“Pardon me — is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?”
To set this up — my work in progress has a romantic getaway as part of the story. I had never been on a romantic getaway, or a vacation for that matter, so my husband surprised me with reservations to stay in a refurbished Victorian train car at the Chattanooga Choo Choo.
The Chattanooga Choo Choo is what was once the Terminal Station for inbound and outbound trains to and from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Built in 1909, it reached its heyday in the thirties and forties and began to decline as train service declined in the sixties. It finally closed in early seventies. Quickly bought, it was redone into a hotel, retail, and dining venue.
You enter through the doors and find yourself under the massive dome. It was the original waiting area for the passengers. You can feel the energy of all the people who’ve rushed through or stayed, waiting, sometimes twenty deep on the platforms. For a time, a restaurant was in the center, since people wanted to eat beneath the grandest dome of the time.
After checking in, you pass through the back door and the existing restaurant serving three meals a day, out the original steel gates to the platform, where most of the tracks have been transformed from rail and gravel to gardens and fountains that win awards. As shown in the picture to the right, the concrete walkways with the butterfly toppers are from the original platforms. Where you see landscaped gardens were once tracks with trains backing into and out of the station.
As part of the refurbishment, passenger coaches were purchased and refurbished into suites, two per car. You go down the platform just like you’re boarding for a trip, step upon the step, into the connector between two cars. On each side is the door to your getaway.
First of all, it is a narrow door, leading to a very narrow passage. No way could two normal size people pass one another in the hall. And, entering the bathroom requires a slight turn to the side. They managed to put a garden tub/shower, sink (with coffee pot and hair dryer) and a toilet (offset in a tiny room) in a very small space. If you look closely you can see some of the steel rivets surrounding the doors.
However, at the end of the hall is a long suite, all ready for a romantic getaway. The luggage carriers and lights from passenger days are still there. But, so is a queen size bed, desk, flat screen television, and daybed. Please remember this was refurbished in the 70’s and has aged. If you see it as an adventure and not the lap of luxury, you won’t be disappointed. When the trolley passes by, the vibrations make it feel like there is movement. A gift tray of Champagne and goodies awaits, including a discount to the Station House and tickets to the Model Railroad Museum.
Back outside, there is much to do. There are several options for dining. The restaurant next to the dome offers three meals a day, plus room service. There’s a coffee shop for breakfast treats and coffee, the Silver Diner offers pizza in a train car. But the best, at least in my opinion, is the Station House. Part of the old railroad express, the building holds retail shops, the model railroad museum, and the Station House restaurant. Open for dinner, its claim to fame are the waiters and waitresses that double as entertainers. And entertainers they are. They manage to serve your table perfectly, take a break and go up on stage and perform. I highly recommend it.
After you’ve filled your tummy, walk it off with a stroll through the award-winning garden. Their roses are beautiful, but I fell in love with what I believe are cone flowers. Gazebos and vine covered trellises offer respite from the sun. There are ponds with koi, not to mention toads hidden among the reeds.
Don’t forget the retail. And, yes, that’s Zoltar beckoning you to play. There are shops for knickknacks and souvenirs, candy, antiques, and jewelry. And while you’re meandering, you’ll hear music in the background from the 40’s, the big band sound. If you get tired, you can always hop aboard the refurbished New Orleans trolley and take a tour of the whole site, with a full running commentary by the conductor.
No matter what age, one can appreciate the workmanship. The Chattanooga Area Model Railroad club has put in more than 60,000 hours building and caring for this incredible display. It is beyond compare. Trains run in both sections (did I mention there were two separate sections), passing towns, logging camps, a funeral, white water rafters, and the Chattanooga Choo Choo.
Return to your train car and relax with some champagne and chocolate. For now it’s time for just the two of you.
“Pardon me — is this the Chattanooga Choo Choo?” It certainly is!