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Monday, July 16, 2012

Rochelle Railroad Park

Here's a day trip for rail fans of all ages: the Rochelle Railroad Park. Located just northwest of the intersection of interstates 88 and 39 along Illinois 38, the park allows visitors a close-up view of the junction of the Union Pacific and BNSF tracks. Each day as many as 100 trains may pass the site. To accommodate train watchers, the city of Rochelle has constructed Railroad Park. Within the triangle between the train lines, visitors can enjoy a picnic under the large covered observation pavilion, explore a reconstructed "hobo jungle" or -- the kid favorite -- climb on the 7 ton Whicomb Locomotive, a small engine built in the early 20th century in Rochelle for switch work. There's also a small gift shop with railroad memorabilia and radio/video monitoring of the transmissions between train crews and dispatchers. (For the record, there are on-site restrooms, too. If, however, you are like this mom and you realize you have arrived without the memory card in your camera, Rochelle's nearby Wal-Mart has all your absent-minded family needs and a helpful family restroom, complete with toddler-sized potty. Now you know.) 

Old-timey kids on the Whitcomb Locomotive
What's nice about this park is that it draws train lovers of all ages and backgrounds. The kids climbing on the locomotive are just as excited about the train traffic as the older folks chatting with friends at the pavilion and Lincoln Highway gazebo. These are people who arrive proudly wearing their best railroad apparel and climb in and out of vehicles with their hobby proclaimed on the license plates. Rail fans with radios to listen to dispatch chatter and use cameras both small and tripod worthy. There's even a web cam mounted on the pavilion roof for those who still wonder which trains are rolling through once they've headed home for the day.

A word of caution is in order. This is a very busy train junction. The trains are close and children must be carefully supervised. Other than in the hobo jungle area, there are no fences between the park and the tracks. The trains are also exceptionally loud. Horns blare every time the engines cross the grade. As much as my children love trains, being that close to engines that loud truly scares them. The older ones begged to go into the gift shop when the trains approached, even though they had been eagerly waiting for them to arrive. Once the engines passed, however, they wanted to head right back out again to watch the cars zoom past. So, if loud noises are an issue for your group, plan to make a lot of trips inside, bring ear protection, or plan to sit in your car when the trains approach.

A 50-ton locomotive also built in Rochelle

The pavilion 

A caboose on private property across from the park
For our most recent adventure, we stuck to the railroad park. Rochelle does have several other historical attractions that could round out a day-trip adventure, including a restored 1918 filling station, a firehouse museum, the township historical museum, and an architecturally-stunning public library. It's worth the trip.

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