On occasion of S-Boy’s birthday we decided to ride the Texas State Railroad on their Pumpkin Express. While that’s not the official name for this Halloween special ride, I love calling the train by that name since it’s so apt. The Texas State Railroad is a historic railroad in the Piney Woods area; the track between Rusk and Palestine is designated the Official Railroad of Texas. The road from Houston to Rusk or Palestine Railroad Depot is roughly 3 hrs and goes through the dense, pine-wooded Davy Crockett National Forest.
Full Disclosure: We were partially sponsored by the awesome folks at Texas State Railroad. However all opinions about the magnificent trains and fun-filled Pumpkin Patch are completely our own. Also the cool toys, stickers, costume and other item links included in this post are affiliate links to Amazon.com. This means that if you click these links to purchase, you won’t pay any extra cost, but we may earn a commission. Read my full Affiliate Link Disclosure here. Thank you!
Learn the history of Texas Railroad at the Rusk Railroad Depot
The Rusk Depot is located inside the Rusk-Palestine State Park. Our GPS (we have this one by Garmin and love it!) didn’t give accurate directions and in the end we ended up following the directions to the State Park to reach the depot. The state park has a day use as well as a camping area (campsites are currently closed) and a lake stocked with fish. The park has variety of wildlife including deer, rabbits, turtles, bald eagles and more. We saw a wildlife viewing area overlooking the lake as we drove to the Rusk Depot.
Rusk Railroad Depot is housed in a quaint Victorian building and has beautiful posters and lots of information on the history of railroads in east Texas. The gift shop includes train memorabilia and miniature trains. I was sorely tempted to buy a train track and cars set but I just bought this one from Orbrium – it’s a perfect starter set – as birthday gift for S-Boy so I resisted. I also liked the book on East Texas Logging Railroads – it’s free with Kindle Unlimited. The depot also features a Mail Car Café operating inside a historic rail car and a classic movie theatre screening a documentary on the railroad. While we didn’t see the Palestine Railroad Depot since we were on the Pumpkin Patch special ride, the depot is historic and also has a gift shop and café. A museum showcasing the history of the Railroad, vintage locomotives and cars, wooden caboose and more is being planned to open in the coming months.
A journey back in time on a vintage train
While I really wanted S-Boy to see a working steam engine, our 10:00 am Pumpkin Patch train was pulled by a vintage diesel locomotive. The diesel engine is a grand beast with impressive pulling power. The vintage train and its coaches are from the early 20th century and very well preserved. We were in the First Class; the seating was comfortable and exuded a time-worn elegance. All cars had their own friendly attendants; our attendant Joyce promptly distributed water and fruit juice among the passengers, narrated information about the Railroad and described things to do at the Pumpkin Patch. The train’s Presidential car has intimate seating and viewing platforms for adults while the regular Coach class has Pullman-style padded seats. S-Boy also walked over into the open-air coach class and loved climbing the wooden seats and looking out the windows. We also checked out the dining car selling snacks and beverages. Visitors can also hire the caboose or go for a steam locomotive ride-along with the engineer and the conductor for more exclusive experiences.
The route between Rusk and Palestine was built by prison crew from the East Texas Penitentiary from 1881 to 1904. The 25 mile route passes over 24 bridges in the Piney Woods forest and connects the historic towns of Rusk and Palestine. The vintage locomotive turnaround located midway at Maydelle is still in operation and of special interest to train buffs.
Choo Choo! All aboard the Pumpkin Express
The Pumpkin Patch special event train is a perfect way to celebrate the Harvest season. The Pumpkin Patch train is on specific days in October and leaves twice a day at 10 am and 1 pm; check here for schedule. The short ride lasts about 30 minutes, starts at Rusk Depot and instead of going all the way to Palestine stops at the Pumpkin Patch for a 90 minute layover. The duration of the ride was perfect for the short attention span of toddlers like S-Boy; while he loved riding the train in this Fun World Toddler Railroad Engineer costume he was equally elated to run amok at the Pumpkin Patch.
Both Rusk Railroad Depot and the train were decorated for the occasion with harvest-themed décor. The rail cars had Halloween themed streamers and banners while adorable stickers of friendly ghosts, cats and jack-o-lanterns (similar to these Pumpkin Patch window clings ) adorned coach windows. Most of the children were dressed up in their best Halloween costumes and the half hour ride was very festive. Our car attendant Joyce was amazing with the children and lined them up to play ‘This is a Choo Choo train’. She also played peek-a-boo with S-Boy and handed out trick or treating bags and pumpkin decorating kits (these Foam Pumpkin Craft Kits are awesome, easy and cheap) to the children.
Pumpkin Patch Fun
Texas State Railroad’s Piney Woods Pumpkin Patch is a large, fun-filled event. As soon as we reached the Pumpkin Patch, all children lined up for trick-or-treating and the friendly railroad employees distributed candies on the ‘Trick or Treat Street’. Other activities included hay ride, train themed bouncy houses, a Pumpkin Patch photo op, treasure hunt among corn harvest and more. Children enjoyed picking out their pumpkins, decorating them with stickers and taking them home. It was great to see little dressed up Spiderman, Batman, Tinker Bell and princesses participating in the fun. Keeping up with our train-themed birthday fun, S-Boy was dressed up as a Railroad Engineer and enjoyed posing with his Little Engineer Hat and bandana outfit.
Riding the railroad is a perfect day trip from the greater Dallas, Houston and Austin areas. The Texas State Historic Railroad has been featured in over 30 movies, TV serials and documentaries and a hit with children of all ages. Tickets can be purchased online, click here to buy now. Visitors can choose to buy tickets for either the diesel or steam locomotive. The roundtrip duration is 4 hrs and includes an hour long layover; visitors have the choice to depart either from Rusk or Palestine Depots. The ride aboard the vintage train is beautiful in any season. The dogwood blossoms along the route is spring while late fall is marked by red leaf color. Texas State railroad also organizes special themed train rides including the Pumpkin Patch ride for Halloween, Polar express where children get to meet Santa Claus and a Valentine’s Day Special for couples. The Pumpkin Patch train ride was very well managed and featured complimentary trick or treat bags, pumpkin to take home, pumpkin decorating kits and free fun games at the Pumpkin Patch.
Full Disclosure: We were partially sponsored by the awesome folks at Texas State Railroad. However all opinions about the magnificent trains and fun-filled Pumpkin Patch are completely our own. Also the cool toys, stickers, costume and other item links included in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you click these links to purchase, you won’t pay any extra, but you’ll help us buy another train for S-Boy and ensure Dotted Globe stays afloat. Thank you!
Texas State Railroad | Address (Rusk Depot): 535 Park Rd 76, Rusk, TX 75785 | Ph: (855) 632-7729