This was my first chance to ride the Orange Blossom Cannonball, the new 1907 Florida steam train ride departing out of Tavares, Florida near Orlando. My father was spending the winter in the area and this would be a great way to celebrate both of our upcoming birthdays, riding the rails on an early American steam train traveling through the backwoods of Central Florida.
We were going to be stepping back in time, traveling aboard the Orange Blossom Cannonball, that currently departs the Tavares Depot on Saturdays and Sundays. This leisurely trip riding in wooden passenger cars, originally built for the Memphis, Dallas & Gulf Railroad in 1915, turned out to be a very relaxing and fun. The MD&G was a predecessor of the Kansas City Southern Railroad. Just listening to that steam engine’s whistle at each road crossing brought back memories of long ago as we rolled along the Florida country side.
Operated by the Tavares, Eustis & Gulf Railroad, the station is located at 301 E Main St., just across the tracks from the scenic Lake Dora in Wooton Park. In downtown Tavares you can also catch a sea plane ride or just relax at one of the track side restaurants or pubs while watching the train pass right near your table. How cool is that?
Tavares, Eustis & Gulf trains operate over Pinsly Railroad Co.’s Florida Central Railroad, which was formed in 1986 when it leased several lines from CSX.
The Orange Blossom Cannonball follows along the lake’s edge for a couple of blocks, past open air restaurants and waving fans before heading out of town on a 2 hour, 16 mile round trip in vintage wooden coaches with the original 1915 air conditioning. Open Windows! What a thrill it was to take in all the sights and sounds. As we made our way to Lake Jem, that unmistakable lonesome train whistle that only a steam engine can supply, was another reminder we had indeed traveled back in time.
The Baldwin Locomotive Works 1907 steam locomotive No.2, a 2-6-0 Mogul, was placed into service by the Lufkin Land & Lumber Company. The engine was originally built as a wood burning steam engine, but then later in the 1930s, it was converted to burn oil. It has been recently converted back to a wood burner.
Arriving at Lake Jem, passengers were encouraged to exit the train for a brief stop while the engine is uncoupled and switched over to siding to be re-coupled to the caboose for the return trip back to the station.
We were then treated to a “blow-down” before coupling up for the return to Tavares. This is where steam is released to blow out the sediment deposits in the steam engine’s boiler. You won’t see that anywhere else in Florida! Thanks again to our conductor Neil Bagaus and crew.
The Tavares, Eustis & Gulf Railroad will be running a photo special on April 14 with 2 photo runs that will be conducted in areas not available to the public. Passengers will also be given access to the cab. Departure from Tavares will be at 9:10 a.m., returning at 11:40 a.m.
The Orange Blossom Cannonball Steam Train is also a Hollywood celebrity in her own right. Having appeared in a long list of movies beginning in 1937. The steam engine was featured in over 20 movies including “True Grit“, “3:10 to Yuma. “O Brother, Where Art Thou”, “Rosewood”, “Box Car Bertha” and “There Will Be Blood.
Currently props from the Orange Blossom Cannonball are being used in the filming of “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” in Louisiana. One more reason why it’s called “America’s # 1 Movie Train.”
For tickets or questions you can call the office at (352) 742-7200.