Editor’s note: This story is part of the Road Trips special section.
It’s “all aboard” for train enthusiasts, history fans and anyone who likes to take a unique trip at the Bellefonte train station.
Through the Bellefonte Historical Rail Society, several rides are offered throughout the year, giving visitors a chance to catch a glimpse of the past and experience a mode of travel they may have not previously taken.
The biggest events every year, BHRS secretary Tom Canich said, are the yearly Fall Foliage and Santa Express train rides held in October and December. Hundreds turn out each year for the events, which have sold out several times in the past.
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During the Fall Foliage ride, he said, several coach cars are drawn though different points in Centre and Blair counties. The cars can hold up to 350 riders and run six trips.
The coaches have been refurbished from the “heavyweight era,” he said, dating from the turn of the century with the “newest” coach dating to the 1940s. Past trips have run along the Nittany and Bald Eagle Railroad to Pleasant Gap, Tyrone and Sayres Dam.
Santa Express trips, Canich said, are geared more toward children and families and offer a shorter trip. Christmas-favorite characters, including Santa, the Grinch, Rudolph and Buddy the Elf, also come along for the ride.
“The foliage trip is focused on seeing the Pennsylvania countryside,” he said. “The Santa trip is definitely focused on the costume characters.”
Santa Express also has a history of selling out very quickly, he said, as tickets sold out within eight hours last year. Tickets were gone after about 18 hours in 2015, he said.
Locomotives and crews for the trips are provided through Nittany and Bald Eagle Railroad, he said. The coaches are provided through Penn Valley Railroad in Sunbury.
The railroad is open during the spring and summer as well, as “speeder” rides are featured at different locations in the area.
A speeder is a motorized inspection car, Canich said, “kind of like a golf cart on rail wheels.” Historically, they were used for track inspections or for minor repairs.
“They were discontinued in the 1980s,” he said. “Most of the railroads stopped using them in favor of pickup trucks with rail wheels.”
Speeders, which take riders for short, quick trips along the rail line, are very popular with kids, he said. Speeder rides have already been slated for June 10 in Lemont for the Strawberry Festival and June 17 in Talleyrand Park during the Bellefonte Cruise.
And the train rides may grow in the future as well. In 2014, the CDT reported on the BHRS’s Budd Rail Diesel Car, which was taken from the area for restoration.
The car is nearly ready to return, Canich said, and the society hopes to start more regular excursions to different points around the county.
“We’re getting down to the very last details and we’re hoping to get it back here pretty soon,” he said.
The car, which dates back to 1953, served several different railroads throughout the years before coming under the ownership of the BHRS in 2008, he said. Originally built for branch line commuter service, the car was an economical way for railroads to operate those commuter lines.
Visitors can also swing by the station itself, located in Talleyrand Park. A static display of a caboose and snow plow are available year-round.
The society hopes to do some serious refurbishing on the caboose during the summer, Canich said, and hopes it will become a walk-through museum.
Additional information about the BHRS, trips they offer and ticket purchases can be found through the society’s website at www.bellefontetrain.org.
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