A few weeks ago, we heard that the Texas State Railroad ran an education special during the month of September. The girls had never ridden on a big train before so we decided it would be a fun day trip.
After securing tickets, we headed that way on the morning of the ride. Our planned 3 hours for a trip that should have taken about 2 was a very good thing! It took us every bit of 3 hours to make the drive. They were waiting the train on us! (We technically had a couple of minutes to spare but since we were the last ones…they were waiting on us!)
We rode in the open car. This meant that there was no glass in the windows. The breeze went through so nicely and the day wasn’t too hot. It had wooden bench seats and the back rest flipped so that you could be facing forward with whichever way the train went.
We rode along and the girls took a trip to the back platform to look off the back end of the train and watch the rails go by. We sat back, talked about how blessed we are to be able to travel the way we do now and talked about various characters from books that we remembered that traveled by train. We wondered whether their experiences were very much like ours. We wondered who might have sat where we were sitting and what their lives would have been like. One of the girls observed that it wasn’t as fancy a car as others we had walked through so maybe this was for the poorer folks or slaves.
The folks with the railroad did a wonderful job of talking to the girls about the history of the train and railroading. And, after we had been going for about 30 or 40 minutes, we came to the turntable.
This was a train turntable. It was designed to help turn trains around without a huge rail yard to do it in and is from the 1890s. They talked to the students about how it worked (compressed air, just like the engine), what it accomplished (turning the engine around so that it can continue to run forward), and the history of this particular turntable (moved from Paris, Texas). They talked the students through the process as they watched the engineers do through it. The train crew has to balance the engine on the turntable exactly right. It was really quite interesting and fun to see just how precise they had to be and how effective engineering was so many years ago.
After the engine was turned around, it rehooked at the other end of the train and we made the return trip to the depot. On the return trip, the engine was hooked up to the open air car so when the whistle blew, it was LOUD! This time, the platform was looking down on the hinge where the engine was hooked so when the girls went up to look at it, they were looking at something completely different.
A very neat thing that the Texas State Railroad did for us was to give us a number of different lessons that we could use related to trains and safety. They handed us so much information, all printed out and ready to go. It was wonderful! And we used all of their lessons. I’ll be doing another post about those resources because they are worth knowing about.
After the train ride, we got our picnic lunch and sat down to eat. We enjoyed the nice breezes blowing off of the lake at the state park. After we were finished eating, the girls enjoyed exploring the edges of the lake a bit and feeding bits of bread to the minnows they saw.
This was such a fun trip. I cannot say enough about how much fun it was. I hope we are able to do it again another time. We are looking at whether we can manage to go for their Polar Express trains around Christmas time. Another train ride would be lots of fun and give us lots to talk about.