Sunday, September 7, 2014

Travel Through History Aboard The SAM Shortline Train

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Who needs a DeLorean when you have a train? One of our many fun adventures during our South Georgia Adventure was a ride aboard the SAM Shortline Train. The 19th century mainline is operated today by Heart of Georgia Railroad and used by the SAM Shortline's passenger trains. As a matter of fact the name “SAM Shortline” derives from the original railroad’s name, the Savannah, Americus and Montgomery, and from the name of the line’s founder and president, Colonel Samuel Hugh Hawkins, a prominent 19th century Sumter County capitalist. You can read more about the amazing history of  the SAM Shortline here.

A moms review:
The SAM Shortline train is an air-conditioned passenger train with vintage cars from 1949. Each train car is named after one of the cities it visits. The SAM Shortline makes stops in 4 quaint towns that offer a variety of attractions, restaurants and shopping. The train only operates Thursdays through Sundays and there are several excursions to choose from. Depending on which day you travel, the train stops long enough for passengers to get on and off the cars, usually only 5 minutes. Some stops are longer layovers, allowing you to visit the town (s) and soak in some history. You can also opt to stay in a town and catch the train back on its return trip or even the next day.

There are two boarding locations from which excursions begin: The Cordele Depot or the Georgia Veterans State Park Depot. We took the Watermelon Express Train Ride which boarded at the Cordele Depot and had a layover in Plains, Georgia.

The Cordele Depot is located on 9th Avenue in a historic, yellow brick building right across the street from the railroad tracks. On the other side of the railroad tracks is ample free parking for passengers. While I picked up our tickets the children had fun playing with the toy train tables. After I got our tickets we read about the history of the railroad, checked out the artifacts and posed with Sam and Thomas for photos. Definitely be sure to check out the gift shop which is full of train toys, memorabilia and lots of Thomas the Train merchandise.

Then the whistle blew and it was time to board. The first thing the children noticed about the train was that it had two engines! Since we were in the "Hawkins" car we had to take a little bit of a walk down the sidewalk to our train car. There is no platform so you do have to step up to board, but handicap lifts are available for those with disabilities. Boarding was quick and easy! There are several car accommodation options to choose from including coach class, premium seating and VIP lounge seating. Fares start at $29.99 for adults and $19.99 for children. Seating ranges from bus like benches to padded luxury.

The "Samuel H. Hawkins" car was absolutely lovely. Stepping inside truly felt like we had traveled back in time. This particular car is the most historic piece of equipment operated by the SAM Shortline and was named after the original SAM founder and president. The #1508 tavern-observation car was built by Budd in 1939 and ran on the Florida East Coast Railway as the "Bay Biscayne" before becoming the 6607 on the Seaboard's passenger car roster. The car was climate-controlled (bring a sweatshirt) and featured carpeting, ceiling fans, leather couches (comfy enough to take a nap on) and tables and chairs (perfect for dining, playing and coloring). The windows were very wide and provided us with great views and photo ops. This VIP lounge ticket also includes includes a complimentary beverage and lunch from the concession car.

Throughout all of the cars are beautiful old photos and artwork depicting early trains and the cities on the route. Restrooms are available and feature airline style toilets, hot water and soap. My husband recommends sitting because the toilet is a moving target!

As mentioned above there is a dining car if you need a snack or meal (VIP Lounge Seating and Premium Seating include complimentary dining car snack/meal options). There is also a gift shop in the same car. Choose from Chick-fil-A sandwiches (get these early because they go quickly), hot dogs, chips, tea, soda, candy, popcorn, warm soft pretzels and more. Prices were very reasonable and ranged from $1.00-$3.00 for snack and beverage items. There were several volunteers on staff to assist you with your food orders and there was never a wait.

The staff on board the SAM Shortline was warm, friendly, courteous, personable and accommodating. The majority of them are volunteers who have a passion for trains and history. They gave us history lessons, told us stories, made sure we were comfortable and most importantly they loved children. Their positive attitudes and southern hospitality really made trip extra special!

The trip to Plains took 2 hours one way so we had plenty of time to soak in the beautiful sights and chat with the volunteers and other passengers. During the rock and rumble ride we traveled past pecan groves aplenty, scenic country farms, small quaint towns, and the expansive Blackshear lake! The ride was so peaceful that a few of us may have taken a nap at some point!

Plains, Georgia Stop:
Our excursion included a 1 hour 10 minute layover in the historic town of Plains, Georgia. The town is a very small, quaint town with a population of around 750. The town is most recognized for it's famous resident Jimmy Carter the 39th president of the United States. Jimmy Carter was born, raised and still lives in this South Georgia town. But that's not all it is know for.... it is also well known for it's AMAZING peanut butter ice cream. The train unboards in downtown Plains right across the street from the city park (which has a really fun geocache). There is quite a bit to see and do in this small town and everything is within reasonable walking distance from the depot.

While making our way to the shops we stopped to check out the Main Street and Hudson Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Garden. There are a total of 12 stopping points on the Butterfly Trail which was started by Mrs. Carter in 2013.

Afterwards we headed over to the Plains Historic Inn and Antique Mall. We love antiques and it was time to add a few more to our collection. Plus our children have never really had a chance to do real antiquing with us. This place was amazing and the prices on the antiques were very reasonable. The children even picked out their souvenirs here. The Antique Mall is located on the first floor of the Inn and features 20 antique display booths. Next door is additional shopping space. Upstairs are 7 of the most unique accommodations I have ever seen (I cannot wait to stay here sometime). These rooms are free to tour if they do not have guests staying in them. Each room is authentically furnished from the 1920's to the 1980's, even the bathrooms fit the era. Every room is a history lesson. We were told by the shop/inn keeper that the Carter's each had thoughts on what the building should be turned into. One wanted an inn the other an antique store and so a compromise was made and the building was turned into both.

Afterwards we headed down to Plain Peanuts for some of the most delicious peanut butter ice cream we have ever tasted. The store started in Billy Carter's Service Station in 1987 and after outgrowing the space moved to its current location in 1992. The building were it is now located was the first warehouse President Carter's father started the family peanut business in, back in 1942. If you are looking for peanut candies, fried peanuts, raw peanuts, roasted peanuts, jams and jellies, peanut butter ice cream and souvenirs this is the place to stop.

Before boarding the train we made a quick stop by the Plains Depot which was the 1976 Campaign Headquarters for Carter. Inside is a free self-guided museum detailing his grassroots campaign.

The residents of this town were extremely friendly, informative and very proud of their little town. They made each visitor feel welcomed with their southern hospitality.

Other things to see in Plains include Plains High School Museum and Visitor Center, Boyhood Farm, Lebanon Cemetery, Public Housing Unit 9-A, Billy Carter's Service Station, Plains Baptist Church and Plains United Methodist Church (note some of these are not within walking distance).

After you return to Cordele I encourage you to visit some of the sights like Georgia Veterans Memorial State Park. This lovely state park was established as a memorial to U.S veterans and features a museum with aircraft, armored vehicles, uniforms, weapons, medals and other items from the Revolutionary War through the Gulf War. There is also an 18-hole golf course, 8,700 lake, sandy swimming beach, geocaching, hiking trails, nature trail, campground and disk golf.

Extra details:
-No flipflops or sandals are aloud to be worn
-Bring: wet wipes, child distractions, camera, books, etc
-There is no cell service and no power outlets (so make sure everything is fully charged)
-Luxury car = longest walk to dining car
-No coolers, food or drinks are allowed on the train
-Tickets are non-refundable
-If you plan to geocache be sure to save them to your device ahead of time especially if you use your cell phone (service is very bad)

Cordele Depot
105 East 9th Avenue
Cordele, GA 31015

When to visit:
Anytime of the year!

-Coach Class - Adults $29.99, Children $19.99
-Premium Seating - Adults $39.99, Children $29.99
-VIP Lounge Seating - Adults and Children $49.99

Current Offer:
For the month of September you can get HALF-OFF coach tickets. But you must call 229-276-0755 to take advantage of this offer!

Photo: It's September! And our HALF-OFF coach ticket special runs through the end of the month. But you must call 229-276-0755 to take advantage of this offer!

Links to follow:
-SAM Shortline Facebook
SAM Shortline Twitter

Educational resources:
If you are looking for a way to enhance your train ride and make it even more educational and fun check out these resources.

-Trains eBook FREE
-DK The Big Book of Trains book $12.81
-Railroads Across North America book $11.10
-Famous Trains Dover Coloring book $3.59
-$1 Train Lapbook from A Journey Through Learning
-Railroad and train history links
-Train Unit Study by Unit Studies by Amanda Bennett $10.95
-The History of Trains Unit Study $3.95
-Trains Lapbook from In The Hands of a Child $6.00
-All About Trains $10.99
-Train Lapbook from Homeschool Share FREE
-Travel and vehicle journal/notebooking pages FREE
-Train Simulator App Android
-Train coloring pages FREE
-All about trains (includes a video)
-Train coloring pages, videos, photos, games and more
-Train history
-Train science
-Train toy set $17.69
-Train whistle $6.45
-Train conductor hat, bandanna and whistle set $5.87

Have you ever been on a train ride?

*Prices indicated in post are subject to change

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