A small, but treasured frontier Theme Park nestled in the hills near Boone, North Carolina, Tweetsie Railroad was established in the summer of 1957, making it the second oldest theme park in the South. Tweetsie Railroad started out as one of the earliest heritage railroads in the United States and helped popularize the concept of heritage steam railroads in America (they were already fairly popular in Britain).
The theme park was named after the park's prize locomotive, ET&WNC Engine No. 12, nicknamed "Tweetsie" for the shrill, tweeting sound of its whistle. Originally consisting solely of the train, a three-mile rail loop around the mountain, and a hiking trail, Tweetsie Railroad quickly grew into a regional tourist attraction and is somewhat of a local legend in the Appalachian hills of Western North Carolina and Northeast Tennessee. In The '60s, Tweetsie Railroad adopted a gimmick centered around The Wild West, with a Western village, a 19th-century fort, and a troupe of cowboys and Indians as the characters of the park. This was the work of Fred Kirby, a singing cowboy and small-time Western actor who invested into the park, and after giving Tweetsie Railroad an Old West spin, played the Marshal of Tweetsie Railroad well into the last part of The '70s and the beginning of The '80s.
Tweetsie Railroad's train ride, initially a simple scenic tour around the mountain, would become a Wild West Show thanks to Fred Kirby, featuring the Marshal and his posse fending off outlaws and renegade Natives. Beginning in The '90s, the train's Wild West Show became increasingly comedic. By the mid-2000's, the train robbery scene became very slapstick and the Indian massacre at the second part of the train ride was abandoned in favor of silly, goofball comedy sketches featuring the Marshal, his posse, and the Native American characters dubbed "The Tweetsie Tribe".
In The '90s, Tweetsie Railroad grew immensely and expanded their season into the month of October for the main purpose of adding a new annual, month-long event known as "Ghost Train", a massive Halloween festival and seasonal overhaul of the park during the nighttime hours. Trick-or-Treating was provided for small children, while haunted houses, fairground rides (the rides are also present in the main season), and a horror-themed train ride is provided for the rest of the park. The Wild West Show that characterizes the train ride is replaced with a spooky Horror themed ride that has a different central antagonist each year.
The Turn of the Millennium and The New '10s saw the expansion of Tweetsie Railroad, with new rides and annual events being added. In 2002, Day Out With Thomas premiered to rave reception and Thomas the Tank Engine merchandise became a mainstay at the various gift shops while the Day Out With Thomas event became an annual tradition. The western/comedy band Riders In The Sky are perennial guest performers at the park, and the park, while small and not as notable as larger theme parks like Dollywood or Kings Dominion, has achieved both regional fame and a cult following, especially among rail enthusiasts, historical re-enactors, and to a much lesser extent, Steampunk fans (mostly from nearby Appalachian State University, also located in Boone).
Tweetsie Railroad has examples of the following tropes:
- Christmas Special: The Tweetsie Christmas event, introduced in 2017 is pretty much this in theme park form.
- Cool Train: Engine No. 12, which bears the park's namesake, is an example of this. It looks cool, but is also notable for being the last functional narrow gauge steam engine in the state of North Carolina, and one of only a handful in the entire Southern United States and East Coast. Engine No. 190, a slightly more recent addition to the park, is also cool-looking, and was imported from Alaska's old railways. Engine No. 12 AKA "Tweetsie" was built in 1917 for the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad, while No. 190 was built in 1942 for the US Army in Alaska.
- Cowboy: A staple of the park's characters
- Country Music: Classic Country-Western Music from the 1950's and 1960's often plays during the train ride, Johnny Cash is a favorite of the Tweetsie staff. Around 2010, the actual country tracks were replaced with generic bluegrass instrumental music, although said music still fits very well. It is assumed that due to possible copyright infringement concerns, they stopped playing Johnny Cash over the PA system of the train.
- Ghibli Hills: The surrounding hills and forests around Tweetsie Railroad and especially the hilly woodland surrounding the actual track fit this trope very well.
- Indian Maiden: The Tweetsie Tribe has had a few characters like this over the year, almost always Played for Laughs and acting as comedic Tsundere or Yandere figures towards either the Marshal or his fellow cowboys whenever they did appear.
- Injun Country: The latter half of the train ride's Wild West Show takes place here. Rather than have Unfortunate Implications and name a real tribe, the land is home to the fictional Tweetsie Tribe.
- Magical Native American: Played for laughs on the rare occasions it's brought up.
- Medicine Show: Tweetsie Railroad actually had one of these until the Turn of the Millennium, although they sold concessions instead of snake oil.
- Outlaw: Along with the Native American braves, these guys were antagonists of the Marshal and would attack the train in a mock battle initially during the train show. After the shift to comedy on the train show, the outlaws became a Goldfish Poop Gang.
- Posse: The Marshal always travels with them, and since the train show became more comedic, they are hilariously incompetent and generally not very bright.
- The Savage Indian: During Fred Kirby's tenure as The Marshal, the Native characters were portrayed as this. After he left, the park took notice of the Unfortunate Implications of this trope and abandoned the concept of an Indian attack. There are still Native American characters at Tweetsie, but are goofy, light-hearted characters much like the Cowboys.
- The Sheriff: Well, technically The Marshal, but he fits this trope.
- Steam Never Dies: One of the reasons this railroad remains predominantly steam powered is that narrow gauge diesel locomotives are, in fact, quite rare. Meanwhile, operational narrow gauge steam locomotives are quite common, despite their limited numbers during the steam era.
- Train Job: A staple of the train show since its inception in The '60s. Since The '90s, it has become more and more comedic.
- Trope Codifier: For heritage steam railroads in the United States. American heritage railroads had existed in America before Tweetsie Railroad, but Tweetsie helped popularize the concept. In the Turn of the Millennium, Tweetsie was one of the very first American heritage railroads to hold a "Day Out With Thomas" event, featuring a life-sized replica of Thomas the Tank Engine at the head of the train (Thomas himself is not a functional locomotive, and is actually pushed by Engine No. 190). While "Day Out With Thomas" events had been commonplace among British heritage railways since The '80s, they were almost unheard in America of until Tweetsie popularized it.
- The Wild West: The main focus of the entire theme park since The '60s.
The Ghost Train Festival in October is an example of the following tropes:
- Afterlife Express: The main gimmick behind The Ghost Train.
- Big Boo's Haunt: The equivalent of this for theme parks.
- Classical Movie Vampire: The main antagonist of 2010's Ghost Train Show.
- The Fair Folk: The main antagonists of 2012's Ghost Train Show as a part of "Tweetsie's Twisted Fairy Tales"
- Hockey Mask and Chainsaw: A recurring character archetype.
- Monster Mash: The main idea overall.
- Mythology Gag: Phineas P. Peppercorn, the main character of Tweetsie's Medicine Show revue, which had been done away with around 2000, was brought back as a Mad Scientist for 2011's Ghost Train. He returned as a German scientist and main antagonist of the 2019 Ghost Train, which had a World War I theme.
- No FEMA Response: Averted in the 2017 Ghost Train's zombie theme, the military is actively trying to contain the zombie outbreak and protect the passengers on the train.
- Our Vampires Are Different: The main theme of 2010's Ghost Train was vampires, and the vampires in the actual train show were somewhere between Classical Movie Vampire and something out of Vampire: The Masquerade.
- Zombie Apocalypse: The main theme of 2009's Ghost Train as well as 2017's Ghost Train
- Not Using the "Z" Word: In both instances, the zombies are referred to as "mutants" and are the result of a virus, but otherwise are typical zombies.
- World War I: The main theme of 2019's Ghost Train.