A steam engine could be heard in downtown Macon this weekend, a sound welcomed by train enthusiasts of all ages.
Crowds gathered to ride the Nancy Hanks Special on trips from Macon to Tennille at 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. Macon resident Toni Elliott rode the Sunday morning train and was very complimentary of the experience.
“You know, it was exhilarating,” she said. “It’s very exciting being on a train, I guess.”
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At age 59, Elliott’s ride Sunday was her first on a train, and she said the whole trip was enjoyable.
“Loved it, very exciting,” she said. “The service was great, the temperature inside was great.”
The praise came after a slight delay as the steam engine waited for a freight train to pass along the tracks behind Terminal Station and exit the area again. The train also saw hiccups Saturday, with the morning run cut short by another train’s breakdown and other stops for passing freight trains.
That didn’t dampen passengers’ spirits, said conductor Ed Rutland of Macon.
“We watched four trains go by,” Rutland said. “People were taking pictures, just having a ball.”
Rutland said he wasn’t quite sure what it was about trains that seemed to draw people’s attention so much.
“I guess it’s something fun to do, get to see all the parts of the country, short term,” he said.
The enthusiasm wasn’t limited to those riding the steam-driven locomotive, as dozens gathered to watch the train, take pictures and shoot video. Among the first waiting to catch a glimpse of Sunday’s afternoon train was Jackson resident Cliff Davis with 8-year-old son Billy and 4-year-old daughter Ella.
He said Billy was the driving force behind the trip to see the Nancy Hanks.
“He’s a train fanatic, so we brought him down to see it,” Cliff said.
Billy said that the speed and sound of trains are what he likes about them. He’s seen the steam locomotive at Heritage Park in McDonough, but that train isn’t in operation.
“It’s cool ... because I’ve never seen one that’s actually working,” Billy said.
That love for trains extends across generations, as 52-year-old Keith Harvey of Macon was also set up along the tracks with his wife, Donna, and their dog, Holly. Harvey, who described himself as a “train watcher,” recorded the steam engine’s return on video and had plans to follow its trip through Gordon later in the afternoon.
He said he had never been able to pinpoint why he fell in love with trains.
“Been trying to figure that out since I was 6 years old,” Harvey said. “They’re big and powerful; there’s nothing like a steam engine.”
He was delighted at the chance to see one come so close to home.
“I never thought they’d run one here in Macon,” he said. “I’m glad to see it.”
After her first trip on a train, Elliott took that desire one step further. She’d like to see a more permanent rail option for travelers, something that’s been a topic of discussion in Georgia for years. The Nancy Hanks was originally the name of a passenger train that came through Macon running from Savannah to Atlanta and back in the mid-1900s.
“They need a passenger system for Macon,” she said, pointing to the reaction of young riders in the passenger cars. “Kids’ eyes, they’re all in awe.”
To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331 or find him on Twitter@MTJTimm.