Rail Grass honors region's railroad, music heritage

Rick Wagner • Sep 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

It’s not every day that Jim Barbarito, Mitzie Douglas and Lynn Jobe walk across the parking lot of Holston Builders Supply into a railroad dining car to have lunch.

But the employees of the wholesale business on Main Street got to do just that Friday, the first day of the three-day Rail Grass festival in downtown Kingsport.

The festival, which grew out of the Downtown Kingsport Association’s past fall events over three decades, pays homage to the region’s railroad and music heritage.

The 36-seat dining car, sponsored by Mark Freeman Associates, served up a Chef’s Pizza lunch Friday but also offers a $10 breakfast today, a $50 dinner from The Courtyard tonight, and a $60 dinner from Stir Fry Café Sunday night. Lunch and dinners each have two seatings, 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., and 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.

The dining car meals require reservations.

Barbarito, general manager of Holston Builders Supply, said he has eaten on dining cars in the Northeast, where he is from, and when he has traveled in Europe.

Douglas and Jobe, however, were having their first meal on an iconic streamlined dining car, which dates back to the 1950s when passenger rail was common in most of the United States.

“The rest of the employees are coming to the 12:30 (p.m.) seating,” Douglas said.

A few tables down, Steve Mann and Jessica Trivette of radio station WTFM, one of the media sponsors of the event, were also eating pizza.

“The one thing that I like about rail food is you can’t just swallow it whole — you have to chew, chew,” Mann said with deadpan delivery.

On a serious note, Mann and Trivette also bemoaned the lack of passenger rail and other public transportation in this part of the country, especially in light of increased energy prices.

Other events in the festival are “excursions” to Speers Ferry, Natural Tunnel and the depot at Duffield. For $5, people can take a city bus on the almost four-hour trip, although DKA President Mark Freeman said most spots for today’s two trips are taken.

Freeman, chairman of Rail Grass, said getting an excursion on a passenger rail car would be nearly impossible because of freight traffic. He said getting the dining car and an accompanying 48-seat passenger car to Kingsport from Jonesborough via Knoxville was tough enough and came at a cost of just more than $1,400 per car from Norfolk-Southern. He said CSX also assisted in the transport.

The festival’s photography contest, including rail-themed photos, drew 564 entries.

In a building next to the DKA headquarters and art gallery at 140 W. Main St., railroad exhibits from local railroad enthusiasts showcase antique railroad memorabilia and model trains.

In addition, booths on the lawn of Citizens Bank include food vendors, jewelry — including some made from spoons — clothing, and other arts and crafts .

The ETSU Bluegrass Band and Tennessee Skyline performed Friday. Brinley Addition will perform today, with Greg Bates opening. Benny Wilson, sponsored by 12 Bones and the Kingsport Grocery Company, also will entertain at free concerts. Lawn chairs are recommended.

Music performances are to occur rain or shine on the main stage and another stage past On the Trax Cafe, Freeman said.

A poker run for motorcycle riders is set for today, and storytelling venues also are planned, including one on the rail car.

The HOG Rally and Poker Run, sponsored by WRZK The HOG, has a registration fee of $10. Proceeds will benefit the Veterans Memorial Fund. Preregistration is recommended.

Sponsors of Rail Grass are Indian Path Medical Center, Mark Freeman Associates, Citizens Bank and Holston Valley Broadcasting, which has WKPT-TV 19, WKPT AM 1400, 98.5 FM WTFM, 95.9 FM The HOG and 102.7 FM Classic Hits.

The Kingsport Convention and Visitors Bureau is helping promote the event.

For more information or to make reservations for or check on the status of an event call 246-6550 or go to www.downtownkingsport.org.

Recommended for You

    Kingsport Times News Videos