An afternoon of train fun

Baby Willow loves trains. It was with that in mind that on a recent day in which Baby Willow decided not to have a nap time, I (daddy willow) decided to get out of the house and visit the Hennepin Overland Railway Historic Society – a model railway in Minneapolis.  Having had fun there, I decided on the spur of the moment to also visit the Twin Cities Model railway museum, and then Choo-Choo Bob’s in St Paul.

Hennepin Overland Railway Historical Society has a single, massive, HO (OO in Europe) scale model railway that should have something for the model railway or train geek in your life, whatever their age. It really was staggering how big that thing was, and how much track was behind the scenes too (well, behind, below, beside – the sections that were not part of the “display” were often easily visible, and themselves, contained a massive amount of track).

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Everything is in a single room and makes up the main railway, a set of 3 kids play tables, and a shop. Baby Willow liked looking at the models, but much preferred playing with the trains on the play tables.

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For the older model railway geek, one of the highlights is the 7 layer ‘helix’ that takes trains from some of the lower behinds the scenes levels to some of the display levels and it seemed like there was at least one train going around that the whole time we were there.The scenery is well done and shows great attention to detail on the part of the folks who created the models, though even with that, is often all about the trains, with one long hillside having at least  different levels of track. It’s impressive stuff, but much to Baby Willow’s disappointment, very strictly look but done touch – there are plenty of signs saying if they tell you twice, you have to leave. That said, staff were friendly, and even allowed us to stay a little longer to show Baby Willow the trains coming out of the helix.

Hennepin Overland Railway Historical Society is open at weekends from 1-4 and costs $7 for adults. Children are free up to the age of 3.

From there we went to the Twin Cities Model Railroad Museum in St Paul, in a temporary location near the old Amtrak Station. Baby Willow was eager to get hands on and wasn’t disappointed. Not only were there 6 play tables with different layouts, but there were several displays where one could control the trains or other items. Sadly, not all of them worked, but none-the-less, Baby Willow was able to control Thomas, Percy and Diesel on one table, a couple of trains on another table, in addition to activating the train whistle, and various fairground rides, including a roller-coaster on another table.

For the more serious model railway enthusiasts, the highlight is probably a large and complex display that includes a recreation of downtown Minneapolis in it’s milling hey day, with 4 bridges crossing near St. Anthony Falls, including 2 tracks going across a model Stone Arch Bridge. The models are mostly O scale I think, though various scales are used. Aside from the Thomas display, and the play tables, there were 6 other displays in total. You can get a good view of all of them, though some bits are currently inaccessible due to still being under construction. It also seemed to me that the trains here ran automatically, where as at Hennepin Overland, there were clearly people actively controlling the trains.

Twin Cities Model Railway museum costs $10, but is free for children under 4.

Our day ended with a trip to Choo-Choo Bob’s, where further fun was had watching Thomas zoom around a long window display, and playing on some of the 12ish  wooden railway play tables they have. The shop is great for kid’s train toys, if perhaps a little expensive, but has become a favorite destination for parents of small children due to the large number of play tables, as well as the Choo-Choo Bob’s TV \ DVD series. Once Baby Willow had played up an appetite, we went home for dinner, happy at the end of an afternoon’s train fun.

Bye for now.

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