Dad worked for Amtrak. Train rides were part of my childhood. So when I heard about the Spirit of Jasper Ride & Dine excursion, I arranged for tickets for my husband and me!
Jasper is located in Dubois County, southwest of French Lick and southeast of Vincennes. After attending the Evansville Shrinersfest on June 27, my husband and I drove northeast to Jasper to ride the rails.
Jasper is a small town, which we like, but this Spirit of Jasper train excursion puts it into the big leagues!
The train embarks from the attractive Jasper Train Depot for an 18-mile round-trip dinner ride through the countryside of Dubois County.
We arrived at 5:45 for the 6:00 pm excursion. We were seated in one of two comfortable, air-conditioned lounge cars. We chose club seats with padded seats and chatted with the couple across from us during the trip. Our car was full with approximately 40 guests. The other car with chairs and tables looked to be just as full.
The trip started on time with several blasts from the train’s horn, alerting people in the area that we were on our way!
Thankfully, it was a sunny, clear evening. After leaving town, we immediately were thrust into a country setting. We passed through a canopy of trees. As the train moved at a slow, steady pace (around 15 mph), we saw deer sprinting through farmland. Straw had been raked golden in farm fields and brown cows grazed on hills.
I wondered if this was what pioneers experienced during a century ago when rail service was still new. Sadly, we also saw fields of corn, mostly underwater. We’re praying for farmers throughout the state because of the heavy rains.
At one point we crossed a trestle bridge over a creek. At an intersection a boy in a car that stopped to let us pass waved wildly at us. We waved back but we were not sure he could see.
Although the temperatures were not terribly hot, we kept our windows closed and enjoyed air conditioned comfort. Two green-vested servers (we found out they are all volunteers) offered lemonade and water to passengers before the meal. Though busy, they never lost their smiles. “We sometimes argue about who gets to work on these trips," our male server said. “We love it.”
Of course, I had to know how this train idea was started. According to our friendly and informative conductor, the four rail cars that make up the Spirit of Jasper were formerly used during World War II for troops. They were found at nearby Crane Naval base and renovated in 2009 by generous groups for promoting tourism in Jasper. Today, they are painted, carpeted, paneled, and filled with comfortable, cushioned, attractive seating.
After an hour, the train stopped. It was time to eat. We marched back to the dining car where there was a marvelous selection in the buffet line – beef brisket, grilled chicken, cheese potatoes, broccoli spears, rolls, cherry cobbler.
The Ride & Dine dinner, which was delicious, was catered by the Schnitzelbank Restaurant, an authentic German restaurant in Jasper. The train rocked so gently that it was easy to eat without spilling. There was also a cash and carry bar in another car.
The Spirit of Jasper train rides began in June and run through November. These rides would be fun for couples, baby boomers, girlfriend getaways, and families, although we saw few children. There have even been weddings and receptions on board! There is also a wine and chocolate trip during the season. Additional train trips run to French Lick for a day at the resort and casino.
We arrived back at the Depot promptly at 8:30 p.m. Kudos to all of the people who make this idea work. It’s a class act.
Note: Jasper is in Eastern time zone. Nearby parts of Indiana like Evansville are on Central Time (behind one hour).
Jasper Train Depot
201 Mill St
Jasper IN 47546