An East Texas soldier is back home doing the things he loves most. First Lieutenant Brandon McElroy grew up in Athens, but one of his fondest childhood memories takes place in Palestine and Rusk. It's the Texas State Railroad, but because of state budget cuts, there is only enough funding to keep the train running through December.
McElroy has been riding the Texas State Railroad since he was three years old. "I saw the first steam locomotive and didn't know what the huffing and puffing thing was, but after my mom got me on reluctantly, I fell in love with it," said McElroy.
McElroy is stationed at Fort Lewis in Seattle. He first heard about the train's budget problems last Spring when his parents sent a newspaper article to him.
"It's almost a running antique if you will. It's not sitting in a museum rusting. It's not sitting out in a bone yard somewhere. It's a living part of our history," said McElroy.
Next month, McElroy will be going to Iraq for the second time. Knowing it might be his last time on the train, today he requested to ride up front in the engine. "It's exhilarating," said McElroy. "You hear the steam draining into the cylinders and it starts puffing and chuffing. As it goes up a hill you'll hear the clickity clack, the chug chug chug as well as the whistle blowing. Every little sound gives almost a euphoria, something of a child comes out of you."
It's an experience McElroy says he hopes generations to come will be able to enjoy. "It's an official state railroad of Texas," said McElroy. "It's part of our pride as being the lone star state. We are rebuilding a country oversees, and I would like to see us rebuild part of our history here as well. "
Texas Parks and Wildlife, which operates the train, says it's requested about $650,000 from the state to run the railroad next year. If not, the railroad will become a static display at the end of December.