I asked her if it was ok for me to call my husband on my cell while I had her on the phone. I wanted to ask him if he wanted to just take the kids since it was a Sunday and they could do activities and see Snoopy while we had our layover for lunch in Palestine. He said yes we put in our lunch selections and we headed out to Rusk, Texas before the sun was up yesterday morning. 4:30 am is early mind you, but was well worth it. We arrived 2 and half hours early (they ask you to arrive an hour to 45 minutes early) and got to explore the park. The kids got to see an old jail, an old church, the ENTIRE park area of the Texas State Railroad park in Rusk and we got to check out the outside of the Depot before everyone else started to arrive. It also let us be the first to be in the depot and gift shop, because the other arrivals got there. We got to take our time to check out all of the displays they had inside and out. Wonderful experience that was full of fun and history.
The train itself is 100 years old (possibly older) and the depots you visit are in fact the old and original train depots from when the train line was put in. There is a lot of history to this train, train line and the surrounding areas you see along the way. My kids had a hands on learning experience and got to meet snoopy too!
I honestly hope yesterday in fact was not the last time the train will ride out. I would like to experience the fun again for the Polar Express Ride this Christmas. To let everyone know what kinds of events they have for the children visit their website at www.texasstaterr.com and read all about it. This is something I honestly think would be a great family vacation if you want to travel and see the country side. Beautiful area to visit with a beautiful local hotel in the area and the park itself has rv/travel trailer hookups and tent campgrounds. On site laundry was also seen, bathrooms and showers plus a little general store at the park gates. They have a lake with a huge pavilion that sports a fire pit in the center for events and canoe rentals. You can swim (at your own risk no lifeguard on duty), but the most fun to me is the train and the depot itself. The depot in Rusk has a theater as well where you can sit and watch a movie while you wait for your train to start loading. You even get to experience the call of the conductor saying "ALL ABOARD" along with getting your ticket punched.
The people who work on the train and in the depot are some of the most polite and fun people I have ever met. They love doing the train rides and it shows, but it shows even more how much happiness it brings them to see all of those children smile and have fun when they do the special events for them. It is ALL about the kids and those smiles. Even when people are snooty acting to them they continue to smile which before long becomes extremely contagious. I will tell you now if you are not a happy smiley person you will be within minutes of leaving the depot if not before you even board the train. Really friendly and hospitable people.
Lunch is included with your ticket price (which when you make your reservations you let them know what you would like and the lunches are waiting for you at your layover in Palestine. This is literally an all day event and is well worth the cost of the tickets. We rode in the coach car which is not climate controlled, but it was cozy. People snuggled up with a blanket on the train while they watched the country side pass by. For our event yesterday the kids got to see Snoopy on board the train and snap pics while on board the train with him. They passed out little red poof ball things (these are things I remember getting as a child for Valentine's day). The kids got heart headbands and little valentine activity books with crayons not long after departing Rusk Depot. When we arrived to Palestine Depot for our layover we were handed souvenirs tumblers which we were told we could fill up for free in the Depot. I myself and my husband grabbed coffee after sitting outside in a cold breeze eating. No matter the temps though it was fun! Lunch was great! We had Deli sandwiches on a big white roll style bread. Chips, Chocolate Chip Cookie , fruit cup and pickle were also in our boxes. My kids had PB&J on potato bread with Chocolate Chip Cookies, Potato Chips, Pickle, Fruit Roll up and Fruit Cup. They were giving free drinks on ice to those who wanted one also while passing out lunches.
Activities for the kids at the depot before the train ride back to Rusk included more Snoopy, temporary tattoos, live music from a very talented guy (he got snoopy and the kids up doing the hoky poky), valentines to color and the love bug! Yes my boys each made a love bug and enjoyed it. As soon as our train departed on it's way back to Rusk they passed out fruit punch to everyone, heart sugar cookies to the kids (then came back with some for the adults) and then more punch for those who wanted some. Many took naps on the ride back (my littlest one included) and balloons were passed out to each of the children as well. There is a concession car on board where you can get popcorn, candy bars, souvenirs and drinks. Oh and yes there are bathrooms on board too! I know I was worried about this with my youngest being one who at times has to go often due to his kidney.
So ALL ABOARD the Texas State Railroad and hope to hear that call again in the future.
Departing the Rusk Depot
*Edit... Just read that this same train was also used in the making of many movies one being a family favorite of ours. O Brother Where art thou... They also made Streets of Laredo and many more commercials, movies, music videos and tv shows on this East Texas stretch of railway & train.
P.S. Just a little something to show everyone the fun Polar Express Ride I hope to be taking with my family Christmas 2012.