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Crafty, Colorful London

Haunted Trains

Crafty, Colorful London
A hummingbird balances mid-flight gathering nectar, its beak buried in the stamens of a honeysuckle flower. So delicately rendered are the ruby-throated bird, fluted deep pink blossom with individual filaments and anthers, veined leaves, and fine branches, it’s hard to fathom that the arrangement is carved from wood.

Ever since he began creating duck decoys as a teenager, self-taught Laurel County artisan Jim Sams has been turning blocks of wood into exquisite works of art. The outdoorsman has rendered some 30 species of wildflowers.

“Flowers are only in nature for a brief time,” Sams says, “and I like to capture every detail in an artistic way. I think people like the realism in my work.”

So time-consuming are his pieces, he shows only at the Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands in Asheville, North Carolina, each July and October, an occasional gallery exhibit, and his studio near London, Jim Sams Woodworking, (606) 878-6949.

If you want a Kentucky Mule-Ear Chair made to order by Mike Angel, you’ll have to wait three months. Park yourself in a rocker at Red Dog & Company, relax to the ever-present classical background music, and you’ll see why: you won’t want to get up!

Angel uses native Kentucky hardwoods, including Osage orange and wormy chestnut, which he steam bends using traditional tools. Besides Mike, Red Dog’s team includes wife Fredi, apprentice Dan Ifrose, Glenna and Clyde Isaacs, weavers of the split hickory bark seats, and James Wright of Harlan County, whose wizened carved faces peek out from some chair posts.

“It’s getting to be a plasticized world,” Angel explained. “People want quick fixes and fast food. Fortunately, some folks still appreciate the craftsmanship of hand-made items.”

The third weekend in October, the Battle at Camp Wildcat noisily returns. Re-enactors welcome school kids to their camps on Friday the 17th before cannons and artillery fire up on Saturday and Sunday.

“In the fall the red and yellow maples and yellow tulip poplars really stand out against the dark evergreen background here in the mountains,” says Bill Sharp, district archaeologist for the U.S. Forest Service, as we tramped through the rain-soaked woods of Camp Wildcat Battlefield in June to view the site’s clearly visible 137-year-old trenches from the 1861 clash resulting in the first Union victory.

“The earthworks and trenches are really well preserved,” Sharp said. “You can walk out into the woods and see them pretty much as they were. It’s neat!” Interpretation of the site is in the works. You can also hike the trail to Hoosier Knob.

Long before the Civil War, in 1786, some 200,000 courageous pioneers traveled to Kentucky from Virginia over the Wilderness Road, now part of Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park.

Though the woodsy, 896-acre park has 146 campsites with hookups, a swimming pool with water slides, picnic shelters, hiking trails, and an 18-hole miniature golf course, early Kentucky history is its forte. You can wander through an amazing “library” of 100 millstones at idyllic McHargue’s Mill, and buy fresh ground cornmeal all summer long.

Opened in 1934, the park’s Mountain Life Museum is a collection of log buildings chock-full of late-1800s items with period-clothed guides leading tours and chatting in period language.

To those old enough to remember it in its heyday, Fort Sequoyah, with its authentic Indian camp nestled between KY 25 and the Rockcastle River, may have seemed like a movie set. Begun by Lucille and Carlos Carloftis in 1955, the Native American craft shop and museum thrived despite the absence of electricity and running water. “Then I-75 went through and we woke up without a job,” says Lucille.

These days, Lucille, the quintessential soft-spoken Southern lady, runs the current incarnation of the family business, the Rockcastle River Trading Company, (606) 843-0854, a high-end home and garden shop on 12 acres of lush green riverbank set with splendid flower and herb gardens, the handiwork of her landscape designer son Jon. From April through October, you can shop, peruse the gardens, and stroll along the river to revel in a stillness punctuated only by the panting of two resident friendly yellow Labs.

London-Laurel County Tourism
Pick up maps, trip tips, and camping and attraction info, right at I-75 exit 41 on U.S. 80, (800) 348-0095, or go online to

Cruisin’ for Crafts
Since many artisans travel to shows and need creative time, always call ahead for hours of operation and/or an appointment.
Appalachian Wood Crafts, Norma Kernes, wind chimes, bird houses and feeders, garden and yard signs, gourd art, (606) 862-1921
Design Center, Bill Disney, woodcraft, (606) 877-1400
Delmar Eby, handmade wooden toys, (606) 878-1714
Kentucky Hills Industries in Pine Knot, corn-shuck dolls and flowers, baskets, pottery, (800) 354-2819
Diana Kilburn, watercolor paintings, (606) 864-3998
Lonnie and Tulya Money in East Bernstadt, wood carvings, (606) 843-7783
Sacred Cedar Productions, Tsa’ne Do’se (Arnold Richardson), Native American gourd carvings, tribal drums, red cedar flutes, (606) 878-2926

While You’re There
Pleasant Acres Bed & Breakfast, (888) 299-8678, a 66-acre farm, guarantees a quiet country stay .6 miles from the Wilderness Road Heritage Highway.
•Leaf peepers looking for spectacular views and exercise can hop on a horse or into a mule-drawn wagon followed by a bonfire cookout at Kinlee Stables & Riding Center north of East Bernstadt, (606) 843-2645, or e-mail
•For a fish-eye view of autumn’s glory, rent a canoe from Rockcastle Adventures, (606) 864-9407, and paddle past rocky cliffs on the Rockcastle River in the heart of Daniel Boone National Forest. If you’d rather watch the scenery from a deck chair, rent a houseboat or pontoon boat at Holly Bay Marina, (606) 864-6542, and drift down crystal-clear Laurel River Lake, (606) 864-6412.

Katherine Tandy Brown is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.

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Haunted Trains
“It’s kind of like a Rocky Horror Picture Show type deal.”

That’s how Mike Hudson, public relations director (and former specter) at the Bluegrass Railroad Museum in Versailles, describes the Ghost Train that has been making annual Halloween excursions into the dark beyond since 1987.

“We have costumed actors in different scenes—a graveyard, a hanging, a car accident, a UFO—that vary from year to year. A lot of the passengers dress up in costumes and play along.

“Except for some real dim lighting, the cars are dark and we play scary music over the sound system. Even if we didn’t do anything other than that, to ride that creaky old train at night is pretty creepy.”

Hudson used to dress up like one of the ghosts of train rides past, specifically like a passenger that was killed along with many others, or so legend holds, while chugging to Louisville one foggy and gloomy Hallo-ween. Hudson would get in character and join several other “spirits.” Then as the Ghost Train rolled along, they would lie in wait in cars farther down the tracks to “scream and holler and hang out the window” while strobe and police lights flashed and a smoke machine re-created the fog of that ill-fated night.

It was a good fright for the passengers, but nothing made them shiver and shake as much as the guy with the chainsaw.

“That one would put chills up your back,” Hudson admits with a chuckle. “A couple years we had a guy running up and down the track like something out of Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The first time he started his chainsaw, I think everyone got shivers.”

Another “haunted house on wheels” is the Big South Fork Scenic Railway Halloween Train. The final destination is shrouded in mystery, but regardless of where the train goes, business manager Becki Egnew promises there will be thrills and chills enough to creep out everybody onboard.

“This is a train ride into the complete dark of the night. Be prepared to be scared.”

Also on the rails this Halloween is the Murder Mystery Train at the Kentucky Railway Museum just south of Bardstown in New Haven. Jon Adams, director of admissions at Eastern Kentucky University, produces mysteries for a variety of venues and occasions under the name of Mysteries of Historic Proportions.

For this particular mystery, Jon will create a fictional story about a person who was working for the Kentucky Railway Museum and was murdered—when else, but on Halloween night.

“The body was found near the museum site,” he says as he spins his spooky tale. “And of course the place is now haunted because of this.”

Before boarding the train, participants will watch separate scenes unfold with a cast of characters (from the Actor’s Guild of Lexington and the Woodford County Theatrical Arts Association) throwing out clues, along with a few red herrings, about the identity of the murderer.

“Once on the train, there will be a question and answer session with the actors to find more clues and guess who the murderer is.”

Specters and spectators alike are welcome to board the Halloween trains. As Bluegrass Railroad conductor Charles Bogart says, everyone involved is “prepared to role play and to have a good time and a good scare.”

Ride These Haunted Rails
Big South Fork Scenic Railway Halloween Train, Stearns, departs at 7:30 p.m. the last three Friday and Saturday nights beginning October 11. Tickets are $15 for adults, $7.50 for children, with advance reservations starting October 1. Call (800) 462-5664 or (606) 376-5330, or go online to
Bluegrass Railroad Museum Ghost Train, Versailles, runs Fridays and Saturdays, October 17-18 and October 24-25, with 7:30 and 9 p.m. departures. Tickets from $6 to $9 each. Reservations required. Call (859) 873-2476 or go online to
Kentucky Railway Museum Murder Mystery Train, New Haven, pulls out of the station at 7 p.m. on Saturday, October 18 and 25. Daytime rides on the family-friendly Halloween Express rides are scheduled for 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on October 25 and 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 26. Tickets are $12.50 per adult; $8 per child. Call (800) 272-0152 or (502) 549-5470, or go online to

Other Haunts
General Butler State Resort Park in Carrollton offers a Halloween Family Fun Weekend from Friday, October 31, through Sunday, November 2, for park guests. The public is welcome to join in activities like a Creepy Fingers Pottery Workshop, trick-or-treating in the campground, haunted train ride, or Ghoulish Mini Golf. Call (502) 732-4384, or go online to
Old Fort Harrod, Harrodsburg, celebrates Halloween on October 24, 25, and 31. Past events have included a visit by a headless horseman, a witch hunt, ghost stories in the oldest cemetery in the state, and a haunted maze. Call for time and tickets, (859) 734-3314, or go online to

Kathy Witt is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.

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