I promise—this will be my biggest creative stretch of the ABC series, but really who can come up with a town or attraction that starts with “X?” What immediately jumped to my mind was the X in the middle of a railroad crossing sign. I have this theory that all little boys must go through either a dinosaur phase or a trains phase (perhaps both). For my son it was trains, and to be honest the phase is over 9 years old and still going strong. He’d wow the crowd of older men at the model train shows by pointing out cantenary systems or recognizing a shay locomotive (thank you I Love Toy Trains videos). He started with a wooden Thomas set and has graduated to his own Lionel. We’re always looking for opportunities to add trains to a vacations or weekend excursions. Here are a few we’ve found in Missouri.
The museum is actually a part of the St. Louis Parks & Recreation department. Founded over 70 years ago with just a mule-drawn streetcar is now displays planes, cars, a tugboat, and more than 70 locomotives! (There are plenty of passenger cars and cabooses too). If you want to learn about trains this is the place to go. The static displays have plenty of signs and labels to learn about the trains themselves or the operating parts (see the picture below). My son’s favorites are the Big Boy and the Aerotrain. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 kids ages 3-12.
The Missouri River Runner
Amtrak offers daily service between St. Louis and Kansas City. A fair portion of the track does indeed run along the Missouri River, offering majestic views of the bluffs. Along the way you can stop in Hermann (known for its German heritage and wineries) and the state capital. It is unfortunate that the St. Louis end of the trip does not stop at the majestic Union Station any more (as it did when I was a child) but you can still see and experience a golden age of trains’ station on the Kansas City end.
Branson Scenic Railway
While the city is mostly known for it’s live music shows along Hwy 76, you can travel east to the old town of Branson and there catch a 40 mile ride through the hills of the Ozarks. The train uses working freight lines and has to work around other trains so you won’t actually know if you’ll be heading north or south until departure time. If you’re in town to see the Christmas lights you can take a special Polar Express train (some folks even come in their jammies). They serve cookies and hot chocolate, read the book, and you’ll be visited by the hobo from the story and the man in red. You can check their website for pricing and schedules.
Scale Railroads (Little Steamers)
Maybe your family isn’t ready for a big train ride yet. Well, there are other options. Have you ever seen a picture of Walt Disney on his miniature train, the Carolwood-Pacific Railroad? You don’t need Disney’s wealth or Imagineers to own a train like this and you don’t even need to own one to ride. There are several clubs and parks across Missouri that offer weekend rides. If you’re really interested in trains these clubs are always looking for volunteers to maintain or even lay down new track and trust me when I say these enthusiasts love to talk about their engines.
The Kansas City Northern Railroad offers rides on weekends and holidays May-September for a mere 50 cents on its half mile track.
The Magic City Line is a mini-train run near Moberly, MO. It runs on Sundays April – October with a $2.50 fare. The MCL has over a mile of track.
The St. Louis Live Steamers offers free rides one Saturday each month April-October (follow them on Facebook for dates) They’ve been busy expanding their track so I’m really not sure how long the ride is right now.
The Wabash, Frisco & Pacific Railroad has a 2 mile trip along the Meramec River. They run every Sunday afternoon from May-October and ask for a $4.00 donation per rider (under 3 is free).
There are other small gauge tracks in the state but most seem to be private clubs. If you’d like to learn about them (or the ones in your state), the Discover Live Steam has a thorough listing with contact information.
Originally called Franklin, the name was changed the following year when the Atlantic-Pacific Railroad laid tracks through town. Regular rail service from Pacific to St. Louis began in 1861. General Price (we learned about him at the Battle of Pilot Knob) also attempted to capture these lines to reach St. Louis in 1864. The town holds a Railroad Day Festival every year in the summer. Other times you may just want to stop at the picnic pavilion near the tracks where they’ve installed a monitor to see the train traffic along the lines and listen to the engineers and dispatchers talking.
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