North Americans love trains. Why? Of course modern trains provide an economical alternative to other forms of transit–and a fast way to get from one place to another.
But vintage passenger trains are another story. Perhaps we love them because of the romance of bygone eras, the laying of tracks that would lead to settlement and the growth of nations. Indeed, without those giant locomotives chugging across the land, society would have grown up very differently than it did.
Vintage trains and railway museums are popular attractions across the continent. In fact, Wikipedia lists 50+ of the largest in Canada and the United States at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_railway_museums
I, however, have my own favorites among the ones I’ve visited! They may not the the best, the coolest, the oldest, the largest, the strangest, or even the most interesting. They’re just the ones I’ve enjoyed the most in my travels and I have pretty eclectic tastes.
Train #5 – Livingston Depot Center Train Museum
Livingston, Montana, grew up near a trading post named Benson’s Landing on the Yellowstone River. You could even say Livingston was born with the railroad, since the settlement moved upstream to its new location with the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railway in late 1882.
The current building for the Livingston Train Depot was built in 1902. I found its architecture very impressive, with colonnades and other types of detail–the style seemed a lot grander than I expected in such a small city.
Inside, there are many types of memorabilia of Montana’s great train era, so I spent a couple of hours reading materials and looking at artifacts.
A walk around Livingston’s historic district is just about as exciting as the depot, since it includes everything from downtown businesses built around the turn of the 20th century, to a birthing hotel, to an old book store (which I can never resist).
Train #4 – Southern Prairie Railway in Ogema, Saskatchewan
Saskatchewan is a land of wide open spaces, where train tracks once rolled out for thousands of miles–more than 10,000–to be exact.
But then, like the bison, the trains started to disappear, until today, just forty years after their peak, only 20% of the lines remain.
Where do the trains still roll? Check this PDF map of Saskatchewan for full details!
Luckily, when the trains were phased out, some innovative people in southwest Saskatchewan got together and bought the rail line, then, bought a vintage 1945 diesel train engine and some train cars to run on it. With the first successful year behind them, the Southern Prairie Railway and museum are rolling on!
The Southern Prairie Railway station is situated in the small town of Ogema, where you’ll also find the Deep South Pioneer Museum. It’s one of the feature attractions of the area, being less than an hour’s drive from the provincial capital, Regina, and one of the prime tourism destinations, Moose Jaw. There are many options for your train ride too, from a pitchfork fondue to stargazing (which I did!) to touring a grain elevator.
Train #3 – Museum of Arts and Sciences (MOAS), Daytona Beach
“Silver Holly,” the observation-dome sleeper railroad car in Daytona Beach’s Museum of Arts and Sciences, is described as an Art Deco masterpiece.
And while I certainly appreciated the rail car for its beauty, I found its story even more fascinating.
This train car was the private car of the Root family–who, in case you’re not familiar with the name–designed and produced the distinctive coca-cola bottle. The story began in 1915 when Chapman J. Root entered the contest to create a bottle design so distinctive it could “be recognized in the dark.” Eventually the green curved Coca-Cola bottle became the most recognizable bottle and trademark in the world.
But what of the train car? Well, Chapman Root preferred train travel, since his grandfather had died in a plane crash, and he had the car converted to a private coach for his family. Not only did it have a kitchen and a living room, but it also had sleeping space for all six of his children!
MOAS, as you might guess, also has one of the most extensive museums of coco cola memorabilia in the nation, so it’s a great place to visit in Daytona Beach in Florida!
Train #2 – Black Hills 1880 Steam Train, Hill City, South Dakota
I like writing about history, and this 1880s steam train in the Black Hills really let me have an authentic experience.
Indeed, from the chugging of the engine to the rocking along on the tracks, riding this train was like being in a time capsule.
The 1880 steam train leaves from its station in Hill City, South Dakota, making its way behind (you can’t see the carvings though!) Mt. Rushmore to Keystone. There, you can disembark and walk around, and either make the return trip by train or arrange your own transportation. The full trip takes about two-and-a-half hours.
The Black Hills are, of course, an amazing place to visit with their beautiful scenery and well-preserved history. We not only got to experience both of these on our trip, but also the annual Sturgis Bike Rally!
Another great feature on this train ride is the The South Dakota State Railroad Museum (SDSRM), which is where the train station is located. There’s a great collection of historical artifacts and memorabilia for history and railroad enthusiasts.
Train #1 – The Chattanooga Choo Choo in Tennessee
The Chattanooga Choo Choo ran for the first time on March 5, 1880, running from Cincinnati to Chattanooga–connecting the north and south by rail line.
Terminal Station, which is where I visited the Chattanooga Choo Choo, opened December 1, 1909. Once its usefulness was done, the terminal was scheduled for demolition.
However, a future-thinking group of businessmen purchased the property and created the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hilton and Entertainment Complex.
While the train itself was important, the song, Chattanooga Choo Choo, is likely even more well known! It became a #1 hit in the U.S. way back in 1941, and earned gold disk status in 1942 after more than 1 million sales of the album.
The song is a big band tune originally performed by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra. Its 1941 recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1996.
The complex at the Terminal Station is the last stop on Chattanooga’s free shuttle service, making it an easy stop for vacationers!
If you’ve got a favorite vintage train ride or museum to share, please leave me a comment and tell us about it!
Visit these Trains and Train Museums!
- Black Hills 1880 Steam Train – Hill City, South Dakota – http://www.1880train.com/
- Chattanooga Choo-Choo Terminal Station – Chattanooga, Tennessee – http://www.tennesseerivervalleygeotourism.org/
- Livingston, Montana, Train Depot – http://livingstondepot.org/
- Root Family Museum in the Museum of Arts and Sciences – Daytona Beach, Florida – http://www.moas.org/things_to_see.html
- Southern Prairie Railway – Ogema, Saskatchewan – http://www.southernprairierailway.com/