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Stone Mountain Park's scenic railroad celebrates 50 years
by LaTria Garnigan
lgarnigan@neighbornewspapers.com
May 31, 2012 03:06 PM | 2237 views | 1 1 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Stone Mountain Railroad, which is in the top three attractions at Stone Mountain Park, celebrates 50 years of operation this year.



It opened in 1962, but at first was not the circular track known to visitors today — it first began as a train ride from Confederate Hall to the now playground area or “old show ground.”



In the present day, the train is a five-mile journey around the base of the mountain, where passengers not only get to hear music, but historical information as well.



Jeanine Jones, spokeswoman for the park, said during busy holidays like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July they can run two trains at once, and can hitch on as many train cars as needed.



“It’s because it is one of our most popular attractions, and we want everybody to be able to ride the train,” said Jones of the usual holiday crowds. “We’re hopping on all day long until 8 p.m.”



Conrad Cheney, chief engineer of the Stone Mountain Railroad, said it is a standard gauge railroad — which is very unique for a state park to have.



“We’re one of the few that has that,” Cheney said. “Meaning our trains are like trains that come out of the main line. There are normally miniature railroads that you get in parks.”



Cheney began with the park 18 years ago part-time, when he used to work with the New Georgia Railroad and ran a dinner train into the park from 1987 to 1995. He began full time three years ago.



He mentioned they are in the process of finishing up refurbishing locomotives he brought in from the New Georgia Railroad, with a goal of having them last another 30 years.



“We get compliments on them quite a bit now and it blends in well with the surroundings,” said Cheney. “That was one of my goals when I came over to make sure we could do that.”



John Gann, who began working in the park in 1962 — three weeks before the first operation of the trains — has a storied history of the park from then until now.



Gann remembers visiting the park and hiking with his mother and sisters in the 1940s.



When the railroad first began, Gann mentioned they were all steam engines, but moved to diesel in the mid-80s, as the steam engines took quite a bit of work to operate.



Gann has had several roles with the railroad — he drove the train for nine years, was once in operation of the train and also acted in the train’s show as Black Bart. The show began in 1979 and featured a myriad of characters involved in robbing the train. It ended in 1987.



“We had a lot of special effects — it was quite a show,” said Gann. “We have people still wanting to bring back the show; it has passed through grandparents, to parents to their children.”



As part of the commemoration of the railroad’s 50 years, Stone Mountain Park will have a behind the scenes educational program starting in October for school-age children. It will begin Oct. 5 and run every Friday in October. Children will be able to get up close and personal with how the railroad line operates by witnessing live, interactive demonstrations and signaling techniques led by the engineer. The program will meet the Georgia Performance Standards.



Train facts



-April 12, 1962 the Stone Mountain Scenic Railroad opens at Stone Mountain Park



-April 26, 1962, the first Stone Mountain train, General II, pulls out of the station



-1987 – the spur connecting the mountain package to the CSX main line was built and the railroad hosted several visiting trains, including Savannah and Atlanta Railway steam locomotive No. 750



-1990 – diesel engines were donated by the New Georgia Railroad



-2008 – train renovations began featuring upgraded engines, new brake systems and a new paint scheme



-There are three engines in operation: two FP7s (freight passenger trains) and one GP7 (general passenger train)



-The train includes a 25 to 30 minute ride about the base of Stone Mountain and runs every 40 minutes



Information: www. stonemountainpark.com.
Comments
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kthomas8
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January 02, 2013
The story mentions the train robbery show ran from 1979 to 1987. I thought I recalled seeing the show when I was elementary aged, which would have been early 1970's. Did the show not run then and with with enclosed passenger cars like used on the Ga RR?
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