My lifelong attraction to trains stems from watching the old “Big 4” Railroad, which ran by my childhood home in Cynthiana, Indiana, and waving to the men in the caboose. I have memories of taking the Evansville train depot to Indianapolis. When the opportunity came up to take a ride on the Jasper to French Lick Express — The Spirit of Jasper Train — I was excited to make the trip.
Leaving the Jasper Depot at 10 a.m., it wound through 25 miles of scenic Southern Indiana views. Along the leisurely 2-hour trip by train (around 30 minutes by car), we passed over several bridges and trestles, as well as traveled through Indiana’s second longest railroad tunnel.
The train has a maximum seating capacity of 120 between its multiple cars, all built between 1917 and 1950, and carries about 3,000 passengers each year. Passengers can choose to sit in all four cars. The cars are climate controlled and modern restrooms are available. While Richard Pearson, assistant conductor of The Spirit of Jasper, and two others are full-time employees, most of the attendants are volunteers. In all, 36 of these Jasper residents rotate the duties.
This is the only tourist train owned by a city in the U.S. Due to the hard work of many Jasper citizens, the attraction is in its fifth year and is booked months in advance. The ornate passenger cars look much different than when they were a gift from Crane Naval Depot.
“It means a lot to the community because it brings a tourist factor to the area,” says Janessa Wolf, recreation director at Jasper Parks and Recreation Department. “It brings people from all over Indiana to our little town of Jasper, and it’s exciting for people to see what Jasper is really like.”
Upon arriving at the historic French Lick 1907 Monon Depot, passengers head to the restored French Lick Resort & Casino. Guests can enjoy three hours in French Lick during the basic excursion trip shopping in quaint little stores, visiting the French Lick Winery, playing games of chance, and more.
Many volunteers, both individual and corporate, came together to put the train on its 25-mile journey back and forth between Jasper and the French Lick Resort Casino. The train runs from June through the first week in November. There are different trip choices, including the basic excursion trip, a Ride and Dine Excursion, and the Chocolate, Wine, & Dine, which range from $40 to $75 per person. The staff provides information and gives the personal service that makes the round trip a pleasure.
For more information about The Spirit of Jasper, call 812-482-5959 or visit spiritofjasper.com.