WHITE RIVER SCENIC RAILWAY

WRSR Train at StationIf I were an Englishman visiting Arkansas I would make a special trip to ride on the White River Scenic Railroad if only because it originates from the Ozark town of Flippin. I can imagine a British subject returning home with a pocketful of photos and showing them to his countrymen, "This is the Flippin gas station, and this is the Flippin chamber of commerce, and this is the Flippin high school...."

Then again, that's probably one of those things that's funny only to me.

The White River Scenic Railway is one of northwest Arkansas' most popular spring/fall attractions. You'll definitely want to reserve your seats ahead of time, Engineereven midweek during spring's first flower and autumn's color change. The whole outfit is run by retired railroadmen and off-duty cops. Some guys have to settle for model trains, but not my engineer. That's him in the cammies and overalls. When he's not busting barnyard meth labs he's running trainloads of sightseers up and down the White River.

Conductor and Guide JohnHere on the left is John, the conductor on my trip. A former railroad engineer himself, he's quick with a quip as well as the lowdown on local restaurants and B&B's. He'll be the one describing points of interest along the way, and this being an attraction typically frequented by the blue-collar (as well as the no-collar) crowd, be ready for a somewhat acerbic, anti-elitist slant to the commentary.

For example, one of the points of interest is the Whitewater land development which was taxpayer-financed by the infamous Savings and Loan Bailout when Jim McDougal's bank went belly up (The law wouldn't let him loan himself money from his own S&L to develop Whitewater, so he made some unsecured loans to his friends who turned around and put the money into Whitewater. Who'da figgerd that would be illegal, too?). The overhead speaker crackles to life and you hear something like, "That on the other side of the river is the infamous Whitewater land development. Take a good look because you're paying for it. There's a rich man sleeping in that mansion, but you got stuck with the bill... Everybody sing along now! That land is your laaaand. That land is my laaaand. 'Cause Jim McDoooougalll's friends let him buuuy laaaand. And so we truuusted. The venture buuuusted. That bill was paid by you and meeee...."

The three tenors it ain't, but the people in my car enjoyed the comedy immensely.

A ride costs about 25 bucks and for an extra five you can ride in the first class car, which was once used as Bobby Kennedy's campaign car. Drawing the historic rolling stock is a former U.S. Army diesel locomotive built in 1953. If you go first class you get complimentary snacks and entertainment. Those of us who ride coach entertain ourselves and here's how we do it.

Karaoke Jokee! Karaoke Time on the WRSROnce we'd passed the main points of interest the entertainer from first class came into the car where I had hooked up with a church group from Sylvan Hills. He had with him a portable P.A., which he offered to any passenger who wanted to tell a joke or a story.

The man with the mike is the bus driver for the Sylvan Hills group, and he had some pretty good stories. I don't have space to repeat them here, but here are a couple of the punch lines. "You don't eat a pig like that all at once." "You old fool, you forgot the bacon." and "Then the catfish came back up and put another acorn on the branch."

He was so hilarious in the dining car that the entertainer invited him to go back into the next car and tell the same stories. The bus driver returned a few minutes later looking a little crestfallen and reported that the folks in the next car had a sense of humor just a little bit less sophisticated than ours.

I don't have many pictures of the scenery. I'm especially disappointed that my photos of the Whitewater property didn't look very good. I took the afternoon train and since the sun was low much of the time and since the view is most often southwest across the river those pictures got washed out. So there's your travel tip for the WRSR... take the a.m. train in spring and fall. In summer I don't think it would be as much of a problem. On the other hand, the p.m. train does get to see the sunset over the river. The WRSR can be boarded at several points along the route, in case you want to adjust the length of your ride. Shuttles also run from Calico Rock to the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, in case you'd like to combine the attractions for a full day's Ozark excursion.

RTJ--12/1/98


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