Saturday morning was the first time Mark Hansen had ever been aboard a train.
Before the fall foliage excursion, the Bellefonte resident had only ever seen trains, and played with “Thomas the Tank Engine” with his son Jaxon, 3.
This time, he made the effort to check out the excursion with his wife, Melissa, for their fifth anniversary.
“If you’re going on a train ride, this is the way to do it,” Hansen said. “It’s nice to see a real central Pennsylvania fall on this kind of trip.”
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The rides are held annually by the Bellefonte Historical Railroad Society on routes that change each year but always have the same mission — to feature the autumn colors and present passengers with a little bit of history along the way.
“We try to have train rides for everyone,” said BHRS Treasurer Andy Richards. “It’s a way for people to see some of the things we do, take them on a tour, and our larger fundraising effort where we get most of our operating budget from.”
This year, money raised from the rides will go toward the restoration of a self-propelled passenger car that the railroad society hopes to refurbish within six months and use next fall.
Richards called it “a bus on rails.”
Instead of a locomotive hauling cars, the self-propelled passenger car is built with two diesel engines to power it along the rails.
This weekend’s trips featured a Halloween train ride on Friday that allowed passengers to listen to scary stories and dress in costume. On Saturday, three foliage excursions were held — two that started in Bellefonte and went to Lemont and back, and another that went to Sayers Dam and back to Bellefonte.
Some historic highlights included information about the Granary in Lemont, the Match Factory in Bellefonte and Curtin Village on the way to Sayers Dam.
The train runs routes on rails dating back to the mid-1800s, including a piece of track from Bellefonte to Milesburg built in the 1860s, and rail from Milesburg to Wingate from the 1850s, Richards said.
On Sunday, a five-hour afternoon train ride to Tyrone will be held.
“It’s a perfect thing to do as a family,” Richards said.
The Nittany and Bald Eagle Railroad donated locomotives and crew for the train rides, while the Penns Valley Railroad donated passenger coaches.
The train has a maximum capacity of 370 passengers. On Friday and Saturday, train rides averaged about 300 passengers, Richards said.
“This is the first year we haven’t sold out,” Richards said.
But he’s expecting tickets to sell out quickly for The Santa Express — a Christmas-themed train ride.
Eleven trips will be held the weekend before Christmas. Tickets go on sale Nov. 1.
Last year, tickets sold out within a month, Richards said.