Two of Dollywood’s most famous leading ladies celebrated milestone birthdays this year. Katie celebrates her 75th, while “Cindy” enjoys the big 8-0 this season. Both ladies have the opportunity to entertain thousands of Dollywood guests each season, and their performances turn heads and garner waves of admiration wherever the track takes them.
They both admirably served in the U.S. Army during World War II, but now enjoy their retirement years at the world’s friendliest theme park. Their “warm” demeanors certainly are welcomed here.
The two Baldwin coal-fired steam trains—Klondike Katie, No. 192, and Cinderella, No. 70—were built in 1943 and 1938 respectively by Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia. Both trains served in Alaska during World War II, transporting troops and lumber on various missions across what would become the 49th U.S. state. Both engines were still in use when they were purchased from the Army. The two locomotives now work together to serve guests as The Dollywood Express, one of the park’s signature attractions.
Klondike Katie has worked most of the season while her co-worker Cinderella underwent a months-long refresh. She now looks much like she did back in 1938, with similar cosmetics and a font type close to what would have been on her originally. Just in time for Dollywood’s Harvest Festival presented by Humana (now- Nov. 3), both Cinderella and Klondike Katie are ready to charge full steam ahead into the park’s busy fall and Christmas seasons.
Dollywood Express Team Lead Tim Smith says maintaining the workhorses is a labor of love for his team. For many of them, their current jobs were dreams many years in the making. Smith has had an interest in steam trains his whole life, working at the North Carolina Transportation Museum, as well as Tweetsie Railroad (located in Blowing Rock, North Carolina). He moved west and worked at the Durango and Silverton Railroad in Durango, Colorado and the Virginia and Truckee Railroad in Virginia City, Nevada. He desired to move closer to home and in 2015 accepted his current position at Dollywood.
“We do most of the work ourselves,” the North Wilkesboro, North Carolina native said. “It gives our group a sense of pride in what we do to know we’re able to keep these trains running and give our guests memories they’re always going to hold on to. We can do most of the maintenance work here, but there are things we send out to others to help us with from time to time. We have an iron caster in LaFollette (Tennessee) that can do most of the ironwork we need. Klondike Katie’s sister (engine No. 190) is at Tweetsie Railroad; they have the equipment needed to work on our drive wheels.”
When Klondike Katie first arrived in Pigeon Forge in 1961, the area looked much different. She anchored a new attraction that had just been built that provided visitors with a five-mile journey through the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. In the early years, there was not even a workshop to house Klondike Katie. After several changes of ownership, the small park was acquired in 1977 by Jack and Pete Herschend of the Branson, Missouri-based Herschend Enterprises. Owners of Silver Dollar City in Branson, the brothers renamed the park Silver Dollar City, Tennessee. The big steam engine was acquired as part of the sale.
That same year, the Herschends acquired engine 70 and shipped her to the park to work alongside No. 192. After Dolly Parton and the Herschends formed Dollywood in 1986, and the number of visitors continued to climb, the two locomotives continued faithfully serving. For thousands of guests, The Dollywood Express is their main reason for visiting. Smith and his hardworking team balance a tricky schedule to ensure the engines receive the maintenance they need, while also staying operational for park guests each day.
“Our hardest part is balancing the demand of the park schedule with the needed maintenance,” Smith explained. “We try to do our maintenance when the park is closed so we don’t inconvenience our guests. We try not to do major projects when the park is open, but there are times that we have to do it. It probably upsets us more than it does the guests because we love how it feels when you take them up the mountain and they come back with smiles on their faces. On those rare days when we do have to undertake major maintenance, I assure you our team is probably more unhappy about it than the guests. But we work hard to stay on our schedule and make sure as much as we can is taken care of when the park is closed.”
And while most folks may think maintenance stops with the locomotives, the crew in the train shop also has to maintain the tracks and the passenger cars. It adds up to a great deal of work each season.
“The train shop annually replaces around 200-300 crossties out of the nearly 6,000 ties in the track,” Smith continued. “We occasionally replace entire sections of the track during the winter months. The locomotives, cars and tracks are looked over constantly looking for anything unusual by the team. We generally try to do our most extensive maintenance during the winter. The cars are inspected top to bottom and repainted each winter. Each locomotive is checked over inside and out. Some winters we may be just replacing a few rod brasses and then some winters we may have the whole engine disassembled.”
For the untrained eye (and ear), it may be hard to tell the two apart, except for the numbers emblazoned on their sides. For the many locomotive enthusiasts who visit the park, as well as the Dollywood hosts who work alongside them every day, each has its own personality. Klondike Katie originally was built for speed, while Cinderella had more power and torque to pull heavier loads. In addition to the visual cues, the engines sound very different; especially as they begin their climb out of the Dollywood Express Train Depot for the 20-minute roundtrip experience. Even the folks who work on the pair have their favorite—they just don’t let the other engine know it. Even Smith does a great job of hiding which is his “true” favorite.
“I generally tell folks that ask me that my favorite is the one that is running,” he said with a laugh. “Klondike Katie is my sentimental favorite since it is the park’s original engine; I also spent 15 years operating her sister engine 190 at Tweetsie Railroad. But, I would have to say #70 is my favorite of the two to operate.”
No matter which locomotive is pulling the train, The Dollywood Express is a guest-favorite for many who visit the park. Happy Birthday, Klondike Katie and Cinderella!