Food Feature: On the rails again

Retracing historical tracks on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway

A few minutes after boarding passengers, the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway train slowly pulls away from the depot, blowing its whistle loudly into the steamy air.
Not long after leaving downtown Blue Ridge, Ga., we're clickety-clacking along at a cruising speed of 15 mph. From our bench seats in a 1950s vintage enclosed passenger car, we look out on the passing scene of farmhouses, old telegraph lines and the meandering Toccoa River, whose tranquil edges are lined with lush hardwoods. Stepping into an open-air car, we hear a volunteer "car host" point out fish traps where the Cherokee Indians arranged river rocks to make fish easier to spear.
The romance of the rails has beckoned my mother all her life, so this ride on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway seems a fitting way to celebrate her 70th birthday. The nostalgic trip retraces the tracks of my mother's father, who labored in the nearby copper mines in the years before World War I. But it also summons my mother's own girlhood memories — the thrill of riding in a Pullman car on train trips to visit grandparents in New Jersey and the streetcar rides that bounced and lurched her across town to Rich's department store and Atlanta Crackers ballgames.
This rolling railroad museum takes us 26 miles round-trip on an old rail line completed more than a century ago. We make a 45-minute stop in quaint McCaysville, where a blue line painted in the middle of a downtown street marks the end of Georgia and the beginning of Tennessee. While grabbing some lunch at the Big Frog Coffee Shop, we hear the train's whistle blow, so we bundle up our things and hurry back to the train.
Like a slowly rewinding videotape, we pass by the same scenery on the trip back. The railroad's Whistle Stop Band entertains us to the foot-stomping bluegrass sounds of songs like "Bill Bailey" and "I'll Fly Away," along with a rendition of "Happy Birthday" for my mother.
The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway departs from Blue Ridge, Ga., about 90 miles from Atlanta. Open from April-December. $12-$24. For information, call 800-934-1898 or visit www.brscenic.com.

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