What’s so special about a cooperative?

October is National Cooperative Month

Mountain Telephone is a cooperative. But what does that mean?  There are seven principles that make us different than other telecommunications providers.

1. A cooperative is a voluntary organization, open to all people who are able to use its services.

2. A cooperative is controlled by its members who are given opportunities to actively participate.

3. Members contribute to the capital of their cooperative.

4. No matter what agreements cooperatives may enter with other organizations, its members maintain control and the cooperative remains independent.

5. Cooperatives provide related education and training for members, elected representatives, managers and employees.

6. Cooperatives work together through local, regional, national and international organizations.

7. Cooperatives work for the sustainable development of our communities.

A business that’s fit to be tied

What began as a hobby making bows for her daughter has quickly turned into a full-time business. But Reanna Bradley wouldn’t have it any other way.

What began as a hobby making bows for her daughter has quickly turned into a full-time business. But Reanna Bradley wouldn’t have it any other way.

The oven was heated to 275 degrees. Inside, strips of ribbon were wrapped around wooden dowels and had been baking for 25 minutes.

“It makes them curly,” says Reanna Bradley, who often bakes her ribbons before tying them into hair bows and selling them online and at festivals throughout the year.

Bradley says her home-based business started by accident. She was frustrated with buying bows for her daughter, Zoe, that either wouldn’t stay in her hair or would fall apart after wearing them just a few times.

“I went online, found some patterns and began making them myself,” she says.

But that was five years ago, and what began as a way to make durable bows for her daughter quickly turned into a much larger project that occupies much of her time. Now Bradley makes about 50 bows a day, as well as clips and barrettes. She takes orders over the phone from customers that appreciate the durability of her products. She also makes bows for the Morgan Central High School cheerleaders.

“I take pride in my bows,” she says. “I don’t use hot glue. I use a needle and heavy-duty thread. They are very solid.”

Bradley first set up a booth to sell the bows at the Morgan County Sorghum Festival, and now she sells them at several festivals in the region each year.

“I have people come through the festival that tell me they bought bows last year, and their kids are still wearing them,” she says.

Bradley has broadband Internet service from Mountain Telephone, which allows her to order supplies online and keep customers updated on her Facebook page.

For more information about Bradley’s bows, search “Cute Creations Ribbon Hair Bows” on Facebook.

Down-home music

Broadband services boost in-home business

Vera’s Music Shop is located in a back room of her home near Ezel. There aren’t many signs or neon lights, but broadband and social media keep her supplies moving.

Vera’s Music Shop is located in a back room of her home near Ezel. There aren’t many signs or neon lights, but broadband and social media keep her supplies moving.

A single sign near Ezel directs musicians down a long, single-lane road that winds through fields and green, rolling hills. The modest home sits almost a mile down this road, tucked among a cluster of other houses at the end of a long driveway. There are no signs above the door to welcome you or even let you know you are at the right place, only a few dogs that run out to greet you as you step out of your car.

Still, most musicians in the region know Vera and her in-home music store. Business is good.

“This is the bluegrass region, and we have a lot of musicians here,” she says. “Customers come here from all the surrounding counties and more. They come from Ashland and even Lexington. They say the prices there are so high that they will drive here.”

Vera opened the Music Shop in a back room of her home in 2006 because she was tired of driving to Morehead and Lexington to find what she needed for her own musical hobby. She opened with just a few accessories such as strings, capos, tuners, picks and cables. But business steadily increased, so she began carrying a wider selection of products.

Now, Vera stocks a variety of guitars, banjos, amplifiers, mics and stands. And if she doesn’t have it in stock, she says she can order just about anything someone may want and have it within a couple of days.

Thanks to broadband service from Mountain Telephone, Vera says she takes orders through her Facebook page, which allows her to reach customers as far away as Florida, Michigan, Ohio. She does almost no advertising aside from what she posts on her Facebook page.

“Facebook gets the word out more than anything,” she says. “It’s either word of mouth or Facebook.”

Customer service is the key to her business. In fact, the first time she considered opening the store was after a music store in Lexington refused to throw in a few complimentary picks when she bought a $1,400 guitar.

“I try to treat my customers right, and because I am home-based, I can keep my prices down,” she says.

Another draw to Vera’s Music Shop is her flexibility. She is typically open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, but if someone has an emergency and calls to let her know, she will open at just about any hour.

She also offers a 90-day layaway plan if customers make a down payment of at least 20 percent.

“I try to work with the customers and help them out,” she says. “That’s how you keep your customers. That’s how you keep your business open.”

For more information about Vera’s Music Shop, call 606-725-4211 or follow them on Facebook.

Promoting the region’s arts and crafts

FEAT instills area artisans with the tools for success

By Brian Lazenby

Local folk artist Minnie Adkins stands in front of her art studio near Sandy Hook.

Local folk artist Minnie Adkins stands in front of her art studio near Sandy Hook.

Bill and Hillary Clinton invited Minnie Adkins to the White House to help decorate for Christmas, but she turned them down.

Johnny Carson invited her to be a guest on “The Tonight Show,” but she turned him down.

Later, when Jay Leno hosted “The Tonight Show,” he also invited her to appear on the show, but she turned him down too.

It wasn’t politics or a distaste for late night television. It was simply a matter of transportation.

“I don’t fly,” Adkins says. “I keep my feet on the ground.”

One artist’s success

Even without the celebrity appearances, Minnie Adkins’ artwork is internationally known. Every president since Jimmy Carter owns a piece of her work. So do Barbra Streisand and former Miss America and Kentucky First Lady Phyllis George. She has been recognized by both the Kentucky Senate and House of Representatives.

Adkins has artwork on permanent display in the American Folk Art Museum in New York; the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.; The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; The Huntington Folk Art Center in Huntington, West Virginia; and the Kentucky Folk Art Center in Morehead — just to name a few.

Adkins is best known for her blue roosters, but she has carved many colorful critters and even this Noah’s Ark.

Adkins is best known for her blue roosters, but she has carved many colorful critters and even this Noah’s Ark.

But none of this has gone to her head. The 80-year-old woman began her craft as a child sitting on the front porch of her home whittling slingshots and pop guns. In her mind, not much has changed. One would never know her blue roosters are internationally known or that her children’s books and whimsical folk art decorate the shelves of the rich and famous. She is still the same humble, down-to-earth Sandy Hook resident she has always been.

To emphasize the point, Adkins tells of an award ceremony where she received the James Norton Award. Renowned dancers Twyla Tharp and “some guy named” Mikhail Baryshnikov performed at the ceremony.

“They rolled out the red carpet for me, and I hated every minute of it,” she says. “Now that I look back on it, I appreciate it so much and realize how important it was.”

Tremendous feat

Adkins was recently honored at the Annual Minnie Adkins Day festival, where  officials in Elliott County proclaimed the third Saturday in July to be known as Minnie Adkins Day.

Minnie Adkins talks about many of her whimsical creations from her home near Sandy Hook.

Minnie Adkins talks about many of her whimsical creations from her home near Sandy Hook.

While Adkins may have led the way, the event is actually a celebration of all local artists in the region. Adkins shows her support for area artists through The Eastern Kentucky Foothills Eco-Agritourism (FEAT) partnership — a luxury she didn’t have when she was getting started.

“At one time we had a lot of folk artists making a good living here, but most of them are all dead and gone now,” she says.

FEAT is a partnership of artists, antique dealers, musicians, muralists, photographers, authors, crafters, artisans, agri-tourism sites, adventure tourism sites, farm stays, bed and breakfasts, restaurants and lodgings in Elliott, Morgan, Menifee, Wolfe and Carter counties. By banding together across county lines, Gayle Clevenger, FEAT director and head of the Laurel Gorge Cultural Arts Center, says the organization hopes to boost the local economy and educate its members about good business practices and teach them ways to better market their products and venues to customers outside the local region.

“We have more than 50 members now,” Clevenger says.

Adkins was a speaker at the recent FEAT Conference, where she spoke about how she went from whittling slingshots and pop guns to one of the most well-known and celebrated folk artists in the region.

“It can happen,” Clevenger says. “Many of our members see their craft as just something they do. They don’t realize they can increase their income with it.”

Tools of the trade

Clevenger says the group’s mission is to brand FEAT as a buzzword for a cultural and heritage tourist destination by 2020.

“We want to introduce our members to all the available tools and educate them on how to market their businesses using 21st-century technology,” she says. “We want them to understand how to take advantage of social media.”

FEAT has held classes on how to use Facebook and technology to market themselves and their products. Clevenger says the group encourages everyone to have a website and teaches members how to direct people to the site using social media.

(Left to Right) Sen. Walter Blevins, D-Morehead; Elliott County Judge Executive Carl Fannin; Minnie Adkins; Rep. Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook; Adam Rice, field representative for U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers; and Mark Brown, KY Arts Council.

(Left to Right) Sen. Walter Blevins, D-Morehead; Elliott County Judge Executive Carl Fannin; Minnie Adkins; Rep. Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook; Adam Rice, field representative for U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers; and Mark Brown, KY Arts Council.

FEAT is a great networking tool for members, and it also provides venues for local artisans to market their products. Clevenger says many members have their work at the Grayson Art Gallery. Other venues are often available at various FEAT functions.

Most people don’t think of Eastern Kentucky as a tourist destination, but Clevenger hopes to change that.

“People are always leaving this area. They go to Gatlinburg and Nashville, but we want to bring people into our area,” she says.

In an effort to do just that, FEAT will host its second bus tour in October, which will take tourists to Olive Hill where they will visit little-known, out-of-the-way places. There will also be a street fair where artisans will be selling their goods.

“That is something we are really excited about,” Clevenger says, noting that the group held its first bus tour last year that focused on Appalachian history, antiques and storytelling.

“We are having a lot of success,” she says.

For more information about FEAT or to sign up for the upcoming tour, visit their website at www.ekfeat.com, follow them on Facebook or email Clevenger at feat@mrtc.com.

Advertising on network TV now an option for local businesses

Mountain Telephone gives businesses a new way to reach their target markets

If you run a business in the Mountain Telephone service area, you have an affordable new resource in your tool kit — television advertising.

Area businesses can now deliver their message to subscribers of Mountain’s television service, advertising on major TV channels such as ESPN, A&E and USA.

“Our local businesses provide the goods and services we need, while driving the local economy,” says Shayne Ison, general manager of Mountain. “We are excited to offer them this opportunity because we believe it will help our members reach more customers at a very affordable cost.”

To bring this new service to members, Mountain has partnered with Viamedia, a Lexington-based company with experience helping other cooperatives launch local advertising programs. “We’re a 13-year-old, family-run company that is dedicated to helping you increase your business,” says Jeff Morrett, general manager of Viamedia’s Southeast Kentucky division.

Even small businesses with very limited advertising dollars can afford to have their message on major channels. “From the small store with only $200 per month to spend on advertising, to the large business with a $10,000 ad budget, we can help almost anyone put their business on TV,” Morrett says.

Businesses that want more information about advertising on MTTV can contact Morrett at 859-977-9000.

Picture this: Your business on TV

With 24 major channels available, your Viamedia account representative will help you determine the best combination to reach your target audience. No surprises. No hidden fees. You will know the cost of everything before you agree to anything.

How do I get started?

Email Jeff Morrett at jmorrett@viamediatv.com, or call 859-977-9000

How your commercial is produced

It is exciting to imagine your business appearing on TV while area viewers are watching a major channel — but getting there seems like it would be a major undertaking.

Not so, according to Viamedia’s Jeff Morrett. “We walk the business owner through a simple process that will have them on TV very soon,” he says, “sharing their message with current and potential customers in targeted demographics.”

Step One: A Viamedia account executive meets with you to discuss your needs and determine if television advertising is right for you.

Step Two: If the answer is yes, your Viamedia account executive comes back to you with ideas for your advertisement, and you choose an option.

Step Three: During a production meeting, you and your Viamedia account executive plan the scenes that need to be shot at your business to produce your advertisement.

Step Four: A production crew visits your business and shoots the scenes you have planned.

After three to five days of edit time, your advertisement is ready to air on networks in the Mountain Telephone service area!

How Long Does It Take?

From the time you decide to advertise, your commercial can be on the air within two weeks!

What our job is really all about

Shayne Ison
General Manager

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.

Shayne Ison

Shayne Ison

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 just like us 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 Mountain Telephone 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: bananapuddingfest.org

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)