All Aboard the Murder Mystery Express!
Time goes backwards as the diesel train clatters along the steel tracks, whistle blasting around every curve, bells ringing urgently at road crossings while motorists wave from waiting cars. Murder most foul is in the air and the passengers hold their breath as the drama unfolds in the swaying aisle of the dining car, then moves on to the next carriage.
The train is bound for Watertown, but will the victim arrive at the destination? The 550 passengers settle back for the 90 minute journey, watching the miles slowly click by. We’re on the Tennessee Central Railway line riding in 1950s vintage rail cars, owned by the Tennessee Central Railway Museum (TCRM) or individual members of the museum.
The conductor, 91-year-old Albert, stops to check on us, and explains what to expect on the 45 mile outbound trip which departed Nashville at 4:00pm. Each of the 30 uniformed volunteers aboard are passionate train lovers who donate their time and energy for the sheer joy of it.
President of the TCRM and also manager of the Music City Star commuter train that runs from Lebanon to Nashville, Terry Bebout strides down the aisle, making sure everything is running smoothly, ready to troubleshoot any problem. He fell in love with trains at the age of two, when his grandmother took him on his first train ride from Nashville to Pensacola. He is now enjoying a second career following his true passion. “I get to play with passenger trains every day. It’s my life!” he enthused.
He personally owns the last carriage on the train, once owned by Jackie Gleason who had it retrofitted with several bedrooms, living room, dining room and kitchen after its retirement from Southern Pacific Railroad.
The train snakes through undulating farmland and past small towns, its four engines pulling ten passenger cars, including dome observation car, dining car and baggage car-cum-souvenir shop. Passengers are able to move freely through the train from one carriage to another, pick up a snack in the dining car, chat with volunteer rail staff, make new friends. Only light snacks are served so passengers can enjoy dinner at their destinations and support the local communities. The Tennessee Central Railway was originally built in the early 1900s to haul coal from the Cumberland Plateau. The line between Clarkesville, Nashville and Knoxville was divided between TCR, L & N and Southern, with L & N holding tight control over Nashville. Hard times have taken their toll, but the all-volunteer, non-profit TCR Museum has now brought passenger rail travel back to life over a 216 mile stretch of Tennessee’s rail system, between Nashville and Monterey.
Year-round themed excursion trips on select Saturdays take train enthusiasts on round trips of 64 to 216 miles. Historic Watertown is a common destination, coinciding with such events as its Music and Arts Festival, and Fall Mile-Long Yard Sale.
So what’s your poison? A Murder Mystery Trip to DelMonaco Winery, the North Pole Express with Santa, a Fall Foliage Trip to Monterey’s Standing Stone Fall Festival, or a genuine Train Robbery, where bandits on horseback hold up the train and actually rob the passengers? Once a training ground for Civil War men and mules, Watertown even sets up a fake Western town with saloon, can can dancers and family activities in its historic square to take care of the train robbery victims on their arrival!
Coming up the first two weekends of September is the wildly popular Day Out With Thomas The Tank Engine. Kids can enjoy hands-on experience at the Tennessee Central Railway Museum, where 25 minute rides depart every hour, pulled by a full size Thomas the Tank Engine.
Excursions book up fast, so check the schedule and make your plans! If you’re looking to celebrate that special event with a twist, you can even book a birthday party or wedding on the train!