Longview, Texas, April 28 and 29
|School children queue up to get on board the Exhibit Train at Longview.||More than 1,000 grade school children paid us a visit on Friday.||Train-themed fun at Longview contributed to the festivities.|
|The cooking demonstration was one of many exhibits.||The "Made in Texas" booth provided many goodies.||The Longview Library contributed a moon-bounce, face-painting and storytelling for the children.|
When the Exhibit Train first visited Texas back in January, we were overwhelmed by the hearty welcome and the large crowds that gathered in Ft. Worth and San Antonio. Departing for New Orleans at the end of the month, we really didn’t expect to be back so soon—but then we started receiving letters from Longview dignitaries, including City Council Member Kasha Williams. All of them described the city’s rich history as a major East Texas rail hub—Longview boasted four rail lines by the early 20th century—and requested that the Exhibit Train make a visit to what is today one of the busiest Amtrak stations in Texas.
As the pieces fell into place, city officials decided that the train’s visit would be a great backdrop for a ceremony to kick-off the rehabilitation of the former Texas and Pacific Railroad depot. Now largely unused, the Colonial Revival brick station will be transformed over the next year into an intermodal hub accommodating intercity passenger rail, buses, shuttles, and taxis.
On Friday morning, project partners and residents gathered for the groundbreaking. Speakers included members of theLongview City Council, the East Texas Corridor Council, and Amtrak, and attendees represented groups such as BNSF, the Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority, the East Texas Council of Governments, and Greyhound Lines. As part of the ceremony, the world-famous Kilgore College Rangerettes—a female drill team outfitted in patriotic red, white, and blue—entertained the crowd. Later that evening, a reception was held aboard the Warren R. Henry and the Evelyn Henry, vintage rail cars originally manufactured for the UP in the early 1950s. Attendees especially enjoyed the former, a Dome-Lounge car that once ran on the UP’s Portland Rose.
Throughout the day, more than 1,000 grade school children from all across Longview paid a visit to the Exhibit Train to learn about railroad history and technology. Amtrak created a teacher’s guide to highlight specific exhibits, and volunteer Blake Harris, attired in a conductor’s uniform, punched tickets at the entry. Many of the students represented their schools by wearing special t-shirts or badges. On the route map, the kids located Texas and their town, and the catenary display was used to explain how certain materials, such as metal, can be used to conduct electrical current—in this case to power the locomotives in the northeastern states. Adjacent to the depot, the students also got an up-close look at a Longview Transit Bus.
On Saturday and Sunday, we had one of our best crowds yet with more than 3,000 visitors. Dedicated city of Longview employees—especially Community Services Coordinator Dietrich Johnson—worked hard to organize the three day-event, and the result was a great time that resembled one big community block party. The smell of roasting corn wafted through the air, and snow cones in a rainbow of colors glistened in the noonday sun. Local organizations such as the Gregg County Historical Museum, the City of Mineola, Operation Lifesaver, the NAACP and the city of Longview Water Department set up interesting exhibits, and more than a dozen businesses put out their wares. People also enjoyed live music and dancing on a stage set up next to the depot. Performers included ArtsView Children's Theatre, the Broughton Line Dancers, the Hall Brothers Band and belly dancers.
The Longview Police and Fire Departments joined the fun with equipment displays, while officers from Amtrak’s K-9 team showed off their dogs’ skills. On Sunday, the Fire Department generously treated all event-goers to hot dogs fresh from the grill. Just to the west of the depot is a beautiful park with train-themed climbing equipment. During the celebration, kids also enjoyed a moon-bounce, face-painting and storytelling courtesy of the Longview Library. Two very tall clowns delighted the crowd by making colorful balloon animals on request. As usual, the Chuggington table was a big hit, and the little ones loved taking rides on a small train set up in the parking lot.
Well, as they say, the railroad never stops—bidding farewell to Texas once again, we packed up our things and headed north to participate in the year’s first National Train Day celebration in Toledo. See you there!