With its rich railroad history, Pennsylvania provides plenty of train-themed experiences. From steam train excursions to train museums, there’s something for everyone who loves to hear that whistle blow. And who doesn’t love trains? Children are fascinated by them while adults appreciate the nostalgic appeal of the old iron horses. But where to see trains in Pennsylvania? These four spots in Lancaster County garnered two big thumbs up from my 4-year-old grandson, Benjamin.
Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania
Not all museums can keep a precocious 4-year-old entertained but the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania located in Lancaster County does. The museum’s 100,000 square feet of indoor space displays an astounding collection of historic locomotives and railroad artifacts. I climbed aboard a few locomotives with Benjamin who, of course, had to touch every gadget while he “drove” the choo choos.
There are archives of railroad records, memorabilia, railroad artifacts and even a simulator where I tried my hand at the controls. The museum is a tribute to the history and importance of the railroad industry and appeals to young and old alike with a variety of exhibits and activities.
After playing on the big trains, Benjamin found more to do in the Young Railroaders Discovery Center. The center has a variety of activities designed to educate and entertain through contact with model and real trains.
Learning about trains is fun but riding them is even better. Directly across the street from the museum is the Strasburg Railroad where we climbed aboard America’s oldest short-line railroad for a ride through the Amish countryside. Strasburg Railroad is recognized as one of the country’s most significant examples of early 20th century railroading and is one of Lancaster County’s most popular tourist attractions.
Now and then Thomas the Train leaves the Island of Sodor to visit the Strasburg Railroad for a “Day Out with Thomas.” As you might imagine, those weekends are a kid favorite. The railroad also offers a number of other special events throughout the year including dinner trains and a Wine and Cheese Train – a favorite of Moms and Grandmoms.
Choo Choo Barn
Little trains are fun too – especially at the Choo Choo Barn. I have to admit, when I first learned about this 1,700 square foot train layout I wasn’t all that excited. I assumed it was just another train buff showing off his model railroad. Boy was I wrong.
The layout features more than 150 hand-built animated figures and vehicles with 22 operating trains. Scenes depict life in Lancaster County complete with Amish farms, parades, churches and gas stations. The display is so detailed it even shows the local gas prices on the miniature stations.
My grandson’s favorite scene (and mine) was that of a fire truck rushing to extinguish a fire that breaks out in one of the homes. Since 1961, kids of all ages from all across the country have come to see this truly amazing display.
Sleeping with Trains
Our day of train adventures continued through the night at the Red Caboose Motel – a lodging choice that drew high praise from a 4-year-old.
The Red Caboose Motel has 46 historic cabooses and railroad cars turned motel rooms. I love the history of this place. In 1969, a friend of Don Denlinger’s dared him to bid on 19 old cabooses up for auction by the Pennsylvania Railroad. He accepted the dare and bid $100. He won. The 25-ton cabooses were moved to 9.5 acres of land in the Amish countryside near the Strasburg Railroad.
What do you do with 19 cabooses? You turn them into motel rooms.
Today’s owner, Larry Demarco, has restored the cabooses to the authentic colors of the railroads they represent. The Red Caboose Motel is ideal for a family or multi-generational getaway. The cabooses come in various sizes to accommodate couples or families. The onsite restaurant in a restored railroad dining car serves home style country cooking. Every now and then the train will rock and the whistle blows as you dine.
Benjamin was off and running to the motel’s petting zoo each morning. There were goats, sheep, chickens and ducks. All were quite happy to see him since he insisted on feeding everything in sight. Everything about the motel is family oriented with summer night movies on the barn, Amish buggy rides and the Strasburg Railroad chugging by several times a day.
This post was written by Terri Marshall.
After her children grew up, Terri left her life in the South to move to New York City and start a new career as a travel writer. She is happiest when she’s globetrotting and loves bringing those stories to her readers. She is the mom of two amazing adults, Chris and Jennifer, and the proud Grandmom of three beautiful little ones, Katherine, Marshall & Benjamin – who believe she lives in the airport. You can learn more about Terri and her work at www.trippingwithterri.com.