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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

West Chicago, Illinois

With kids in the car, the most mundane errands take on a level of excitement unheard of in the B.C. (before children) era. From time to time, I find myself needing to drive through West Chicago, Illinois. As a typical hurried adult, I don't relish the inevitable road delays resulting from the village's frequent train traffic. West Chicago traces its history to the early days of railroads in the mid 19th century. The recent acquisition one of the many rail lines through town by Canadian National has increased the rail traffic and time spent sitting at  crossings.

The perspective changes with train-loving kids in the car. Going through West Chicago is a small adventure because the odds are we will see a train, and a long one at that. Between the Canadian National and Union Pacific tracks that intersect just west of the downtown, a kid will likely see a train with multiple engines and enough box cars, coal cars, tanker cars and flat cars to challenge the counting skills of any preschooler. Because of the angle of the tracks, the noise of the rail cars bumping over the junction can be loud enough to wake sleeping babies. Otherwise, it's a delight to enjoy the enthusiasm of something so simple bringing so much joy to the backseat passengers.

Because of West Chicago's railroad history it has several sights and events that are on our Railroad To-See List. Thanks to Tara at Go West Young Mom for the suggestion to visit the West Chicago Library's children's department train: a steam-engine style train for climbing and pretending by the under six set. The city's museums, West Chicago City Museum and Kruse House Museum, feature railroad memorabilia among their collections and are sites included in the Passport to Adventure program. The city's annual festival, while not strictly railroad themed, does have the appealing name Railroad Days. This year's fest takes place July 12-15 at Reed-Keppler Park. So, there's plenty to bring us back to West Chicago for a stop beyond the railroad crossings.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Batavia Depot Museum

After a delectable ice cream dessert at the Batavia Creamery, we inevitably find ourselves walking a few short blocks to the Batavia Depot Museum. Most of our ice cream stops are usually after dinner, so we don't often get to peek inside the depot, which is open select afternoons. The highlight, though, is the caboose outside. Climbing the steps to "ride" the rails never gets old. The kids always point out the signal and water tower that are next to the station. Since the depot is sandwiched between Batavia's depot pond and riverwalk and the Fox River Trail, there's plenty of people watching for  Mom, Dad and Baby while the kids are imagining their engineer adventures. On days that we aren't craving something sweet, the Popcorn Depot just a block south of the caboose offers delicious homemade popcorn to munch while enjoying the sights.

Once again, the museum is part of this summer's Passport to Adventure program sponsored by the Kane-DuPage Regional Museum Association. The kids love collecting stamps from the participating museums in their passport books. So, we will be back soon for an inside visit of both the museum and caboose.

The kids checking out the caboose. The Depot Museum is reflected in the building  behind it. 

The Batavia Depot Museum is open from 2-4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday March through Thanksgiving. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

A visit to the Model Railroad Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Enjoying trains at the Chicago Botanic Garden's Model Railroad Garden

With another weekend in the history books, I'm uploading pictures from our Sunday afternoon adventures. Yet again trains figured prominently in our activities. With a six year old son, a three-year old daughter and a 10-month old boy, railroad-themed activities are always a big hit with our family. Our kids aren't alone in this fascination, of course. I often compare notes on best train-related destinations with other families. So, it seemed worthwhile to chronicle some of our more noteworthy rail adventures.

In honor of Fathers' Day, we wanted to do a special family outing. In past years, we have journeyed out to Union, Illinois for a day at the Illinois Railway Museum. We were up for a new adventure this year, so I checked out a free parking pass for the Chicago Botanic Garden from our library. My husband and I got engaged at the Botanic Garden, so it's special to us, but they've added a Model Railroad Garden in recent years, which was the draw for the little folks.

Corn Palace
Honestly, I thought it would simply be a train or two running past various plants. That would have been acceptable to the kids and, since we were getting in for free, I wasn't too troubled by the few extra dollars for getting into the railroad garden. I'm pleased to report that it was so much more than any "simple" railroad display. The garden is 7,500 square feet and features 17 G-Scale trains - nothing small about that. Every good model train layout features a landscape and buildings, of course. This display showcases its natural setting by running the trains past meticulously-pruned plants, over willow bark bridges above visitors heads, and around buildings built almost entirely of natural materials. The buildings are miniature representations of various American landmarks, so there's an educational element to pointing out the Statue of Liberty, Mt. Rushmore and the like. The kids particularly liked the "Old Faithful" geyser that spouted every 60 seconds. I loved the representation of Mitchell, South Dakota's Corn Palace, which in its real-life form is already covered in natural materials every year.

As for the trains themselves. Erik, my 6-year old, loved the Amtrak, but all the red engines -- his favorite color -- pleased him, too. Anna liked a little ladybug-shaped trolley. William, who was missing a nap, was content to watch all the movement of the trains and enthusiastic visitors. (Strollers aren't allowed in the Model Railroad Garden, so I was happy we had the Ergo carrier. He was glad to see everything at eye-level.)

At almost 400 acres, there's plenty more to explore at the Botanic Garden. We took at peek at the Japanese, waterfall, rose and bonsai gardens. It was a hot day and young kids who aren't getting their "quiet time" can only handle so much walking. So further family exploring will have to wait for another day.

The Chicago Botanic Garden is in Glencoe, Illinois at 1000 Lake Cook Road. Admission is free but there is a charge for parking and some sites within the garden.