If you've ever driven through Jackson, you've seen the Iron Mountain Locomotive sitting at the intersection of Highways 25 and 72. You can't miss seeing the old train, and even if you do, your kids will surely point it out. It's said that the Iron Mountain Railroad is Missouri's only rolling railroad museum. And roll it does. This full-sized locomotive carries a few passenger cars and a caboose on two-hour tours. If you have never been on a train ride, this is the way to experience it.
Relax in a coach car pulled by "Pennsylvania Diesel #5898" built in 1950. The sights and sounds of the historic Iron Mountain line sweep you away to the glory of the passenger train era, and you get a lot more than just a train ride. How about a two-hour dinner trip while a professional storyteller entertains you with stories of the Civil War or the life of a hobo? Or maybe a murder mystery on the three-hour tour, including a meal and an interactive rail murder mystery set in the '40s, entirely staffed by professional volunteer actors. Agatha Christie would be proud. Or maybe you'd enjoy a real train robbery by the James Gang?
My name is Elane Moonier. I am the Volunteer Coordinator. I work with the volunteers to plan, organize, and implement all the activities that take place on the train. I also do scheduling and reservations.
We never really thought of them as shows, but it has somehow morphed into that. We just started things like the James Gang Train Robbery because they are part of the history of the line. It was the first train to be held up in Missouri, robbed by the James Gang in 1874. The robbery tour has become one of the most requested rides that we have.
Other rides, like the Chocolate Express and Zoo Train, have become very popular also. Murder Mystery dinner rides are in very high demand as there are very few trains that still offer this. Most of us would agree that our favorite is the Santa Express, which is just full of the magic of Christmas. These trains run every night, three times on Saturday, and two times on Sunday, starting the day after Thanksgiving until the Sunday before Christmas this year. Over 4,000 passengers will ride the train at this time.
The crew consists of a conductor, train chief, engineer, concessionaire, but it takes a lot of volunteers to keep it all running. Generally, we will have about 15 volunteers on a typical weekend, which does not include a dinner train. We are fortunate to have the best group of volunteers we have ever had. There is probably a core group of about 20, but at least another 25 that we pull from on a regular basis for different activities.
The Iron Mountain is a not-for-profit organization operated entirely by volunteers. We depend solely on ticket sales to keep the train running. We do not have any other funding or grants.
We are always happy to welcome new volunteers, and there are a variety of opportunities available. When someone chooses to volunteer, we try to let them test the waters to be sure they like this - then we try to find the place that best suits them. Our volunteers are so varied, and each one has their own niche, and they all work together to keep the train going.
The train goes to Gordonville on a regular run, then returns to the station at Jackson. It is about a two-hour trip that includes a brief stop at Iron Mountain Junction Village for passengers to roast marshmallows and make s'mores at the campfire when weather permits. The Iron Mountain owns the tracks and property where the train travels.
While at the St. Louis Iron Mountain Train Museum in Jackson a few years ago, we met up with a special young actor/dancer named Alexis. In the spirit of “show up and invent a story,” Alexis was perfect for this shoot because of her willingness to be anyone we needed her to be (even a ghost). And of course, with an old train on our mind, what better than to create a nice ghost story.
It was a tragic day some 75 years ago, and a beautiful young woman was left to pick up the pieces and move on with her life. But she couldn’t. Most young women would simply shut themselves away to the world and vow never to love again - but not this woman. You see, her Romeo was taken by a German soldier. With the simple flick of a trigger finger and not another thought, her man was lost to the ages.
It was on the St. Louis Iron Mountain & Southern line where Ginger first received the news of her man’s battle lost. It was on the same train her man proposed to her some two years earlier, and it was on the same train where they met at the start of the war. Actually, Ginger would live out her entire life, hopes, and dreams on this train.
The daughter of a new-aged swing singer and a tattooed sailor named Sylvester, Ginger, was no stranger to train travel. With her father away in the Merchant Marines and her mother traveling back and forth from one smoky night club to the next, Ginger had no friends or family but for the rail employees and other travelers on the train. They all knew and loved Ginger - from the conductor to the ticket man, to the engineer – but none were real friends.
Ginger never felt sorry for herself; she knew her mother was doing the best she knew how. Her mother lived by the beat of her own drum in the early swing movement, and she taught Ginger how to make her own rules and not follow the beaten path. At that time, Swing was as radical as early ‘80s punk rock. Surprisingly, that outcast upbringing opened up many avenues to Ginger, who soon developed a desire to act. It was there on the train that she filled her time acting for the passengers. Hamlet, Beauty and the Beast, Gone with the Wind... Ginger would move to Los Angles and become a silver screen idol - or at least before the Nazis decided they wanted to rule the world. Once the war began, there was no time for such luxuries as moving to L.A. and becoming a star.
While commuting to the Arsenal Street Acme Bomb Factory in St. Louis dressed in boondockers, worn dungarees, a bandana, and red lipstick, our willing Rosie the Riveter met and fell in love with her Army man. It was in the gray seats of the passenger compartment, late in January 1943, when Ginger and her man lost themselves. It was 100%, Grade A, Government Issue true love. But like all things in this world, it came to an abrupt end. Her Joe was sent off to fight for freedom. And with a kiss and a promise to make it back home alive, her man left never to return.
So what happened to Ginger, you are wondering? I think you know. And I think you know why her spirit still rides the train to this day, traveling to Union Station, hoping to meet her returning hero.
Written & Pics by T Smugala