published Monday, February 14th, 2011

Moment: Romance on the rails

  • photo
    Kenny Pittman and Stephanie Williams ride the Valentine’s Dinner Train hosted by the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. Pittman and Williams have been dating for three years and traveled from Hendersonville, Tenn., to ride the train.
    Staff Photo by Patrick Smith

Conversations fill Grand Junction Station as more than 50 passengers wait to board the Valentine's Dinner Train. As the train pulls away, the day's fading sunlight fills the dining car as servers dressed in white shirts and black bow ties take travelers' orders.

Hendersonville, Tenn., residents Kenny Pittman and Stephanie Williams, neither of whom had been on a train before, drove nearly three hours for the two-hour dinner ride.

"It's really nice and romantic," Williams said. "I can't stop smiling."

Riders are served a full meal, cooked in the dining car's fully functional kitchen.

"[The food] is so good. There's something about the glaze on the chicken," Williams said. "I've got to figure out how to make it."

The train crosses Chattanooga streets and travels through the Missionary Ridge Tunnel as it twists and turns down the track.

"It's like going down memory lane of all the places we grew up," Katie Vandergriff said. Vandergriff, who lives in Chattanooga, rode the train with her husband, Warren.

"You just don't have dinner on a train every day," Warren Vandergriff said. "It's a relaxed, slower pace. We're really enjoying it."

The unmistakable sound of the train whistle sounds just before coming to rest near 23rd Street, where the train will stop before being pulled back to the station.

"It's not really a destination ride," said David Duncan, a dining car steward. "We really want to give people a unique experience, to travel and eat on a dining car. It's a lot of fun, especially for Valentine's Day."

Duncan explained that after one ride, many enthusiasts, young and old, are hooked.

"We have lots of repeat customers."

As the train slowly rocks back and forth down the tracks, it pulls back into Grand Junction Station, and passengers prepare to leave.

"It really makes me happy. It's something to add to our scrapbook," Williams said.

MOMENT is a weekly column by the Times Free Press photo staff that explores the seldom-told stories of our region. Click here to hear this story in their own words.

about Patrick Smith...

Patrick Smith is the videographer for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He is a graduate of Western Kentucky University’s photojournalism program. He has split his time between shooting still photos and video for the newspaper’s website since 2007. A native of Bloomington, Ill., Patrick completed internships with the U.S. Army Public Affairs Office and the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since joining the Times Free Press, Patrick has been honored with several awards, including first place ...

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