been romanticized for nearly 200 years.

Thankfully, there are still a wide variety of scenic train rides in operation throughout our country. This list of train excursions might help you find a new destination at an old railway station.

Tennessee Valley Railroad (Chattanooga)

All aboard for the first stop, a city with a name that is forever married to the railways that crisscross the South, in a foot-stomping big band song about a Tennessee train excursion: the “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”

Tennessee Valley Railroad in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Tennessee Valley Railroad in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

However, nowadays Glen Miller would need to wander over to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum to catch the next departure, with a choice of leaving from either Chattanooga or Etowah. It was founded in 1961 and is the largest operating historic rail museum in the Southeast. With seven outings planned for September, nothing could be finer than the “Dinner on the Diner” journey, featuring first-class gourmet meal offerings while riding in the ornate 1924 Pullman dining car.

The month begins with the 4th annual “Railfest” celebration on Sept. 6-7 featuring unique exhibits, blacksmith demonstrations and special excursions. Each weekend the Copperhill Special rolls from Etowah through the Hiwassee River Gorge during a daylong 93-mile circuit.  The Summerville Steam (the longest trip at 100 miles) and the Missionary Ridge Local explore the colorful fall splendor in October, in addition to the festive Halloween Eerie Express.


Big South Fork Scenic Railway (Stearns, Ky.)

Big South Fork Scenic Railway in Stearns, Kentucky.

Big South Fork Scenic Railway in Stearns, Kentucky.

The Big South Fork Scenic Railway, in Stearns, Kentucky, has a three-hour hop through the Daniel Boone National Forest during a 14-mile round trip to the Blue Heron Coal Mining Camp. Visitors can also tour the McCreary County Museum. A ghoulish two-hour nighttime journey awaits those who board the Blue Heron Ghost Train on Sept. 6 or the Haunted Hollow Express in mid-October. A half-price fare is available for grandparents on Sept. 7 or for those who served in the military on Nov. 8.


Heart of Dixie Railroad (Calera, Ala.)

The Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum is located in central Alabama, south of Birmingham. The 10-mile rail line runs from Calera to the historic Shelby Iron Works, which was operational during the Civil War era. Several miles of track were added through the years, allowing for numerous themed trips. Youngsters will enjoy a cornstalk maze and hayride during the Pumpkin Patch Express on weekends in October. Adults have their own opportunity to test drive a train and shovel some coal during the “At The Throttle” trip. A certified engineer and brakeman give directions as you guide the train down the tracks for your personal 30-minute excursion.


The Texas State Railroad (Rusk)

The Texas State Railroad in Rusk, Texas.

The Texas State Railroad in Rusk, Texas.

As the train’s durability quickly replaced the sporadic abilities of steamboats, America’s railways expanded westward deep in the heart of Texas in 1921. The Texas State Railroad has become quite famous over the years, garnering several appearances in TV series like Chuck Norris’ “Walker, Texas Ranger” and 16 films, including “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “Rough Riders.” The TSR train depot, in Rusk, features campgrounds and numerous outdoor activities for the kids, ranging from a water playground to horseshoes and shuffleboard. Parents will certainly enjoy the Moonlight Special Dinner Train on Oct. 10 or a Fall Foliage Brunch Train on Nov. 9, as the seasonally themed Maydelle trip includes a savory meal and non-alcoholic beverages.


South Carolina Railroad Museum (Columbia)

The city that can lay claim to the nation’s first steam passenger train is Charleston (SC), with a six-mile track and a six-horsepower engine, which was opened like a gift, on Christmas Day 1830. However, the South Carolina Railroad Museum is located near Columbia in Winnsboro and features the Blue Granite Express, which typically operates on Saturdays. Passengers can opt for first-class, coach, open air or caboose seating during chartered, seasonal or special events.


Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (Bryson City, NC)

Combining gorgeous mountain vistas and numerous child-oriented train trips, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad might be the best whistle stop for the family. Tikes can join the PEANUTS gang while riding The Great Pumpkin Patch Express on weekends in October. An uncommon nighttime run on The Masquerade Train offers spooky scenery and a full buffet for those 21 and older on Oct. 31. The Tuckasegee Excursion will be free for current and prior military members from Nov. 7-9 in honor of Veterans Day.


Kentucky Railway Museum (New Haven)

Remain alert for clues while riding the Mystery Theatre train on Oct. 25 at the Kentucky Railway Museum. For those seeking 90-minute movie-like suspense, passengers can ride the rails for a good cause during the Train Robbery trip. Horse-mounted hooligans will hold up the train, with the loot benefiting the Crusade for Children charity for kids with special needs. On Oct. 11, the number of engines will vastly increase as the railway hosts their 3rd annual Vintage Car Show.


North Alabama Railroad Museum (Huntsville)

As summer begins to fade into fall, train enthusiasts can snap photos from an open-air baggage car during a short excursion from the North Alabama Railroad Museum in Huntsville.  Others may choose to relax in the renovated dining car during the Sept. 20 trip on the “North Alabamian.” Other trips include the Punkin’ Pickin’ Extravaganza on Oct. 11, Fall Color Specials on Oct 25 and Nov. 1, and Santa Trains on Dec. 6, 7 and 13.