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When the SAM Shortline Excursion Train pulls out of Georgia Veterans State Park, passengers forget their worries for a while, sit back and connect with their fellow travelers.  Riding in vintage cars, they watch pecan groves and country fields pass by their windows as the train rolls down the tracks.  Along the way, the train stops at little-known museums and quaint towns for plenty of shopping and exploration.

Riders have found that southwest Georgia’s tourist train is a one-of-a-kind getaway for a variety of reasons.  Some bring children for the sheer joy of watching their faces when they hear the train whistle. Groups of friends gather for good old-fashioned gossip and giggles.  Couples enjoy the romance of yesteryear.  And church groups come for fellowship and fun.

“We have all kinds of people on our train rides,” said Train Manager Kathy Odom.  “It’s the kind of daytrip that is relaxing for some, because they just want to sit back and enjoy the ride. And it’s an adventure for others who prefer to get off at a variety of stops and explore small towns.  We even host birthday parties, family reunions and anniversary parties on the train.”

The SAM Shortline runs only a few days each month, and the schedule and layovers vary from day to day.  Each excursion begins at Georgia Veterans State Park in Cordele as the train crosses Lake Blackshear on a wooden trestle.  Its first stop is usually Americus, where colorful homes from developing nations greet passengers as they step off near Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village. Passengers can also shop boutiques or tour the historic Rylander Theater and Windsor Hotel before hopping back on the train.

The next destination is Plains, a little town made famous by being the campaign headquarters and current home of President Jimmy Carter.  Visitors can sample peanut-butter treats and go shopping along the quaint main street.  A bit further down the tracks is Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, a beautiful country farm where the president spent his boyhood.  Walking through houses and barns, visitors can hear recordings of the president talking about his upbringing.  Running around a garden and windmill lets the youngest train passengers burn off energy before re-boarding.

Perhaps the most surprising stop along the way is the Rural Telephone Museum in Leslie, a destination on the “Southwest Georgia Arrow” ride.  This large building is filled with antique cars, clocks, switchboards and, of course, telephones.

“Several people tell us that the telephone museum is their favorite part of the trip,” said Odom.  “I think they’re surprised because few people have heard of it, and it’s found in such a small town.  That’s part of the charm though.”

The train’s many volunteers wear conductor hats and bandannas as they greet boarding passengers.  Their enthusiasm and love for the train is infectious, ensuring that all travelers have a great experience.  One long-time volunteer has an uncanny resemblance to the train’s mascot conductor “Sam” and enjoys posing for photos with passengers.

For four days in October of each year, preschoolers are thrilled to ride a real train pulled by storybook character Thomas the Tank Engine.  It’s a big event, where kids can take a 25-minute train ride over Lake Blackshear, meet Sir Topham Hatt, play with Mega Bloks and listen to storytellers.

The SAM Shortline Excursion Train’s 2012 schedule is posted on www.SamShortline.com.  Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 1-877-427-2457.  Prices vary depending on which railcar is chosen, and rates range from $17.99 per child to $35.99 for a premium adult ticket.  Most trips depart at 9:30 a.m. and return in the late afternoon or early evening.  Prices for the Thomas the Tank event run from $14.98 to $19.26.

2012 Calendar of Train Rides

SAM Shortline Excursion Train
Located inside Georgia Veterans State Park.
2459 U.S. Highway 280 WCordele, GA 31015

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