Located snugly in the North Carolina Mountains between Boone and Blowing Rock, North Carolina, Tweetsie Railroad is a small Wild Western Theme Park. Opening its gates to the public on July 4th, 1957, Tweetsie Railroad takes passengers on a 3-mile excursion behind an authentic, coal-fired steam locomotive, back in time to the days of the Wild West, where you can expect just about anything to happen!
The park's history goes all the way back to 1866, with the founding of the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina (ET&WNC) Railroad. The line, which began operations in 1882, ran from Johnson City, Tennessee to Cranberry, North Carolina, a total of about of about 32 miles. The line was built to transport iron ore from the mines at Cranberry to the furnaces and interchanges withe big, standard gauge lines in Johnson City. In 1919, the track would be extended 34 miles to Boone, North Carolina, bringing the total up to 66 winding and steep miles through the heart of the Blue Ridge. The nickname "Tweetsie" would first be associated with the little train in the 1930s, being derived upon the high-pitched "Tweet" sound of the whistle, and the unmistakable echo, ringing throughout the mountains. In August 1940, heavy rainstorms would end up flooding the Railroad's extension to Boone, and due to the high cost for repairs, the ICC authorized abandonment, leaving only the original 32 miles between Johnson City and Cranberry remaining. The line would struggle on into the 1940s, but by October 1950, the narrow gauge would be nothing more than a memory, or so everyone thought. As luck would have it, one of the locomotives, #12, built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1917, would be saved by a trio of businessmen from Virginia, who shipped the engine north to Penn Laird, VA, to become the centerpiece of their new tourist operation, the Shenandoah Central. Unfortunately, the little line wouldn't last too long, as in 1954, Hurricane Hazel would storm through, wiping the little railroad off the map. Like the ET&WNC before them, the 3 men had no funds to rebuild their railroad, so the engine was put back up for sale. One of the potential buyers was Hollywood cowboy legend Gene Autry, who planned to move the locomotive to California for use in the movies. However, he ultimately found that moving the locomotive across the country would cost too much. In the end, Tweetsie would be acquired by Grover C. Robbins Jr. of Blowing Rock, NC, who planned to return the locomotive to the North Carolina mountains to be restored, and eventually operate. After sealing the deal, in May 1956, the locomotive was sent to the shops of the Carolina & Northwestern Railroad in Hickory, NC for a full restoration. Its arrival was a cause for much fanfare, and North Carolina's governor at the time, Luther Hodges, officially proclaimed May 20th as "Tweetsie Homecoming Day." Finally, by 1957, #12 would be moved to her new home, and the high-pitched "Tweet Tweet" sound of the whistle rang throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains once again after nearly 2 decades, a sound that still rings true in the Blue Ridge after nearly 65 years.
The LEGO version of this iconic theme park train includes a LEGO model of ex-ET&WNC #12. Built to as close to the prototype as I could realistically get it, old #12 and her 3 open-air excursion cars are ready to take passengers on a scenic trip through the Blue Ridge, and back to the days of the Wild West. However, this being the Old West, there's always bound to some trouble. And unfortunately for the train crew, Bad Bart, leader of the infamous "Dead Horse Gang", has decided to rear his ugly head, taking Trooper Bogs, and has nefarious plans to rob the train of a precious gold shipment bound for Fort Boone! Luckily, the Sheriff and Deputy are also tagging along, ready to protect the gold at all costs. Of course, your trip on the Tweetsie Railroad isn't all gun-slinging action. At the back of the train is the friendly conductor, happy to point out sights along the way. Of course, how's an engine going to run without its crew? Well, it seems like the engineer called sick, so the fireman is forced to handle all the work! Despite all the craziness and shenanigans that occur on the Tweetsie Railroad on a daily basis, people young and old have continually flocked to see the little train.
Of course, that entire little paragraph might be a little convoluted to some, to summarize, we have:
- Locomotive #12 and Tender
- 3 Open Air Passenger Cars
- Loop of Track
- Engineer Minifigure
- Conductor Minifigure
- Sheriff Minifigure
- Deputy Minifigure
- Bad Bart (Bandit) Minifigure
- Trooper Bogs Minifigure
- Grandfather Minifigure
- Grandson Minifigure
However, there's one more element of this set I'd like to bring up. Also included is a buildable display stand (complete with information board!) for the locomotive and tender, allowing this set to function as either a train set or a cool display piece, which, in turn, helps it to appeal to a wide demographic.
Every project posted on LEGO Ideas originates from a place of passion. A passion for the little plastic brick, and the passion for the object and/or property being represented. For many of the IP-based LEGO Ideas projects, many of these projects are created from childhood nostalgia. Tweetsie Railroad is that for me. Tweetsie Railroad was my favorite place to go as a kid, and even today, I always look forward to a visit to what I consider my happy place. This project is my ultimate love-letter to LEGO, and the Tweetsie Railroad, and comes from a strong place of passion for both. I realize that Tweetsie has never really been, or will ever be considered a household name. However, as obscure as Tweetsie may be to folks outside of North Carolina, I see a strong potential market for this set. The prominent use of red and green could easily allow this set to act as a solid Christmas Tree or Winter Village train, while the colors not being too over the top allow it to more easily work within a regular LEGO Train layout without sticking out like a sore thumb. I realize that this project has a slim chance of passing the LEGO Review board, should it ever hit the magic 10,000 supporter mark, but the best I can do is to state my case, and really show the passion I have to the LEGO Ideas team.