Family Fun on the Rails
Imagine your are five years old. As your family arrives at the
train station, your hand slips free of your Mom's and you dash
over to the tracks. Looking left, then right, your eager eyes
scan the horizon, searching for your train.
Then you hear it. The quiet chugging of the locomotive. The
clicking and clacking of the wheels gliding over the rails. The
sound of happy families enjoying their ride as they arrive at the
The engine pulls to a stop; the steam escaping. You run to the
first car, eager to board and ride behind the engineer. But this
is no ordinary train. This engine is just your size! The cars
have seats built just for you! Even still, these cars are large
enough for your Mom and Dad to come along for the ride.
With the toot of the horn, the engineer gently pulls the
throttle and the little engine slowly starts inching forward. The
cylinders pump and the steam chuffs and before long, the engine
is chugging along. As you round the first curve, you look back
and see the trusty red caboose tootling along, bringing up the
Bright, cheery smiles are every where! Children cry out with
glee as the train winds through the tunnel and into the day
light. Parents look on with joy and contentment as they reflect
on their own precious memories and those that are being made now.
You and your parents never want this moment to end.
WHOLESOME & EDUCATIONAL FAMILY FUN
Railroading is in the blood of thousands of Americans. And,
even through steam engines may have disappeared from full size
rails across the nation, they are still running strong in
miniature railroads. What is it about trains that appeals to
children and adults alike? Is it the freedom of travel? The sound
of the whistle? The simplicity of design? The life-like sounds of
a chuffing steam engine? Or the smile on the face of a tired, yet
There is no one answer but one thing is for certain: children
of all ages, love trains! Look at the phenomenal success of
Thomas the Tank engine properties! But it doesn't stop with wood
Thomas engines or electric HO train sets. No, this affection
seems to grow into something much bigger. . . trains that are
large enough to ride in, whether you are 3 or 93. There is no
mistaking the attraction of trains to folks of all ages.
And even if you have never ridden aboard an Amtrak train, you
may have fond memories of miniature, or Grand Scale, trains found
at your local park or drive-in theater when you were young. Maybe
you were one of the children who have fond memories of riding
behind the diesel at Kiddieland in Chicago or in one of the
department store displays of the time. Or perhaps you have heard
stories of the famous steam engines running at Coney Island.
Fairs, amusement parks, local parks, pumpkin farms, roadside
attractions and others have all housed miniature trains at one
time. Literally millions of people have had the joy of riding
these at one time.
But what of today? Do these iron horses still exist to thrill
our children of today? Are there place for families to go so that
their young children can make their own memories? Yes! These
trains are alive and steaming all around the world today! And
more are being built or re-built every year!
In the California alone, it is estimated that there are at
least 45 miniature engines being built. New facilities are
opening or are in the planning stages each year. Some railroads,
like the Redwood Valley Railway in Tilden Park, Berkeley,
California, and the Riverside and Great Northern Railroad in
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, have just recently celebrated 50
years of service! Other mile stones include the 10 year
anniversary of the Orland, Newville & Pacific Railroad in
Orland, California. Various museums have resurrected old trains
and brought them back to life for their visitors as well.
But it isn't just public attractions. Private individuals are
building their own railroad empires right in their own back yard.
Some are indeed empires, as the track runs through miles of
property. Many are smaller lines that might run around a city
lot. All of them provide hours of fun for young and old
But what does this all mean for families today? For many, it
is a living, breathing education. In one visit you can learn
about history of railroading, the science and math behind the
locomotives, building and construction, wood working, machining,
and more. You can visit with the people who run the railroads,
often volunteers , and receive a lesson in community service.
Visit the ticket office and gift shops and learn about business.
And take a look at the gorgeous locomotives and rolling stock and
see pure art! Creative families can find educational value in all
aspects of Grand Scale railroading.
As an adult, you can be transported back in time to your
youth. Revisit your own memories of the whistles and happy
families. . . and make new memories with your own family
Where to Ride?
Grand Scale railroads can literally found all around the
country. Three of the public railroads are listed above but
others include: Griffith Park in Los Angeles, the Little Puffer
in the San Francisco Zoo, the Portland Zoo railroad in Portland,
Oregon, the Milwaukee Zoo railway, the Whiskey River Railway,
Little A-Merrick-A, Marshall, Wisconsin, the Michigan AuSable
Valley Railway in Fairview, Michigan, the Detroit Zoo railway,
the Traverse City Railway, the Peconic County RR in Long Island,
and many, many more private and public RRs.
HOW TO LEARN MORE
Various publications now exist to help people in their search
for Grand Scale railroads. The prominent magazines include the
Grand Scales Quarterly and the 7+RAILROADER, both published by
Robinson & Associates in Red Bluff, California and Live
Steam, published by Village Press in Traverse City, Michigan.
The Web has also been a valuable tool for those interested in
learning more. Web sites of interest include www.grandscales.com and
which have exhaustive links pages. Another great resource is
www.discoverlivesteam.com, www.livesteaming.com and
www.steamingpriest.com. All provide a great deal of
Susan Robinson is the associate editor of both the Grand
Scales Quarterly and the 7+RAILROADER magazines. Contact her for
a free brochure titled "Want to Learn More About Riding
Railways?" by calling 530-527-0141, by visiting http://www.grandscales.com
or by mail at PO Box 8953, Red Bluff, CA 96080.
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