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Boys and Their Trains

July 14, 2015


My husband is an enthusiastic railroad and model train buff. Like many other boys (are there women train buffs? Check this link to see what others say) his fascination was born, I’m sure, out of having a small model train collection as a boy (Lionel O gauge, and as an adult, HO gauge if that means anything to you).


On our family vacations, if there was a train yard with old trains within 50 miles of wherever we were heading, he’d sniff them out and have to stop. The girls learned to entertain themselves at such sites, and indulge his love for the old models, especially steam.

MichelleRunningEdited MichelleEditedDoreenEdited

We’ve seen the St. Louis Museum of Transportation in Missouri, The Colorado Rail Museum in Golden, Colorado, where they saw Union Pacific #4006 (“Big Boy”) and a bright Yellow Rio Grande; two of them were with us as adults when we toured the Baltimore B & O Museum (Maryland); and Dad and daughters entertained themselves (while I was networking at least two Virginia Press Women conferences) by checking out the Virginia Aviation Museum in Richmond and the Roanoke Train Museum. I always enjoyed the model train layouts and “crafty” miniature cities and countryside as much as the actual trains, as noted on the discussion thread linked above on women train buffs.


Baltimore, Maryland train museum’s outside miniature layout.


Miniature cows on Baltimore track layout.









Is it any wonder as a new grandfather, my husband couldn’t wait to put a “Christmas train” set under the tree while they were just one month and three months old??



So it was with some excitement our daughters planned and bought tickets not only for us but themselves and their families for a delayed Father’s Day and Mother’s Day combined present on a steam-powered excursion train running between Cumberland, Maryland, and Frostburg.

BrochureEditedWe settled on July 5 as a time we could all make the trip—the two grandsons, three daughters, two sons-in-law and grandpa and grandma. We especially appreciated the efforts of the families with toddlers to endure car trips of several hours to make it happen.

SleepEditedThe big disappointment of the day was finding out, upon arrival at the train station in Cumberland, that the engine pulling the train would not be steam after all but plain old diesel. The steam engine had broken down the day before. My daughter assured my husband that no, this switcheroo was not common because no one in reviews online had mentioned any complaints of this nature. Old engines sometimes need repair. Of course, Sam and James were not the least bit disappointed and truth be told, it didn’t matter to me, except I knew it was a big let down for my husband. But he got over it.

I wish I’d snapped my own photo of our picture-perfect conductor (shown on this brochure, who gamely posed for others) and when my husband quizzed him on the steam engine and other train facts, he admitted that although he’s worked trains all his life (50 + years), he was not that informed about other specific old trains. He soon asked a younger colleague on the train to come over and answer my husband’s questions.

We had packed picnic foods (allowed on the train) and rendezvoused in good time for the 11 a.m. load/11:30 a.m. departure from Cumberland. I’d passed that way many times on Amtrak’s path through the lovely mountains of western Maryland, so it was fun to explore the old timey station in Cumberland (different from Amtrak “smoking” stop there, by the way).

Much of the 16-mile route follows the C & O Canal Towpath, and it was fun to wave to enthusiastic Sunday bikers and hikers as we passed. Cumberland serves as a trailhead for the popular Great Allegheny Passage on the Towpath, running 141 miles running from Cumberland to Pittsburgh.

AtDepotTanJonSamEdited AtDepotRoundtableEditedAtDepotMichBrianJamesEdited


Grammy’s got the goodies.

The best part though was just having the whole family together and enjoying grandparenting, such as doling out the  peanut butter crackers to the little ones to hold them over to lunch.


Sam on left, James on right.

The boys (ages 21 months and 19 months) seemed to enjoy exploring the train aisles (accompanied by an adult of course) not constrained by car seats, and I enjoyed watching their eyes take in the huge engine and passenger cars. I wondered what they were thinking. It will be a memory only as it is told to them through pictures and stories, but like parents and grandparents everywhere, we’ll enjoy telling them about it for years to come.

And yes, they already have small trains of their own and Thomas Tank Engine books. And thanks to a friend and experienced grandma, Thomas Tank Engine videos await them when they get old enough.

I have long come to accept that if one of my hobbies is traveling, exploring train yards and museums is part of the package. How delightful to do so with some new young-ins in tow!


Stuart and I, Brian, Michelle holding 19-month old James, Tanya, Jon holding 21 month old Sam, Doreen.


Female train buffs–speak up? Are you out there?

What hobbies do you, your spouse, children or grandchildren enjoy pursuing on vacations?


 Several photos courtesy of family members. Thanks!


From → Family Life, Nature

  1. Robert Martin permalink

    Two things:

    My mother in law is a train buff since her father was a brakeman on the New York Central line.

    Secondly, here’s an excuse to come visit me… The boarding station is a block from my home and the engine occasionally crosses the bridge across the street from our house as it couples and uncouples cars.

    • Is this a steam engine? Great to hear about your mother in law–sounds like her interest came naturally! And nice to know about the Colebrookdale train. I bet Pennsylvania is full of historic trains!

      • Robert Martin permalink

        It’s a deisel… they don’t have an original engine available but I’m sure that they are probably looking for something. The rail history in our little town is a pretty good one, actually.

        And yes, PA has a LOT of historic trains… Strasburg Railroad IS a steam engine the runs from Starsburg to Paradise and back.

  2. We’ve done the Strasburg train years ago, maybe before kids. 🙂

  3. Ever since I heard the PRR train clatter behind the woods near Grandma’s house trains have always fascinated me. The train took me first to the Philadelphia zoo as a child and later to Temple University where I began work on a graduate degree.

    Sometimes Cliff and I took Amtrak from Jacksonville, FL to PA, with our children so they could escape the confines of a long car trip. One of my boyfriends took me for a ride (!) on the Strasburg railroad, and we took one of our grandboys to see Thomas the Train.

    My younger brother got a train to play with one Christmas, but we girls enjoyed it as much as he did. Our parents’ gift giving was very sexist, come to think of it!

    I love how you make your excursions so inter-generational. And this one – an ever changing panoramic view for all without having to press the brake or accelerator.

    Life is like a mountain railroad . . . !

    • I kept pondering whether my title was too sexist but eventually decided to just go with it and see if anyone reacted! Your post gives lovely snippets of train love. I do enjoy train travel more than visiting a museum or old train yard, so this suited me perfectly!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. That Sam I Am! A Weekend with Grandson | findingharmonyblog
  2. Behind the 611 Steam Engine: “I see the train a’ comin’” | findingharmonyblog

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