My six-year-old son has been obsessed with trains since he was one. We own so many Thomas the Trains that I can see dollar signs. Hundreds of them.
This summer we decided to stick closer to home for vacation and we explored areas of the Midwest. One of our favorites was the Illinois Railway Museum. (Yes, I actually enjoyed this!)
About a 2.5 hour drive from the Quad Cities, the museum is located in Union, IL and features hundreds of trains. Yes, actual train cars, engines, and more! They even have an old-time train station that has been used in a variety of movies (like the Transformers).
Ride and Learn
The kids were able to walk inside different trains, sit in the seats, and touch things (every child’s vacation requirement). My six-year-old likes to explore things and was able to safely walk on the tracks and get close up to the trains so he could really capture their size.
One of the volunteers was working on a car and he talked to the kids. It was pretty cool how much knowledge this gentleman had at his finger tips. He had been volunteering for 27 years!
They had trains cars with segregated seating and that sparked a great conversation with the kiddos. There were trains from a variety of eras and different styles too.
The railway industry was once the largest private employer in the United States (Moms can learn new things too!) and during the train ride you will learn lots of fun facts. My kids loved being able to ride in a train built in 1927 and the volunteer was very knowledgeable and answered all their crazy questions.
Lunch and Playground
We were able to pack a lunch and bring our cooler into the park (cheaper and healthier). The museum isn’t located in an urban area so I would suggest doing this, and it gave us a chance to take a little break before exploring some more stuff. A train even came through while we were eating!
This museum is a nonprofit and is run completely by volunteers. It’s pretty amazing to think that volunteers handle all of this operation from restoring train cars, taking tickets, etc. I didn’t mind paying the small entrance fee — which included the train ride. And, the $38 option for a family is a great deal! Parking is also free.
Thomas the Train makes a visit to the museum and offers rides (very popular!) and they also have a Happy Holiday Railway Express. Santa goes on the train ride with the kids and they have hot chocolate together. We have added this to our list!
Even if you don’t have a train obsessed child like me, it’s a great, low-key family outing just a few hours from home.