Healthier choices, healthier students

Students in area schools are choosing whole grains and fresh fruits for their school lunches in an effort to target high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

School cafeteria workers in Jackson County participate in a health food program they hope will improve poor health statistics in the region.

School cafeteria workers in Jackson County participate in a health food program they hope will improve poor health statistics in the region.

The Department of Food Services in Jackson County Public Schools participate in an initiative designed to make school meals more nutritious. The schools participate in the program through the Community Eligibility Provision, which means all students are eligible for free meals based on the combined average income of the students’ households.

“No child will pay for a meal,” says Tracy Bingham, director of food services for Jackson County Public Schools. “All children eat for free, and now they have healthier choices to choose from.”

Pizza from the cafeteria now has a whole grain crust. There is a larger selection of fruits and vegetables. And even snacks are more nutritious.

“A Rice Krispie bar has to be healthier,” Bingham says. “It has to be a whole grain Rice Krispie bar.”

Bingham says the program sets calorie limits on meals based on the students grade level. Lunches must also have no trans fats and must be low in sodium. Beverages for elementary and middle school students may only have a specified number of ounces. The drinks may not have any artificial flavorings, and they must not be carbonated.

School menus under the program must contain at least five items, and students are required to select at least three. A typical breakfast menu may include a yogurt parfait, cereal and graham crackers or an egg muffin along with fruit juice or milk. Lunch menus often include a chicken sandwich on whole wheat, tangerine chicken or spaghetti with meatballs. Students can then choose from a variety of fruits and vegetables such as a Romaine salad with cherry tomatoes, glazed carrots, broccoli or fruit cocktail. Salad dressings and sauces are typically low-fat options.

“The goal is to teach them to make healthier choices,” Bingham says.

This region has one of the nation’s highest rates of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. School officials are hopeful this will make a difference.

This is the third year since the program was implemented, so it’s a little early to know how effective it will be. Bingham says the estimated 2,300 students in Jackson County are learning to eat from the healthier menu, but it took some getting used to.

“When you change their pizza crust, they notice it, and they will let you know about it,” Bingham says.

For more information about the Jackson County Public Schools, visit

From paddle boats manufacturer to a leading defense contractor

Fiber technology fuels Phoenix Products

How did a company that began making canoes and kayaks become a leading defense contractor and manufacturer of military airplane and helicopter parts?

Tom Wilson, president of Phoenix Products, says once you know the story, the transition makes more sense than it first appears.

Richard Ray, a machine operator at Phoenix Products, programs a computer that will make helicopter parts for the U.S. military.

Richard Ray, a machine operator at Phoenix Products, programs a computer that will make helicopter parts for the U.S. military.

The Annville-based company began making lightweight composite boats in 1973. They were known as “poke boats” because they are designed to “poke around” on slow-moving, flat water. The company’s experience working with light-weight, durable materials was an advantage when seeking out defense contracts. They applied their same theory of light-weight, durable construction to engineer and produce avionic parts.

“Most people in this county still think of us as a boat company,” Wilson says. “We still make boats, but now our boat business amounts to about half of one percent of everything we do.”

Phoenix Products now makes sub-sonic aircraft fairings as well as both fiberglass and metal aircraft components and was named Supplier of the Year in 2013 by Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation.

“We are a world-class aerospace supplier,” Wilson says.

Currently, the U.S. Air Force is the company’s largest customer, but Wilson says a new contract, which has yet to be announced, will spur growth at Phoenix. Within two years, the 25-man workforce is expected to expand to meet the new demand. “The opportunity for this county is very significant,” he says. “We could see our employees eventually going over 200 with this project.”

Wilson knows the company would not be where it is today without technology, and he praised the fiber optic network provided by PRTC.

“Almost all our data runs through that system, and we can really see a difference with the new fiber network,” he says, listing fiber’s speed and reliability as its primary advantages. “If it were not for the phone system, none of this would be possible.”

In addition to communicating through email, Phoenix is often required to transmit and receive complex schematics, drawings and photos of various parts and equipment to its customers and vendors.

In addition to sending and receiving data, Wilson says the company’s security system allows him to monitor facilities and operate the system from his smartphone or laptop at his home.

“Almost everything we do is computer operated, and the ability for us to send and receive this data on a timely basis is critical,” Wilson says. “The system is a shining light in Jackson County.”

Wilson credits the entire community with the company’s success. The company is locally owned, locally managed and almost all its employees come from the local workforce.

“We receive a lot of community support,” he says. “But we are known internationally. Our products go all over the world.”

For more information about Phoenix Products, visit To learn more about the company’s boats, visit

Owsley County: roofing the economy

By Brian Lazenby

Stephen Stepp (left) and Richard Johnson bend aluminum for a customer at Wolf Creek Metal in Owsley County.

Stephen Stepp (left) and Richard Johnson bend aluminum for a customer at Wolf Creek Metal in Owsley County.

Richard Johnson and Stephen Stepp feed aluminum sheets into a machine that cuts them to the exact lengths a customer needs to roof his house. They also customize metal sheets by bending and forming it to their customers’ specifications.

“We’ll do whatever the customer wants,” says Ronnie Callahan, chairman of the Owsley County Industrial Authority.

Metal roofing doesn’t sound like county government business, but Owsley is not your typical county. Local officials are involved in a number of activities they hope will create some economic growth in the area.

For example, The Owsley County Action Team is a group dedicated to enabling the citizens of Owsley County to achieve self-empowerment, sustainable community development and an enriched quality of life. Owsley County Industrial Authority seeks to fill two industrial parks with thriving businesses as well as run Wolf Creek Metal, a roofing material supply company.

Callahan says the county bought the business in December 2007 as a way to generate revenue for the local economy and to help others wishing to start small businesses in the county.

“We thought it would be a good way to create jobs and help boost the economy,” he says.

The business currently has three full-time employees, but Callahan expects that will grow in spring when construction and roofing business typically increase.

Wolf Creek Metal is owned and operated by Owsley County in an attempt to create economic growth in the area.

Wolf Creek Metal is owned and operated by Owsley County in an attempt to create economic growth in the area.

Sixty percent of the business’ profits are deposited into a loan fund which will eventually be available for business loans.

“We want to let the fund build up before we start loaning money,” Callahan says. “We want to make sure there is plenty of money there to make a difference and be sustainable.”

The loan fund was slow to grow initially because there were some early struggles getting the business up and running profitably, but Callahan says the fund is growing and will be a great asset for people wanting to start a business in Owsley County.

The loan requirements and the application process have yet to be identified, but Callahan says county officials will likely form a committee to work out the details.

“We are not experienced lenders, so we will need to appoint some banking professionals to the committee to help us with that process,” he says.

Right now Wolf Creek Metal has 15 colors of No. 1 grade roofing tin, which can be cut to the customers’ specifications. Wolf Creek also carries all metal roofing accessories and supplies and can handle any job whether large or small, residential or commercial.

The facility is located in the Lone Oak Industrial Park just 1.5 miles south of Booneville on Highway 11.

For more information about Wolf Creek Metal, visit or call 606-593-7080.

Truett’s Pumpkin Patch

A pumpkin-pickin’ good time

Truett's Pumpkin Patch has activities and fun for the whole family.

Tim Truett shows a boy from Annville Christian Academy how to feed and pet a llama at Truett’s Pumpkin Patch.

Fall is a magical time of year. The summer heat begins to give way to crisp, cool days. The leaves turn from green to yellow, red and bronze. It is a perfect time to get lost among tall stalks of corn, take a hay ride across a farm or wander through a field of pumpkins and pick one to carve up for Halloween.

It is the perfect time to gather with your family at Truett’s Pumpkin Patch in Annville for a wagonload of fun and activities.

Last year, thousands of visitors turned out during the fall to search their way through the corn maze, take a hay ride to the pumpkin patch, pet the many farm animals, climb over an obstacle course of hay bales or watch as a giant cannon fires a pumpkin hundreds of yards across a field. Truett’s has something for the whole family.

“We have been extremely blessed,” says Tim Truett, who owns the farm and operates the pumpkin patch with his wife and three sons. “People come out in droves. We have had people come out that have been here several times.”

Truett’s Pumpkin Patch has something for everyone, including many farm animals that are gentle enough to eat from your hand.

Truett’s Pumpkin Patch has something for everyone, including many farm animals that are gentle enough to eat from your hand.

One of the draws to the festivities is the low cost. For just $5 a person, you can stay all day — and there’s plenty to do.

Visitors can take a hay ride to the far end of the farm where the pumpkins grow. There they can select one for Halloween carving or to decorate for fall.

Another favorite is the corn maze, which Truett and his brother, a surveyor, lay out and plant each year. The maze consists of a trail through 10 acres of corn stalks with twisting turns, switchbacks and dead ends. The path is just under a mile if someone goes through without making any wrong turns — but Truett says that isn’t likely.

“It takes the average person about 20 to 30 minutes,” Truett says. “But we have had someone in there over two hours.”

Kids love climbing through the hay bale maze, which includes a log tunnel.

Kids love climbing through the hay bale maze, which includes a log tunnel.

The younger kids love playing in the corn box, which is like a sandbox, but instead of sand it is filled with kernels of corn. There is also a smaller maze where kids can climb over bales of hay and through tunnels made of the same.

There are donkeys, sheep, chickens, peacocks, rabbits, cows and even llamas — most of which are gentle enough to eat from a child’s hand.

But the attraction that almost everyone loves is the cannon, which Truett says was built by Gene Gatts, owner of Gatts Machine Co. in Tyner. Truett says Gatts is no stranger to cannons. He has built many over the years, and it shows. The cannon at Truett’s will hurl a pumpkin about a half mile using nothing but pressurized air.

Tim Truett and his family plant pumpkins on their Annville farm every year.  Kids love climbing through the hay bale maze, which includes a log tunnel.

Tim Truett and his family plant pumpkins on their Annville farm every year.
Kids love climbing through the hay bale maze, which includes a log tunnel.

Truett says he enjoys seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces, and is really happy when people come multiple times in the same year.

“Without the help of friends and family, there is no way we could pull it off each year,” he says.

Truett’s Pumpkin Patch 
Fridays and Saturdays
Sept. 28 to Nov. 2
Noon until dark

For more information, look for them on Facebook or call 606-438-9128 to make group reservations.

Saluting those who served

McKee City Councilman Bob Gabbard (left) gives an interview with PRTC TV’s Brian Murray about the new Veterans Memorial.

McKee City Councilman Bob Gabbard (left) gives an interview with PRTC TV’s Brian Murray about the new Veterans Memorial.

Jackson County residents have filled the ranks of this country’s military for years. They have served in every branch of service and fought in conflicts as far back as the Civil War.

The county is showing its gratitude with a memorial to honor those who served. The 1-acre memorial will be located across from Bond Memorial Park in McKee.

“The idea for this bounced around for years, but nothing was ever done,” says McKee City Councilman Bob Gabbard, who is spearheading the project. “I think the adjacent counties around us will be very envious when we get done with it.”

Gabbard says the initial phase of the project should be complete in time to have a grand opening ceremony by Veterans Day on Nov. 11. Construction will likely continue beyond that date to complete the entire plan.

The Jackson County Veterans Memorial will consist of a pentagon-shaped wall, flags, monuments and plaques with the names of all Jackson County veterans. Gabbard says officials have a list of about 700 names, but he estimates the number of those that served to be about 3,000.

To have your name or a loved one included on the panels, you will need to show county officials a copy of your DD Form 214 or discharge papers.

Gabbard says there is room on the property to expand the memorial in the future. Plans also include a walking trail that will lead to the memorial from downtown McKee. The trail will be paid for from a separate grant.

“When it’s complete, it will be graveled or paved and have benches along the way,” says Gabbard, who hopes to use as much recycled material for the project as possible.

The project is funded through a Coal Severance Grant, which is revenue collected from mining operations within the county and dispersed back in the form of grants for various projects such as this. The county received about $180,000 for the project.

“We still have money to spend and should be pretty much on target with our budget,” Gabbard says of the initial phase of the project.

Gabbard says the memorial was designed with what he calls a “flexible financial design,” which means the project can be completed in stages as funds become available. He says they can always use help from volunteers willing to provide sweat equity, but the real need is for monetary donations.

“We need volunteer labor — someone who can pick up rocks, finish concrete or anything along that line, but your checkbook would be wonderful,” he says.

The Jackson County Community Foundation donated $1,000 toward the memorial construction project and set up a fund to accept donations as well as to provide a funding source for other community projects. Gabbard says anyone wishing to donate can earmark their money for the Veterans Memorial or donate to the general fund.

To Donate

Contact Rodney Chrisman at 606-287-7449 or Judy Schmidt at 606-364-2477. You can also visit for more information.

What our job is really all about

Keith Gabbard
Chief Executive Officer

You wouldn’t believe the amount of news articles, policy briefs, mail (paper and electronic) and other documents that come my way each week. These items remind me just how complicated the telecommunications business has become.

Keith Gabbard

Keith Gabbard

As the leader of your cooperative, it is an important part of my job to stay on top of technology and industry changes. As I do so, it’s easy to start thinking that my job is all about building a network, advocating for fair laws and policies, managing budgets and leading teams. But those are merely tasks. My real job — and, indeed, the real mission of this company — is all about growing communities and changing lives.

There have been a few times in the history of our country that we reached a turning point, a moment where we accomplished something so important as a society that life would never be the same after that. For example, when the rural electrification program lit up the countryside, it helped families automate labor-intensive chores in their homes and on their farms, enabled a healthier standard of living and empowered people to open small businesses that would provide goods and services to their growing communities.

With the interstate highway system, we opened up new parts of the country for development and created a means of moving products made by American workers to markets all over the continent.

And now, here we are in the early part of the 21st century, creating a new kind of system that will have the same level of impact on society as electricity and interstate highways have had for decades. I’m speaking, of course, about today’s broadband network.

In our service area, and in regions like ours across the country, providers such as PRTC are building a network to provide homes and businesses with high-speed data connections — not in the “big city,” but in the small towns and rural communities we call home. And like power and highways, broadband is changing lives. Consider these stories, which are playing out all across rural America:

  • A fifth-grade boy sits at a home computer taking remedial classes over a broadband connection, helping him stay current with his class and improve his grades.
  • A single mother visits a local campus at night to take broadband-enabled distance learning classes, helping her improve her skills in hopes of landing a better job.
  • A clinic runs tests on an elderly woman, then sends the results over broadband to a radiologist at a regional healthcare center to determine if she has suffered a stroke.
  • A couple opens a business in their town, filling a need in the community while creating jobs — and they use broadband to connect with suppliers and other resources.
  • Emergency responders gather in their training room, using broadband to access new information without losing time and money traveling to numerous training events.

This is what my job is really all about. And I’m reminded every day that our mission here at PRTC is about more than providing today’s most important infrastructure. Our mission really is about changing lives.

Try these award-winning puddings

Foster’s Banana Pudding

  • 1 box vanilla wafers (set aside 7 wafers for garnish)

Bananas Foster:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon banana extract or 1/4 cup banana liquor
  • 1/2 cup dark rum, such as Appleton Jamaican rum
  • 4 bananas, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/2-inch thick

Vanilla Pudding:

  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Whipped Cream: 

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Stephanie's winning banana pudding 001For Bananas Foster: In a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, melt the unsalted butter and add the brown sugar. Using a wire whisk, blend the butter and brown sugar. Once the mixture is well blended and begins to simmer, whisk in the cinnamon, vanilla extract, banana extract and rum. Bring the mixture back to a simmer and add the sliced bananas. Stir the mixture with a rubber spatula; simmer until bananas are soft, 6-7 minutes; remove pan from heat and set aside.

Vanilla Pudding: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine cornstarch, sugar and salt; mix together with a wire whisk. In a separate bowl, combine milk and heavy cream. Slowly pour 3/4 of the milk mixture into the saucepan with cornstarch mixture, whisking thoroughly so the mixture is smooth. Place the saucepan on medium heat, stirring the pudding mixture constantly until mixture begins to thicken and comes to a soft boil. Continue to boil 1 minute; remove from heat. To the bowl of remaining milk and cream, add egg yolks, whisking until combined. Slowly stream in about 1/3 of  hot pudding mixture into bowl of egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly until combined. Pour egg yolk and pudding mixture back into saucepan and return it to medium heat. Continue to whisk mixture and heat until it is thick and begins to bubble. Remove from heat. Add unsalted butter and vanilla extract; stir until combined.

Whipped cream:  In a mixing bowl, add cream, sugar and vanilla. Using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer with whisk attachment, whisk mixture at medium-high speed until peaks form.

Assembly: In a 2-quart dish, layer half of the remaining vanilla wafers along the bottom so that they overlap one another. Using a serving spoon, spoon 1/2 of the Bananas Foster over the wafers. Pour 1/2 of hot pudding mixture over wafers and Bananas Foster. Layer remaining wafers in the same manner as before; repeat Bananas Foster and vanilla pudding layer, reserving 2 tablespoons of Bananas Foster for garnish. Cover and place dish in refrigerator to cool, approximately 2 hours. Once pudding has cooled, pour off any accumulated condensation and spread whipped cream over pudding. Top with 3 vanilla wafers in the center of the dish, add remaining Bananas Foster over wafers. Crush the remaining vanilla wafers and sprinkle over the dish.

–Stephanie Lutz, 2012 winner

Banana Brickle Pudding Brulee

  • 3 cups half-and-half
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 8 egg yolks, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • Vanilla wafers
  • 6 bananas


  • Vanilla wafers
  • 1 pint heavy cream, whipped and sweetened with a little sugar

To make cookies:

  • Vanilla wafers
  • 1 cup  butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

In 3-quart saucepan over low heat, heat half-and-half, sugar, salt and cornstarch, whisking constantly until it begins to thicken. Temper beaten eggs by whisking in separate bowl with some of the hot mixture. Add tempered egg mixture back into saucepan and continue cooking until thick. Remove from heat, add vanilla and softened butter. Let cool to room temperature. In large dish, layer vanilla wafers, sliced bananas and pudding. Repeat layers. Top with whipped cream and vanilla brickle cookies.

Prepare cookies: Place one vanilla wafer in each cup of a mini-muffin pan. In a saucepan, bring butter, brown sugar and pecans to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Spoon over cookies and bake at 375º F for 10 minutes. Cool.

–Roger Tisdale, 2013 winner

Banana Queen

There’s something nostalgic about banana pudding, says Stephanie Lutz. “It always makes you feel like a kid again when you eat it. And really, what’s not to like about banana pudding? Vanilla pudding, vanilla wafers and soft, sweet bananas. It makes me smile just thinking about it.”

Stephanie Lutz can cook an appealing dessert, according to judges at the National Banana Pudding Festival and Cook-Off. They chose her dish as the winner in 2012.

Stephanie Lutz can cook an
appealing dessert, according to judges at the National Banana Pudding Festival and Cook-Off. They chose her dish as the winner in 2012.

And she kept smiling when she was crowned the 2012 cook-off winner at the National Banana Pudding Festival, which is held annually in Centerville, Tennessee. Her prize in addition to bragging rights? A check for $2,000 and a beautiful gold-and-white sash. “The kind the beauty queens wear,” Lutz says with a laugh. “I think my friends were more excited about the sash than the money.”

Lutz heard about the cook-off by chance after picking up a flyer about it at the Tennessee Welcome Center on her move from Kentucky to her new home in Spring Hill, Tennessee, in 2011.

Lutz says she “looked to my husband and said, ‘We have to go!’”

So the couple attended that year, and Lutz decided she would try her luck the following year by entering the banana pudding cook-off.

“I’ve been cooking for as long as I can remember,” she says. “I guess it started with my parents. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of my dad teaching me to flip a pancake and my mother baking brownies from scratch.”

But she created her winning recipe on her own, along with a good bit of encouragement from friends and family, plus a lot of research.

“Because it’s a custard-based pudding, I wanted to make sure it stayed creamy, but had a light flavor,” she says. “I probably worked on it for six weeks and must have made 20 batches before getting it right.”

No one complained. “I shared the batches with friends and family, and they were always happily received,” she says.

There is a five-year waiting period between wins, so Lutz can’t enter again until 2017. But her win has given her the confidence to try her culinary skills in other cooking contests when she has the time, she says. She recently graduated with a bachelor of business administration degree in marketing from Middle Tennessee State University.

This year’s National Banana Pudding Festival will feature 10 finalists onstage cooking their puddings, all a little different from each other, but all equally delicious. More puddings can be found along the Puddin’ Path where, for a $5 donation, festivalgoers can sample banana pudding from 10 different nonprofit organizations and vote on their favorite.

If you go … bananas

If a dessert could lay claim as the crowning finish to a Southern meal, banana pudding would be sitting on the throne. And in Centerville, Tennessee, banana pudding is put on a pedestal every fall during the National Banana Pudding Festival and Cook-Off.

Food Editor Anne P. Braly is a native of Chattanooga, Tenn. Prior to pursuing a freelance career, she spent 21 years as food editor and feature writer at a regional newspaper.

Food Editor Anne P. Braly is a native of Chattanooga, Tenn. Prior to pursuing a freelance career, she spent 21 years as food editor and feature writer at a regional newspaper.

This year’s festival will be held Saturday and Sunday, October 4-5, with the cook-off set for Saturday. In addition to the cook-off, there will be two stages of free entertainment, from music and storytellers to puppets and dancers. In the craft area there will be demonstrations of blacksmithing, wood turning and pottery. Craft vendors will sell pottery, jewelry, forged iron, woodworking and art; and food vendors will offer everything from rib-eye steak sandwiches to bottomless root beer mugs with free refills.

  • Hours: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (October 4); 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. (October 5)
  • Admission: $5 per day. Free parking.
  • Location: Centerville River Park, Centerville, Tenn.
  • Online:

Make a diversion for a Southern excursion

By Matt Ledger

The golden age of American rail travel may have peaked nearly a century ago, but the fascination with the legacy of locomotives is still alive and well.

From the syncopated clickity-clack of steel wheels on rails, to the unmistakable howl of a steam whistle, the sensory overload of 19th century travel rekindles a connection with the past and gives us a window into a mode of transportation that has been romanticized for nearly 200 years.

Thankfully, there are still a wide variety of scenic train rides in operation throughout our country. This list of train excursions might help you find a new destination at an old railway station.

Tennessee Valley Railroad (Chattanooga)

All aboard for the first stop, a city with a name that is forever married to the railways that crisscross the South, in a foot-stomping big band song about a Tennessee train excursion: the “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”

Tennessee Valley Railroad in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Tennessee Valley Railroad in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

However, nowadays Glen Miller would need to wander over to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum to catch the next departure, with a choice of leaving from either Chattanooga or Etowah. It was founded in 1961 and is the largest operating historic rail museum in the Southeast. With seven outings planned for September, nothing could be finer than the “Dinner on the Diner” journey, featuring first-class gourmet meal offerings while riding in the ornate 1924 Pullman dining car.

The month begins with the 4th annual “Railfest” celebration on Sept. 6-7 featuring unique exhibits, blacksmith demonstrations and special excursions. Each weekend the Copperhill Special rolls from Etowah through the Hiwassee River Gorge during a daylong 93-mile circuit.  The Summerville Steam (the longest trip at 100 miles) and the Missionary Ridge Local explore the colorful fall splendor in October, in addition to the festive Halloween Eerie Express.


Big South Fork Scenic Railway (Stearns, Ky.)

Big South Fork Scenic Railway in Stearns, Kentucky.

Big South Fork Scenic Railway in Stearns, Kentucky.

The Big South Fork Scenic Railway, in Stearns, Kentucky, has a three-hour hop through the Daniel Boone National Forest during a 14-mile round trip to the Blue Heron Coal Mining Camp. Visitors can also tour the McCreary County Museum. A ghoulish two-hour nighttime journey awaits those who board the Blue Heron Ghost Train on Sept. 6 or the Haunted Hollow Express in mid-October. A half-price fare is available for grandparents on Sept. 7 or for those who served in the military on Nov. 8.


Heart of Dixie Railroad (Calera, Ala.)

The Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum is located in central Alabama, south of Birmingham. The 10-mile rail line runs from Calera to the historic Shelby Iron Works, which was operational during the Civil War era. Several miles of track were added through the years, allowing for numerous themed trips. Youngsters will enjoy a cornstalk maze and hayride during the Pumpkin Patch Express on weekends in October. Adults have their own opportunity to test drive a train and shovel some coal during the “At The Throttle” trip. A certified engineer and brakeman give directions as you guide the train down the tracks for your personal 30-minute excursion.


The Texas State Railroad (Rusk)

The Texas State Railroad in Rusk, Texas.

The Texas State Railroad in Rusk, Texas.

As the train’s durability quickly replaced the sporadic abilities of steamboats, America’s railways expanded westward deep in the heart of Texas in 1921. The Texas State Railroad has become quite famous over the years, garnering several appearances in TV series like Chuck Norris’ “Walker, Texas Ranger” and 16 films, including “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “Rough Riders.” The TSR train depot, in Rusk, features campgrounds and numerous outdoor activities for the kids, ranging from a water playground to horseshoes and shuffleboard. Parents will certainly enjoy the Moonlight Special Dinner Train on Oct. 10 or a Fall Foliage Brunch Train on Nov. 9, as the seasonally themed Maydelle trip includes a savory meal and non-alcoholic beverages.


South Carolina Railroad Museum (Columbia)

The city that can lay claim to the nation’s first steam passenger train is Charleston (SC), with a six-mile track and a six-horsepower engine, which was opened like a gift, on Christmas Day 1830. However, the South Carolina Railroad Museum is located near Columbia in Winnsboro and features the Blue Granite Express, which typically operates on Saturdays. Passengers can opt for first-class, coach, open air or caboose seating during chartered, seasonal or special events.


Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (Bryson City, NC)

Combining gorgeous mountain vistas and numerous child-oriented train trips, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad might be the best whistle stop for the family. Tikes can join the PEANUTS gang while riding The Great Pumpkin Patch Express on weekends in October. An uncommon nighttime run on The Masquerade Train offers spooky scenery and a full buffet for those 21 and older on Oct. 31. The Tuckasegee Excursion will be free for current and prior military members from Nov. 7-9 in honor of Veterans Day.


Kentucky Railway Museum (New Haven)

Remain alert for clues while riding the Mystery Theatre train on Oct. 25 at the Kentucky Railway Museum. For those seeking 90-minute movie-like suspense, passengers can ride the rails for a good cause during the Train Robbery trip. Horse-mounted hooligans will hold up the train, with the loot benefiting the Crusade for Children charity for kids with special needs. On Oct. 11, the number of engines will vastly increase as the railway hosts their 3rd annual Vintage Car Show.


North Alabama Railroad Museum (Huntsville)

As summer begins to fade into fall, train enthusiasts can snap photos from an open-air baggage car during a short excursion from the North Alabama Railroad Museum in Huntsville.  Others may choose to relax in the renovated dining car during the Sept. 20 trip on the “North Alabamian.” Other trips include the Punkin’ Pickin’ Extravaganza on Oct. 11, Fall Color Specials on Oct 25 and Nov. 1, and Santa Trains on Dec. 6, 7 and 13.


Making your voice heard

Why rural telecommunications providers stay connected in D.C.

The decisions made in Washington, D.C., have a direct affect on the affordability — and even the availability — of broadband and other telecommunications services in rural areas. To continue the progress rural telcos have made in bringing advanced technology to their communities, the U.S. Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) must understand the issues and challenges associated with serving America’s more sparsely populated regions.

Rural telcos voice the concerns of their customers to policymakers through NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association, which represents some 900 independent, community-based telecommunications providers. “It’s a far more competitive world, in terms of policy development and advocacy, than it ever was before,” says NTCA’s Vice President of Advocacy Initiatives Tom Wacker. “If our rural telcos are not out visiting with policymakers and telling their stories, someone else is going to be getting their attention.”

Below are some of the NTCA programs that bring providers together to ensure Washington gets the message: our industry is doing a good job keeping rural America connected, and we need federal policies in place to support our continued progress.

Legislative & Policy Conference

PrintHeld each spring, this conference brings hundreds of managers, board members and employees of rural telcos to Washington for three days of guest speakers and meetings with elected officials and regulatory agencies. Telco leaders in each state work with NTCA staff to assemble information on issues important to rural subscribers. This information is used in presentations aimed at keeping officials up to date on the rural telecom mission, as well as the progress telcos are making in keeping rural America connected through advanced technology.


Throughout the year, NTCA coordinates numerous fly-ins. These events provide an opportunity for telco leaders to talk Infographic_tourism_005_WEBwith members of Congress and regulators about policies that impact their rural service areas. While the fly-ins have a similar mission as the Legislative & Policy Conference, they focus on specific issues and feature much smaller groups, allowing more one-on-one time with officials.

Telecom Executive Policy summit

Infographic_Social Media_006_WEBThis October conference is designed solely for general managers, chief executive officers and other upper-level management, allowing them to dive deeper into policy issues, exchange ideas and meet with members of Congress and the FCC.


The communications division of NTCA shares the story of rural telcos and advocates for their interests through national Modern UI design layoutmedia releases, ad campaigns, publications and social media projects such as the #ruraliscool campaign.

What You Can Do

  • Ask candidates where they stand on issues important to the development of rural America.
  • Express to candidates your belief that laws and regulations should support rural telecommunications companies as they continue to invest in broadband networks.
  • Vote for those candidates who will be a strong voice for rural America.

How Advocacy Works — case study

Rural Call Completion

Problem:Rural residents and business owners are reporting that some long-distance and wireless callers are not able to get through to their landline telephone, and that some calls that do come through have poor call quality.

Cause:Long-distance and wireless companies often use third-party companies known as “least-cost routers” to route their calls into rural areas. Substandard service from these providers appears to be the root of call completion problems.

Consequences:Rural residents have reported problems such as connecting with friends and family, reaching emergency personnel and receiving calls from their child’s school. Businesses have reported incidents of lost sales opportunities because of failed calls.

Advocacy in Action

1. Residents take their concerns about call completion problems to their local telecommunications provider.

2. Providers work with fellow telcos through NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association to discover the extent of the problem and develop a plan to address it.

3. NTCA organizes meetings in Washington where telcos from all over the country come to discuss the issue with their elected officials and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

4. Legislative and policy experts with NTCA use real-life customer stories to show the FCC and members of Congress the negative impact this problem is having in rural regions.

5. Managers, board members and other leaders at local telcos talk with their members of Congress during district visits and through other means to express the pressing need to address the call completion problem.

6. The FCC issues a declaratory ruling clarifying that “carrier practices that lead to call completion failure and poor call quality may violate the Communications Act’s prohibition on unjust and unreasonable practices…”

7. The FCC adopts new rules to help the agency “monitor providers’ delivery of long-distance calls to rural areas and to aid the prosecution of violations of the Communications Act.”

8. The FCC issues consent decrees that cost three national carriers millions of dollars for practices that may have contributed to rural call completion problems.

9. Members of Congress introduce legislation designed to end rural call completion problems.

Advocacy Works

Working together through our national organization, NTCA, we joined efforts with rural telecommunications providers across the country to make your voice heard in the halls of Congress and at the FCC. We are getting results, and will continue to make progress toward resolving the call completion problem for rural residents and business owners.

NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association advocates on these and related issues:

  • Broadband
  • Call Completion
  • Health Care
  • Intercarrier Compensation
  • Safety & Security
  • Taxes & Corporate
  • Universal Service
  • Video & Cable
  • VoIP (Voice Over IP)