Friday, December 05, 2014

Closely Watched Trains and the Folkston Funnel

This blog post is named for a 1966 Czech movie by the same title.  The movie is the coming of age story of Milos Herma, a young man during the Second World War when Czechoslovakia was under German occupation.  The young man takes a job with the railroad as he attempts to have his first sexual encounter.  It’s a world of Nazi agents as well as underground fighters against occupation.  The movie ends with Milos becoming a martyr, as he blows up a German munition train rushing to the front lines.

Folkston GA watertower
Of course, there were no such sabotages (or Nazi or partisans) on that day when I visited the Folkston Funnel (after spending most of the day paddling in the nearby Okefenokee.  The "funnel" refers to a length of double-track line owned by CSX transportation which handles much of the rail traffic in-and-out of Florida.  Just north of Folkston, rail lines that run to Savannah and the eastern corridor connect with lines that run through Waycross and Atlanta and up into the Midwest.  Over sixty-five trains a day pass over these rails. For those of us who get an itch whenever we see a train, Folkston capitalized on our addiction.  They built a viewing stand which is raised, shaded (and protected from rain) as well as complete with overhead fans to keep railfans cool and the gnats and mosquitoes at bay.  This prime location that allows one to safely closely watch trains, brings tourist into the small hamlet of Folkston.   A local business has been formed to offer “rail side lodging” in which they have restored two cabooses (one is right across from the train platform) and a station house.  Here, for a hundred bucks and some change, one can spend the night be awaken regularly by the trains moving in and out of Florida.
Train Observing Platform

Caboose for rent!
There were six or eight people on the platform when I was there.   One was a couple who were driving to their winter home in Florida.  The wife assured me they stop again in the spring when they head north.  I understood… 
A very long train of containers heads north
If you’re looking for a great place to watch trains, this is it!  To learn more about the movie and its link to the Czech uprising in 1968, read this article.  


  1. Wow, how lucky for you to have this so near to you. I certainly would jump at the chance to visit here, and if and any when we're out that way again, we will. Although your presentation here is almost like being there, it's totally tempting, me and I have an itch for the chance! Remarkable, thanks for sharing this.

  2. This is fascinating, and reminded me of a now defunct restaurant where I treated my parents for an Anniversary dinner. The name escapes me, but some stock brokers converted some old train cars into a restaurant. My parents had a great time and your post reminded me of this nice memory.

  3. When I was writing my chapter book about the circus, I was stunned to find that Barnum & Bailey still travel by train. It's a whole production--people even show up at certain locations just to see the train pass by. Other circuses have gone to buses because it's easier to get to the location, but I guess Barnum & Bailey gets a bus to pick everything up and transport it to the location once the train gets to the city? Trains are beautiful, but they lack the flexibility other modes of transport have!

  4. As you know, Sage, I have a fondness for trainrides, not just trainrides of enigmas but to cities I don't want to drive a car to --or try to find parking places in. There is no other mode of traveling to compare with watching America roll past while sipping wine writing poetry or chatting or meditating. I have flown since airlines relied on propellers and driven since 1966 but never found a better combination for adventure than trains and taxis. Trains and thought just go together. Not strictly apropos to your excellent post, but how I feel.

  5. That's a great idea. One of my colleagues used to work for a railroad and talks about people who jump in front of trains to try to get a photo. This seems like a better alternative.

  6. This is such a rich post. Rich in history, art and culture. Many thanks, I really appreciated this cultural tour.

    Greetings from London.

  7. In the town where we used to live they had a pedestrian trail through the woods that crossed the railroad tracks on a foot bridge a couple miles from the nearest access point. I always thought that was the best way to see trains being about ten feet over the top of them as they went whizzing underneath and always wished big old steam engines were still around. I probably got to see only three or four that way though just because when out for an exercise walk, I was loath to stop and wait a half hour for the trains to come by. The few times I got lucky ended up hearing the train, realizing I was close and sprinting the rest of the way to arrive out of breath but happy to see the train go by! Your version seems a lot more relaxing.

  8. I've seen that film, but haven't visited Folkston Funnel.

    I enjoy travelling by train and I think the railway must be in my blood. My great grandfather (Mr Train) was a station master and his son (my grandfather) married Miss Driver.

  9. I hate to be the outlier, which I usually am, but going to a quiet place to hear noise? I would rather be on the train in that case!

  10. I think anyone born before 1990 has a little something in their hearts for trains. This being before the availability of genuinely cheap air travel. There's something about barely seeing over the Formica seeing the countryside with that dit-dit-dit of the ceramic festooned telephone poles and the rocking click-click- clack-clack of the bogies crossing the joints. I think it's the first true rejigging of ones awareness and the beginnings of philosophy for many.
    Now I like me a train or two. And I really like the idea of the Folkston Funnel. However having seen it on Google earth it's not going to be on any US itinerary of mine unless I'll be crossing those open level-crossings -what's with that btw. If you are sending nearly 100 trains through a village surely to dickens you'd enclose the permanent way for safety.Imagine the nightmare of bringing up kids in that village. - in a train going to Key West to see the Art Deco houses.

    1. It has been a while to travel cheaper by train than plane in the US--especially for long trips. Even in the 80s and early 90s, when I made 4 coast to coast round trips and one long trip to Florida, it would have been cheaper to fly (and I travelled coach). But it was the experience!

      There have been no trains to Key West since 1935, when the tracks of the "railroad across the ocean" was destoryed by a major hurricane. There is a good book on it titled "Last Train to Paradise" and it tells the story of the building (it was a major engineering marvel) and it's destruction (the story of the storm is something else).

      I wouldn't suggest making a trip to Folkston just to see trains. If you did take a train to/from Florida, you would travel through the town (but the closes stops are Jessup GA or Jacksonville, FL). If you come down here, you'll have to let me take you paddling in the Okefenokee--then we could stop at Folkston, but the real reason would be to see the swamp.

  11. I love the look of that depot! My son used to love watching trains when he was three or four. He would've loved that place.

  12. Another great post! I love trains. I love riding on them, reading about them, listening to them and I LOVE watching them. I would sit on that platform for hours. One of my favorite sounds in the world is a distant train whistle, especially at night.

  13. have not seen the movie though i do enjoy watching the trains...i used to fall asleep to their hum and whistle when i was growing the tracks ran by the bottom of the hill....

  14. I have close friends that are really into trains. Thank you for the info so I can share with them!