Family EnterTRAINment Ideas

By Michael D. Riley, MS

As an “old timer,” I can remember the widely shared public excitement when jet-powered commercial aircraft were introduced in the late nineteen-fifties. It was common for families at that time to pile into the family car, head to the local airport, and go inside to a gate (pre-TSA times) to look out the windows at these new propeller-free aircraft coming to a halt and dispensing their passengers. Our parents then told us that the speed and greater economy these incredible conveyances provided would change the world of the future. So those trips were both entertaining and educational at the same time.

I can well imagine the same kind of events taking place a century earlier. The size and power of steam-powered locomotives drawing railcars over North America’s fast-spreading railroad networks was certain to have attracted horse-drawn carriages filled with spectating families. These incredible machines would have an even more dramatic impact on the landscape and economy of the United States and Canada in the years that followed. Railroads played a central role in the Industrial Revolution, creating more wealth and freedom than humanity had ever seen before.

As a result, the storied power and romance of railroads become important parts of our national cultures. Major cultural influences naturally inspire the impulse to create institutions that celebrate them. In the case of both fine arts and railroads, those institutions have taken the form of widespread museums.

When my kids were youngsters, I loved to take them through some of Chicago’s remarkable museums. The Art Institute, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Field Museum, and others. The trips served to get them entertained by some thing other than Sesame Street, and helped to educate them about things more than learning more elementary ways to sing ABC songs. I think those trips may have helped to inspire my daughter to earn her PhD in art history and become a curator at one of the nation’s leading public art collections.

And now my son’s son has developed a powerful interest in railroad trains. At just over three years of age, he wants to become an engineer when he grows up. No, not an electrical or mechanical engineer. He wants to be the kind of engineer that drives locomotives.

Because we live in different states, I’ve encouraged my son to take my grandson to a railroad museum. There are close to five dozen of these kinds of institutions scattered across the United States (Railroad museums in the United States by state – Wikipedia). Some of these display their collections indoors, others outside. Some cover several acres. Locomotives, caboose cars, fancy personal coaches and even early horse-drawn rail cars and streetcars may be found there.  All these places provide a great way to inspire young people with a greater appreciation for the magnificent history of not only our nations, but for the greatness of those who created it.

So if this kind of edutainment might be of interest to you and to yours, let’s help you to start planning a visit or even a vacation, one centered on edutrainment. Here’s some options you might wish to consider.

What are the ten best railroad museums in the United States? Here’s the rankings provided by two lists:

First, from Gigaranking.com: The 10 Best Railway Museums in the US that Every Rail Enthusiast Should Know About and Visit! (gigaranking.com)

  1. California State Railroad Museum – Sacramento, CA
  2. Colorado Railroad Museum – Golden, CO
  3. Tennessee Central Railway Museum, Nashville, TN
  4. Illinois Railway Museum (biggest in the USA) Union, IL
  5. Danbury Railway Museum – Danbury, CT
  6. Oklahoma Railway Museum – Oklahoma City, OK
  7. Museum of the American Railroad – Frisco, TX
  8. Kentucky Railway Museum – New Haven, KY
  9. National Railroad Museum – Ashwaubenon, WI
  10. Steamtown National Historic Site – Scranton, PA

Or consider this one, from Money Inc: The 10 Best Railroad Museums to Visit in the U.S. (moneyinc.com)

  1. Colorado Railroad Museum – Golden, CO
  2. California State Railroad Museum – Sacramento, CA
  3. Nevada Northern Railway – Ely, NV
  4. Laws Railroad Museum and Historic Site – Bishop, CA
  5. Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum – North Judson, IN
  6. B&O Railroad Museum – Baltimore, MD
  7. Kentucky Railway Museum – New Haven, KY
  8. Medina Railroad Museum – Medina, NY
  9. Illinois Railway Museum (biggest in the USA) Union, IL
  10. National New York Central Railroad Museum – Elkhart, IN

And if you’re still not sure which one appeals to you most, see this article for 25 of the Best Train Museums (vacationidea.com) in Saint-Constant, Quebec

And in Canada, you may elect to visit these railroad museums:

  • Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum, in Saint-Constant, Quebec
  • Toronto Railway Museum in Toronto, Ontario
  • The Revelstoke Railway Museum in Revelstoke, BC
  • The Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario in Smiths Falls, ON
  • Alberta Railway Museum in Edmonton, Alberta
  • Shogomoc Railway Museum, Florenceville-Bristol, New Brunswick

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