BY JENNY CALLISON
LEBANON -- They come spilling out of the passenger cars onto the station platform, this group of 80 Dayton-area students. For many, the hour-long ride on Lebanon's Turtle Creek Valley Railway was their first adventure on rails.
The railway is a decade-old tradition in Warren County -- a chance for travelers to go back in time for a glimpse of the era when Lebanon was a link in Ohio's rail network.
The track on which the Turtle Creek Valley Railway runs was laid in 1880, when earlier, narrow-gauge track was abandoned. In fact, Lebanon was a transportation hub as far back as the early 1800s, when stagecoach travelers stopped for rest and refreshment after an eight-hour trip from Cincinnati.
After ending passenger service, the Indiana & Ohio Railroad continued to run freight trains through Lebanon. Then, 10 years ago, the railroad decided that Lebanon's 19th century ambience called for a tour train attraction.
"The Indiana and Ohio Railroad elected to go with passenger service and started up the I&O Scenic Railway," manager Jack Laubish said. "Two years ago, the board of directors wanted to go back to exclusive freight service, but some board members dissented." The two functions separated, and the new train company took its name from the surrounding Turtle Creek Valley.
This fall's rail schedule presented a variety of excursion options. Murder Mystery rides have proven especially popular, Mr. Laubish said. These include the enactment of a murder mystery during a train ride and a dinner at the Golden Lamb Inn.
The mystery excursions will resume in May.
Harvest-themed events -- Bales on Rails and the Great Pumpkin Run -- wrap up this weekend. During Bales on Rails excursions, passengers may sit on hay bales in the open-air car and enjoy the crisp air and evening landscape.
After the last wisp of hay has been swept from the gondola car, the railroad will operate only on weekends through Nov. 15. Starting the Friday following Thanksgiving, Turtle Creek Valley Railway resumes service, offering rides with Santa and Mrs. Claus.