Do you have a Thomas the Tank Engine fan in your home? Then plan a visit to the Memphis Railroad and Trolley Museum. This new facility, which opened April 1st downtown in Central Station (545 South Main Street), is perfectly situated, being just steps away from the trolley and the Amtrak train station.
Admission: $3/adults, $1/ages 3 to 12. Hours: Friday & Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m.
What makes this place special are the stories it tells. Railroads played a pivitol role during Memphis' early history. In fact, when the Harahan Bridge was first built over the Mississippi River in 1892, it was the longest bridge in the United States, and the only span between Saint Louis and New Orleans. Trains routinely carried cotton, lumber, and passengers to destinations around the country. But the story here is also of the model railroad hobbyists who helped create this space, and want to share their passion for trains with childen, in hopes of cultivating a new generation of enthusiasts.
Kids will most enjoy the three different train displays set up, with model trains running through the Island of Sodor, a Western mining town, and a busy metropolis. While there's more looking than touching right now, hobbyists tell me the plan is to have a Thomas train board available for little engineers to play with in the coming months. The children during the opening watched with fascination as engines chugged around their make-believe towns, bustling with cars, trucks, and even construction sites.
Much of what you see in the displays were made by hand. "Most anything you find laying around you can use in model railroading," notes Samuel B. Gray, a member of the museum's planning committee. The attention to detail in these model towns is wonderful and represents many hours of work. The museum was in the planning stages for six months, though the Memphis Society of Railroaders have been working for the last two years to find just the right location to help realize their vision.
There are also some railroad artifacts, big lights, and a dispatch board full of switches that helped trains travel safely across the Harahan and through Memphis without incident, but kids might not find this as interesting. However, the big steam engine (right) is pretty cool, and was actually hand-built to run. It once resided in middle Tennessee where owner Jean Rousseau routinely gave kids rides, which, judging from the pictures, brought lots of smiles.
The museum will be available for parties and hobbyists hope to host a summer camp where kids can build train track modules. The museum is a fun destination and one that's best capped off with a ride on the trolley, as a reminder of what travel was like, back when we all weren't in quite as big a hurry.
Follow me on Twitter • Jane Schneider, Memphis Parent editor @membelle.