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Friday, December 20, 2013

Mooseheart: Holiday Lights

Mooseheart, Illinois (Dec. 20, 2013) -- Don't let this weekend's winter weather keep you away from one of the most delightful Christmas experiences in the far western suburbs: the Mooseheart Holiday Lights. Visitors drive past more than 90 light displays along an almost two-mile route within the Mooseheart campus. Since Christmas and railroads go together like milk and cookies, there are trains to be seen amid the snowmen, reindeer and snowflakes, but there are also trucks, tractors, penguins, enormous football helmets (Bears and Packers!), a huge light tunnel and a musical light show. To add to the fun, the route ends with the opportunity to meet Santa -- but only through Monday evening. He has places to be after that! The Santa visits happen at the Mooseheart fieldhouse, where kids can also enjoy games, crafts and cocoa and cookies. There's even a small light-up train to see while you're enjoying your treats! 

It's tough to take a good nighttime picture
 with a car full of kids saying, "Hey, Mom,
look at that! Look at that!" but here's one of
the trains in the Mooseheart Holiday Lights display.
Of course everyone will be oohing and ahhing over the lights along the route, but little engineers will also want to keep an eye open for the red Mooseheart Caboose located early in the route. (Drivers, it's after the turn from Legion Lane onto International Drive.)  

The light display runs through December 31. Entry costs $10, all of which supports the work of Mooseheart to provide for the care and education of children in need. There is no additional charge to visit Santa. 

Mooseheart is located on Illinois Route 31 two miles north of Interstate 88. Specific directions can be found here

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Helping kids see those model trains

At the Lego train show our family attended last weekend, I noticed a bit of brilliant parenting that needs sharing. That's my daughter in the picture, peering over the edge of the Plexiglas barrier between the visitors and the display. (Not complaining about the barrier here. Without those things, all those Lego bricks, trains and buildings would be like a salad bar for toddlers -- grab it and go, or just poke it out of place for a bit.) My five-year old is just at the age where she can sort of see things without constantly begging to be lifted up, which is good because her little brother spends the whole time either being held up or repeating "Up? See?" with arms outstretched. Enter the wise parenting. I noticed not one, but two families who brought along portable, fold-able step stools. The very kind we have at home for reaching the sink and then tucking in a corner when they aren't needed. Brilliant! Why haven't I thought of this before? The thing folds up, it has a carrying handle, and hauling a small step stool into a family event is no more aggravating lifting 20 to 30 or more pounds of small person up every time something catches their eye. This stool deserves to live in the van. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

St. Charles: Christmas Villiage model train display

St. Charles, Illinois -- Take a look at this video from St. Charles Free Methodist Church, which is inviting the public to its "Christmas Villiage" train display. To see the display in person, stop by Friday, Dec. 20 between 6 and 8 pm., Saturday, Dec. 21 from 9 a.m. until noon, and Sunday, Dec. 22 from 11:30 a.m. until noon. The church is at 214 Walnut St., St. Charles.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Wheaton: Lego Train Club Christmas Show

Wheaton, Illinois (Dec. 14, 2013) -- Any show put on by the Northern Illinois LEGO Train Club is a guaranteed good time, so making time for a trip to Cantigny this weekend to see their annual Christmas Train Show was a must do for our family. For this weekend, Cantigny's visitor center is entirely filled with Lego displays by club members, as well as vendors offering unique brick collections and accessories. As always, seeing the huge collection of Lego trains is just part of the fun. Make time to really look at the scenes and find the goofy humor and cultural references crammed into every inch of the layouts. (I'm not quite ready to let the kids watch Dr. Who, but seeing Daleks and Weeping Angels in Lego made me laugh. They thought the "Brick-Fil-A" restaurant was a sillier thing.) The only disappointment we had was not making time to step outside for the for the trackless train rides before they ended for the day. Oh, well, plenty to see inside. 

The show goes on for one more day: Sunday, Dec. 15 from 9 a.m. till 4 p.m. The trackless train rides are $1 and run until 3 p.m. Bring a new, unwrapped toy for Toys for Tots and parking your vehicle will be free! Otherwise parking is $5. The main event is is free. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

St. Charles: Free "Polar Express" showing

St. Charles, Illinois (Nov. 30, 2013) -- Quick! Throw the kids in the car! The Holiday Homecoming festivities in St. Charles include a FREE showing of The Polar Express movie at the Arcada Theater. This theater is one of the great old movie houses in the area. Seating starts at 9:30 a.m. for the 10:30 a.m. show.  

The movie is just one of today’s fun activities.  After the show, stick around St. Charles for horse-drawn sleigh rides and visits with St. Nick at the First Street Plaza. The beloved light parade starts this evening at 5:30 p.m. All the details are at the website of the Downtown St. Charles Partnership.  


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Huntley: Holiday Train Display at Sun City

Huntley, Illinois -- If your Thanksgiving travels are going to take you out toward Huntley in the next few days, consider stopping at the Sun City community for a look at their holiday train display. The Kishwaukee Valley & Eakin Creek Model Railroad club is presenting a layout with multiple gauge trains and hosting a drawing for Lionel trains. Trains will be running most days from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. now through Nov. 29. Find the display at Sun City's Prairie Lodge Social Lounge. A map to the community is here and further details are right here

Sun City Huntley is located at 12880 Del Webb Boulevard, Huntley, IL. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Clintonville Station Revisited

Valley Model Railroad Association, you have a new fan. My family stopped by the group's open house this evening after dinner, as a surprise treat. It was, according to my seven-year old, "the best thing ever." We had attended the open house once before, but it's been a year or two, so it took a few guesses for him to determine where we might be going. It wasn't long before "Is it a train station?" led him to "Oh, is it the one with the model trains inside?" Bingo. We had one happy boy. 

The HO layout of the Valley Model Railroaders fills most of South Elgin's Clintonville Station. Built in 1902, most of the building once held power generating equipment for the area's electrical railroad lines. In the 1950s, the machinery moved out and the club moved in. They've been there ever since, creating an expansive world of track and scenery.

My kids spent at least a happy half-hour staring at the rolling stock ambling through miniature towns, countrysides, and rail yards. True to their personalities, different aspects of the layout intrigued each of my children. The oldest looked for his favorite engines and absorbed the logistics of moving the trains. Miss Middle Child focused on the diorama aspects of the display: details such as curtains in house windows and the path sunbathers must have taken to the beach. The truck-crazy toddler loved seeing any train move past him, but he couldn't understand why the diggers and dumpers weren't actively moving, too. Just when we parents thought we would be able to call it a night and head home, an offer of driving a train was presented. Bedtime had to wait; our young engineer had a train to run. His first experience operating DCC (with sound and lights!) was an unqualified success. Upon arriving home, he brought over a stretch of his Lego train track and began explaining to me why a track can't be too steep and showing me what grade would be best. So, thank you to the Valley Model Railroaders for sharing your hobby with a curious little boy and giving him new ideas for engineering at home. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

South Elgin: Clintonville Station/Valley Model Railroad Association Club

South Elgin -- My household is about to embark on a whole week of of Thanksgiving vacation, which means that finding out-of-the-house things to do with the kids will be a priority for the next few days. One excellent choice for weekend family fun is a visit to the the wonderful old Clintonville Station in South Elgin. What was once a stop on the Chicago Aurora & Elgin Railway is now a model railroad haven on the Illinois Prairie Path. The Valley Model Railroad Association, tenants of the building since 1953, will open its' doors to the public this weekend to see the club's HO trains in action. Visitors will even have the chance to run some of the trains and participate in a raffle. The open house runs Friday, Nov. 22 through Sunday afternoon, Nov. 24.  Check the club's website for full details. 

The public is welcome to visit Valley Model Railroad throughout the year, as well. On Friday evenings (with reservations), guests may bring their own trains to run on the club's track. Church or scouting groups, as well as birthday parties, are also welcomed with a tour of the building and railroad activities. Contact the club for information and reservations. 

Clintonville Station is located at 33W519 Kenyon Road 
South Elgin, IL. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Birthday shopping in the model kit aisle

On the wish list ... for next year
Just before Halloween, the kids and I were in Hobby Lobby for costume shopping, when we were sidetracked by my son's preferred location in the store -- the model kit aisle. (Revisit that moment here.) Today I was back looking for birthday party activity ideas -- "Can it be an Egypt theme, Mom?" -- when I stopped in the same aisle for present buying. The beloved Big Boy locomotive kit is still there, but, honestly, I'm just not ready for the many, many, many pieces. So, it's going to be a Power Trains birthday, and I'm thrilled to report, not only does Hobby Lobby stock Power Trains, but they also accept the 40-percent off coupon from their weekly ad for them. Joy! There's hope that my budget may survive the Christmas season! 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

South Elgin: Polar Express ride at An Almost Winter Day

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee
With snow on the ground today and Christmas carols playing in the stores, it is now undeniable that ye olde holiday season is upon us. Here in the land of Kids Who Love Trains, that means I should be gearing up for the seasonal delight of many a family: The Polar Express Christmas train ride. These rides, put on by many park districts and other community groups, feature a reading of the popular storybook by Chris Van Allsburg and a visit by Santa. Unfortunately, despite many years as mom to a railroad fanatic, we have never actually participated in any of the dozens of December rides in the area because:
  1. I'm a cheapskate frugal manager of my family's financial resources. 
  2. Crowds = cranky parents. (Someday my kids may share with therapists the humiliation of being  dressed in matching neon  -- and easy to locate -- outfits whenever we hit the town, but that means I was, in fact, successful in not loosing them amid the mob.)
  3. I'm still learning to plan family activities more than 24 hours in advance. 
It's that last point that is the real issue here for anyone wanting to enjoy the Polar Express experience. I would love to give you a full listing of all your Christmas train ride options. Fortunately, that work has been compiled by other sites so all of us can get a jump on our holiday scheduling for 2014 because if you, like me, don't already have tickets in hand for a St. Nick on a train experience, we're probably out of luck. These events are hugely popular and sell out weeks, if not months in advance. Generally, it's just not a "Hey, what should we do this weekend?" kind of activity. Don't despair, though, if someone in your house had their heart set on a festive ride on the rails. For the procrastinators among us, or those who are simply ready to jump into the holiday spirit nice and early, South Elgin has an event to try. 

This Saturday, Nov. 16, South Elgin's SEBA Park will be the site of An Almost Winter Day. Several Christmas-themed activities are planned, including a ride from the Trolley Museum to the Jon Duerr Forest Preserve as a reading of the Polar Express is presented. No reservations are accepted, so plan your afternoon accordingly. Kids and their families will also be able to enjoy activities such as a petting zoo, s'mores making, sleigh rides, and cookie decorating. Santa is expected at 4:30 p.m. and the community's Christmas tree lighting will happen at 5 p.m. at the Footprints in Time Plaza. Everything gets started at 3 p.m. and wraps up with the the tree lighting. 

By the way, as you are making plans for last-minute Christmas activities this year and thinking ahead to next year's calendar, keep in mind that what was once a "Polar Express ride" may become a "Santa train ride." Concerns over copyright infringement mean that groups offering these rides either need to pay royalties (and raise fees) or redesign their program. The show will go on, but the name of the activity may change. 

Also, tickets for the 2014 Polar Express ride at the Fox River Trolley Museum go on sale June 1, 2014!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Road Trip: Trainfest in Wisconsin

Image courtesy of J Frasse at
If only there was one more day in the weekend. Someday, when schedules are a little more open, there's a little road trip north with our name on it: Trainfest! It's happening this weekend at the Wisconsin Exposition Center near Milwaukee on the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds in West Allis. It promises to be a huge event for railroad fans of every age and interest area, including numerous children's activities. If, like us, this isn't your year to make the trip, pull up the children's activities link to see some great video of model railroads and to print out a nice assortment of train coloring pages. The free Train Town coloring book offers enough detail in its railroad pictures to interest even bigger kids who claim to be too old for coloring books. This one will be a hit. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Girls like trains, too!

Railroad Girl
(a few years ago)
I'm a little surprised it that was my daughter who called my attention to today's Google Doodle. Take a peek; it's a sleek drawing of an Art Deco engine by Raymond Loewy. (Past doodles are cataloged here if you miss it today) Plopping down in front of the computer for a bit of screen time my girl announced, "Mom, look at this!" This is the girl who often tells me how much she doesn't like trains, mostly since she has two brothers who love them and she would like to be her own princess-y self, thank you very much. On the other hand, she has been known to build some nice train layouts and play track-building computer games when no one is looking or "because he wanted me to," which she says while pointing to the two-year old brother.  Only time will tell how much interest in or disdain for trains sticks with her, but I think its safe to say, girls like trains, too, and they don't even need to be pink!

Raymond Loewy's design influence can be seen
on this Pennsylvania Railroad locomotive
 displayed at the National Railroad Museum 
in Green Bay, Wisconsin

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Train Restaurant Deals and Activities in November

Eating a burger at 2 Toots 

Facebookians, the train restaurants of Chicagoland are sweetening the dinner pot to encourage you to bring in the kids this month. Just yesterday, posts from three railroad restaurants popped up in my Facebook feed with enticing deals. Boxcar Train Restaurant in Geneva is offering a 15 percent discount to guests who mention their Facebook post this weekend. In Forest Park, the Junction Diner will be celebrating their first anniversary on Nov. 9 with a party from 12 until 3 pm., including menu specials, kids' games, face painting and a special guest. All Aboard Diner on the south side of Downers Grove is holding a coloring contest until Nov. 15. The winner will receive a 15-guest pizza party at Pro Martial Arts, also in Downers Grove. 

As long as you're getting hungry liking train restaurants on Facebook, try these, too:

So log on and like your favorite spots. It will make planning your next family dinner out a little easier and a lot more fun.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Costume: Train Engineer Redux

2007: Our First Engineer 
2013: Engineer #2 runs to catch up
with the big kids and candy!

Momma bragging moment: Take a look at my youngest decked out as a train engineer for trick or treating tonight. Of the three costumes we needed to assemble this year, it was the easiest since this outfit is exactly what his big brother wore at the same age. I couldn't help but be sentimental remembering the first time this ensemble hit the streets, worn by someone who thought he was supposed to share the candy in his bucket with the people who opened the doors. (Aww...) Even though it was almost impossible for this little guy to keep up with the rest of our speedy group, he was determined to carry his own bucket and walk to every house. The rain didn't stop the big kids and it didn't stop our little engineer, either. The only thing he didn't like about the day was mom's insistence on taking pictures (He hates cameras -- too much flash in the eyes). He didn't really understand why he couldn't eat candy as soon as it was given to him, either, but really, who doesn't want to dive in to that glorious loot right away! 

So, let's hear it for the easiest, guaranteed-smile producing costume for a toddler boy: train engineer. One pair of stripped overalls, one engineer hat, one cozy fleece shirt and one snug red handkerchief. Done and happy. He even kept the hat on his head!

(By the way, the Union Pacific patch that appeared on the overalls the first time around has since been relocated to at least two other, larger overalls. Not everything gets passed down to Little Brother!)   

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Hobby Shop Happiness: Train Toys for Bigger Kids

The Union Pacific "Big Boy"
at the National Railroad Museum
in Green Bay Wisconsin
What do you do when your children are too big for the Thomas the Tank Engine and Chugginton toys, but still LOVE trains? Two words: hobby shop! We're in the middle ground for kids who love trains -- too big, strictly speaking -- for the train toys that first became beloved in preschool and not quite old enough -- especially when there's a curious toddler in the house -- for real model railroading. That doesn't keep me from being dragged over to look at model trains at every possible chance by that discriminating second grader.Our mission to Hobby Lobby yesterday was to secure the pieces needed for a King Tut Halloween costume -- a departure from many years as a train engineer! Never fear, the first love is always near and dear to his heart. While I was looking for the materials we needed, he asked to look at the model kits aisle. Three happy discoveries were made:

  • Our local Hobby Lobby, after a period of limited model train items has "new model trains, Mom! Look at this! Look!" Guess we weren't the only ones feeling the loss. 
  • They are also stocking Power Trains, which is the perfect toy to bridge that age and ability gap between all things Thomas/Brio/Chuggington and all things N Scale/HO Scale/G Scale. 
  • Amid the model car kits, my future engineer was thrilled to finally discover (how long has he been searching for this?) the Revell Big Boy Locomotive model kit. And suddenly, the money being saved in the piggy bank has now been redirected to a purchase of that very kit. Sure, it's for ages 10 and up, but he's ambitious. (And I'm not about to discourage saving up dollars or interest in history.) 
Soon, we got back to our shopping purpose, but not without looking at the very same aisle one more time before we left, just to be sure those wonderful things were still there. 

The Big Boy in real life!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lemont Metra station: limestone history

I admit it. I am a history nerd. It is with great joy that I make my family take side trips to see historical markers whenever possible. So, during a rare lunch out with just my husband (We love grandparents; yes we do!) I couldn't resist checking out the old limestone train station just down the road. We were in Lemont, a town I lived in briefly and love for its historical charm. Lemont grew as workers on the Illinois & Michigan Canal settled in the area from the 1830s onward. The rock discovered during excavations there, once known as "Athens marble" after the town's original name, became a fixture in building local structures of every size and purpose. Ultimately, railroad lines played a key role in transporting workers and shipping goods to and from the Chicago area. These days Lemont's little station serves commuters taking Metra's Heritage Corridor line during the workweek, but during its long history it has witnessed Lincoln's funeral train, a violent labor strike, soldiers heading off to war, and speeches from national leaders. Even though this building is "just" a little train station, it's perfect place to sneak in a little history lesson: "Hey, let's go look at the station. Look at this! Did you know that people stood here to watch Abraham Lincoln's funeral train pass on its way to Springfield?" History sinks in to kids minds a bit at a time here and there as we read books and they hear lessons. Those stories start to stick, though, when we can give them pieces of real history to see and touch. 

Historical plaque at the Lemont train station

Being an architecture nerd as much as a history nerd, I also love this booklet from the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois on "Joliet-Lemont Limestone." The stories of old buildings around us have a much louder voice when we know something of their origins. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Pumpkin Farm Train Rides

Image courtesy of nuchylee
The clock is running out on opportunities for pumpkin farm fun this season. Most farm and orchard activities wrap up this weekend or run just through October 31. To find just the right last minute afternoon outing or day trip for your family -- with train ride options, of course! -- try these links:

"Looking for a Great Pumpkin" -- This Sun Times article offers a multitude of suggestions. Do a page search for "trains" and plenty of ideas appear, including All Seasons Apple Orchard in Woodstock, Dollinger Family Farm in Channahon, Harms Farm Garden Center in McHenry, Johansen Farms in Bolingbrook, Kuipers Farm in Maple Park, Randy's Vegetables in Sleepy Hollow and Siegel's Cottonwood Farms in Crest Hill. Take a special look at the steam train rides offered during the weekend at the Dollinger Family Farm. For $3, riders get a ride the rails on a real mini-steam train. 

Pumpkin Patches and More: Trains appear at Yaegers Farm Market in DeKalb, Anderson's Fun-E Farm in Plainfield, Stade's Market in McHenry,  All Seasons Orchard in Woodstock, Royal Oak Farm in Harvard,  Tom's Farm Market in Huntley, Konow's Corn Maze in Homer Glen, and Settlers Pond Shelter in Beecher. The Royal Oak Express at Royal Oak Farm offers a ride for parents and kids on a miniature replica of a 19th century train. Rides are $2.50. 

Make it Better:  A crisp, clean site with orchard suggestions for Northern Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana. 

University of Illinois Extension: If you would like to head beyond the Chicago area, here's a good resources for farms in other areas of the state. 

Illinois AgFun Another list of Illinois pumpkin patches. 

Be sure to call ahead before you go to be sure your farm destination is still open! 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Oak Lawn: Southland Model Railroad Show

This weekend, go see some trains for a good cause. Harold L. Richards High School in Oak Lawn will play host to the Southland Model Railroad Show this Saturday and Sunday. Proceeds from ticket sales support "music programs, including biennial trips to Disney World and the purchase of equipment and supplies at Richards" For your $6 admission ($5 for seniors and free for kids under 12), you can expect to see the "largest HO layout in Chicago" as well as displays from at least a dozen model railroad clubs. The Will County Model Railroad Association promises to fill the school's gym with 7,000 feet of model railroad layout. Other exhibiting clubs hail from all over Illinois, as well as Indiana and Wisconsin. Other activities include Lego train displays and kids' activities, such as train races. There will even be a ride on train to enjoy. Guests will also be able to shop from numerous vendors on site at the event. 

The Southland Model Railroad Show happens Saturday, Oct. 26 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 27 from 11 a.m. till 3 p.m. H. L. Richards High School is located at 10601 S. Central Ave. Oak Lawn, IL.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Addison library: LEGO train display

Image courtesy of Idea go
To my mind, a pile of Lego bricks gives a child one of the best playthings possible. I also firmly believe that after that first build of the model pictured on the box, its perfectly okay for the direction booklet to get lost and the sets to get mixed together. Let the creative inspiration for the next structure (or garden or monster or...) come from everything around us.

The Addison Public Library will feature the work of one group of talented Lego enthusiasts this weekend with a display crafted by the Northern Illinois Lego Train Club. The layout will fill the library's meeting room from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26 and 1 till 4:40 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27. Addison library card holders can stop by ahead of time for free tickets. The rest of us are welcome to drop in. Library staff will allow people in the room as space allows. Tables in the children's area will provide Lego-building opportunities for youngsters.

If you go to this or any of the NILTC shows, give your group time to fully enjoy the display. These layouts always draw a crowd, so a little patience is always a good thing. Any waiting is worthwhile, though, because this club provides settings that are so much more than a train circling past some buildings. Club members create scenes with details full of humor and pop-culture references. Kids and adults love discovering unexpected characters or places as they take in the presentation.

The NILTC has crisply designed and easy-to-navigate website worth looking at to get a sense of the quality of its work, including videos introducing the group's activities. The site also gives a history of the club and answers common questions about what you'll see at their shows.

Coming up in December, the club will make a return appearance at Cantigny Park in Wheaton on December 14-15. Past shows have attracted more than 10,000. Plan now to bring a toy for Toys for Tots and your parking on the day of the event will be free!

The Addison Public Library is at 4 Friendship Plaza, Addison, IL. More information about this weekend's Lego train show is available in the library's current newsletter

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Deerfield: Halloween Hoopla

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at
There is just one more weekend before Halloween and it will be filled with so very many local family activities. For those in the Deerfield area with young ones, head over to the Jewett Park Community Center for the annual Halloween Hoopla. Thanks to one of the event's sponsors, Koenig and Strey Realtors, a trackless train will be on hand for rides, as well as inflatables and other activities, too. Other activities will include visits by costumed characters, hay rides, crafts, face painting, balloon twisting and games. Kids are encouraged to come in costume. Activities are scheduled for the evenings of Friday and Saturday, Oct. 25-26 and Saturday afternoon. Check the park district's website for a complete schedule of activities and times. 

Jewett Park Community Center is located at 836 Jewett Park Drive, Deerfield. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Union: Illinois Railway Museum

The signal collection at the Illinois Railway Museum
has always been a favorite spot for our family
In a new entry in the Best Ways to Keep Mom from Saying Goodnight contest that my oldest seems to run nightly, my train guy was studying an old calendar from the Illinois Railway Museum and trying to make me guess what events different colors represented. Since I found it easy to resist getting lured into a conversation about last year's activities, the procrastination was cut short. It did remind me, though, that the Union museum still has a few activities for visitors this year. If your schedule permits a drive out into the country, IRM is a great destination. On any visit, kids will love the train rides and seemingly endless cars and engines to explore. Special event days make the trip even more fun. 

Coming up this weekend (October 26-27), kids in costume will be able to take home treats from the Railway Museum's Trick or Treat Trolley event. Their website promises "free pumpkin and snack for  kids." It's a regular fare event of $10 for adults and $7 for kids, with a $38 family maximum. The grounds are open from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. 

For those who are older (at least 13) and enjoy being super scared this time of year, save Friday and Saturday night for the Terror on the Railroad Haunted Event. This runs from 7 till 11 p.m. for $13 or $18, depending on how much fear you'd like to cram into your evening. Check the link above for full details. 

Things calm down at the museum in November, although work is always being done behind the scenes. (Check IRM's blog to see some of those repairs and improvements.) The 2013 season ends with Christmas spirit during the first two weekends in December. Guests of the Happy Holiday Railway will be able to enjoy a wintery train ride and visit with Santa and the elves. Check with the museum for details and availability as holiday programs tend to sell out well in advance.

The Illinois Railway Museum is in Union, Illinois. For directions, click here

Friday, October 18, 2013

Lombard: Prairie Scale Model Railroad

With a child who claims to be too-old for Thomas and Chuggington, I'm now on the lookout for train activities suitable for the slightly older set. It has been a pleasant discovery to realize that the many, many model railroad clubs in the area are eager to share their love of the hobby with the public, including youngsters. (They do proudly call it "The world's greatest hobby.") It turns out an easy way to provide a train fix for any age group is to find a local railroad club and look at their schedule for an open house. Most have them regularly. This weekend, try Lombard's Prairie Scale Model Railroaders. They house their layout in an old bowling alley, so before I even see the trains I'm intrigued! This month's open house happens Saturday, Oct. 20 from 7 till 10 p.m. at 3 E Ash StreetLombard. Check their Facebook page at the link above for more information and other open house dates. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

St. Charles: Norton Farm

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at
Rain, rain, go away! I wish I could give you a first-hand account of the imaginative possibilities of  the train-shaped play structure at Norton Farm in St. Charles. The big, wooden engine and cars are just right for climbing on and embarking on a pretend cross-country adventure. Unfortunately, wet weather kept my school field trip group from exploring the activities of Norton's Hallow. Fortunately, the hallow will be open every nice day through Halloween, giving us another chance to visit and explore the train, climb the hay bales, enjoy the hay ride, see the pumpkin patch, and do all the other farm and harvest-store activities.  

Norton's Hallow is $3 for adults and kids over 3 and $1 for adults over 60. Check the website for hours and further details. The farm is at 39W369 Route 64 (North Avenue) in St. Charles. 

 , IL 60175

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mt. Prospect: Hoot! Hoot! Express train at Howlin' Halloween

Image courtesy of supakitmod
Halloween train alert! This Saturday, October 19, visit the Mt. Prospect Park District's Lions Recreation Center for their annual  Howlin' Halloween event. The kid-friendly activities include rides on the Hoot! Hoot! Express. This colorful, trackless train is just right for the youngest railroad fans. Kids are welcome to come in costume and enjoy all the festival's activities, including kids' games, crafts, face panting, hay ride, pumpkins and live entertainment. Edible goodies will be available, too. (Take a look at the park district's website for photos from last year's event.) Everything happens between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Kids' tickets are $4. Adults get in free! 

The recreation center is located at 411 S. Maple St., Mt. Prospect. Call (847) 632-9333 for more information. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Schaumburg: Trains at IKEA

Train table, IKEA-style
With his back to this very spot at the Schaumburg IKEA, my oldest child said, "Do they have any trains here?" Train awareness had been supplanted by fascination with the store's two great glass elevators and the rather amazing cart-grabbing escalators. He soon realized the answer to his question was right behind him and proceeded to putz with the store display. He had already declared IKEA to be "the best store!" His siblings were too busy navigating the aisles from the drivers' seats of the car carts to investigate the trains this time around. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Glenview: Abt, a marble run and other fun

Abt's atrium marble run
Good news for family harmony: many railroad aficionados love any display of mechanical engineering. If your train fans enjoy entertainment that isn’t strictly railroad tracks, be sure to make a stop at Abt Electronics in Glenview. This home goods emporium is our go-to place for household appliances, not just for the products and the prices, but for the fun in every corner of the building. For the track-lovers, head to the atrium in the center of the building. Just behind the fountain, a large marble run catches the attention of anyone who loves to see machinery with a Rube Goldberg sensibility. It's a great place to stand while eating the fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies the store offers on weekends and holidays. When your cookie is gone, step into the bubble booth and see if the Hoola-hoop-sized ring and pulley can encase you in a life-sized bubble. Linger long enough and the atrium's fountain may entertain you with a synchronized music and light show. Need more to see? By the customer service counter, a granite kugel ball spins easily on its base thanks to precise design and a thin film of water. Getting your fingers wet by giving it a nudge is just fine. Or meander over to the camera department and check out the 7,500 gallon fish tank. Keep looking around. There's always something else to see and the kids won't complain if shopping takes awhile in this store. 
Abt: A store for "kids" who like all kinds of things that go
Abt is at 1200 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Glenview. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Train-lovers: Vote for favorite places

Entrance to
The DuPage Children's Museum
This business of entertaining young train lovers is a serious thing. Serious enough that "Best place for train-watching" is one of the categories parent-types can vote for in the first Chicago Parent Best of the Best Awards. Here are the contenders (selected by reader nominations):

If being an informed voter inspires you to try visit those in the running, one more place deserves your attention. The very next category offers Forest Park's Junction Diner restaurant as a choice for "Best spot for playdate lunches." Yes, this is Chicago, but only one vote per email address will be accepted. Results will be available online in late December.

As a nice incentive, Chicago Parent is offering a chance to win $100 for casting a ballot. Go to their website and make your choices known by Friday, Oct. 18.

Some of the artwork displayed on the second-floor Trains exhibit
at the DuPage Children's Museum

Friday, October 11, 2013

South Elgin: Pumpkin Trolley (and the very scary Terror Trolley)

The Pumpkin Patch (a few years back)
Crisp fall weather and the gorgeous leaves of the Fox River Valley mean its time for the annual Pumpkin Trolley. This weekend and next, Oct. 12-13 and Oct. 19-20, visitors to the Fox River Trolley Museum in South Elgin can enjoy a stop at the pumpkin patch during the trolley's run from the museum grounds to the Jon Duerr Forest Preserve and back. The trains run from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. at regular prices.

A pumpkin to keep!
The museum will also be presenting the spooky side of the season Oct. 19 and 26 with the Ghost Story Train and the Terror Trolley. Just a very few seats remain for the Ghost Story Train, but plenty of brave souls can reserve seats on the Terror Trolley. The Ghost Story Train is appropriate for all ages. Only junior high-age students and older should attempt the Terror Trolley. Check the museum's website for additional details and to reserve tickets. Tickets for both events are $13.20 per person for all ages and will be available to pick up on the evening of the event. S'mores are included at both programs!

Here's a post I wrote last year about Trolley Fest at the Fox River Trolley Museum. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mundelein and Highland Park: Spooky Train Run

Get in the Halloween spirit this weekend with a visit to Mundelein as the North Central O Gaugers present their Spooky Train Run at the Fremont Public Library. Trains will be running 9 a.m. till 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12 and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13 on the library's second floor. The youngest guests are welcome to also visit the wooden train table in the youth services department's program room from 10 till 4:30  for their own train-driving fun. The monthly Friends of the Fremont Library book sale will be taking place during this time, too.

The O Gaugers will put on another Halloween-themed  run October 26 at the Highland Park Public Library. "Spookytown" is an eagerly anticipated annual event. The library promises that some visitors will have the opportunity to drive a train and earn a "NCOG Honorary Jr. Operating Engineer" certificate. Trains run from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Highland Park's library friends group book sale will also be open for business on this day.

(As an aside, I have to say how absolutely delightful it is to know that there are so many other families who also love spending a Saturday watching trains and picking out books!)

The Fremont Public Library is the North Central O Gaugers home base, so set aside future second Saturdays of the month to visit the layout in action. (They do take off in November but will be back in town Dec. 14.) Club members also take their traveling layout to other libraries throughout the area, so check their detailed website for a calendar of events. While you're waiting for Saturday to get here, also check out their numerous videos of past layouts.

If the northern suburbs aren't right in your backyard and you're wondering if it's worth making the trip, note that the O Gaugers received a 2012 Honorable Mention from model railroad company MTH's Blue Comet Awards. The awards recognize clubs who excel in promoting the O-gauge model railroading hobby. Only eight clubs from around the nation (and Switzerland!) were honored, so it's safe to say, a drive to see one of the O Gaugers' layouts will be worth the effort.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Schaumburg: Food for Fun train ride

Do a good deed and get a  train ride. On Sunday, Oct. 13 from 1-3 p.m. young bicycle riders can enjoy Food for Fun, an afternoon at Schaumburg's Ken Alley Safety Park in exchange for a donation for the Schaumburg Food Pantry. Bringing a second canned or non-perishable item entitles visitors to a ride on the 18-passenger trackless train. To register or to get further details, contact the Schaumburg Park District at 847/490-7036. The safety park is behind the Pat Shephard Early Childhood Center, 421 N. Springinsguth Road, Schaumburg. 

Take a peek at the park district's website for information on other programs available at the safety park, including train-themed birthday parties. Only 3- and 4-year olds can enjoy the train parties, but that is just the perfect age for a ride on the train and a game of pin the smoke stack on the engine! 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Geneva: Good Cents treasure hunting yields a Lego train book gem

Shhh! One of Santa's elves made a great discovery at her favorite kids' store this morning. My shopping goal was to find pants for the kids and my first stop was Good Cents Children in Geneva, always my first stop for kids' clothing. Of course, I had to take a peek at their train section. There is always an adorable endcap with railroad books and toys. Being a resale shop, the available merchandise varies from visit to visit but I can say that no small number of our family's wooden trains and books have come from this store. There are always train toys, books, coloring and sticker books and, sometimes, shirts and hats. Anyway, tucked in an assortment of Thomas the Train picture books I found this gem: 
"Getting Started with Lego Trains"
by Jacob H. McKee 

I snatched it up, flipped through it, and did not set it down. It's as if a book had been written just for my 7-year old. Trains + Lego = Bliss. (The fact that it has one of his very favorite engines on the cover just sealed the deal.) It's over 100 pages of full-color Lego-building principles, step-by-step instructions for building several kinds of train cars and custom track layout ideas. Honestly, I'd like to plop myself down amid my son's box o' Legos and start construction right now!

This particular elf tends to be a bargain hunting sort of gal with no qualms about second-hand Christmas gifts if they are in decent shape and a good match for the giftee. So the plan was to squirrel away my $3 discovery until Dec. 25. Then I took a peek at to see if the book, published in 2003, is still available. The kids in this house aren't the only ones I know who love Lego trains, but it looks like the other engineers on my list won't be getting a copy of this title. Not only is it out of print, it's going for at least $40 used on Amazon and eBay. (Not bad for something with a $20 cover price.) So, it looks like, not only did I find a perfect gift, I found an introductory lesson in investing. Trains: the gift that keeps on giving!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Train stuff: Cuckoo Clock

     File this under "Unexpected Interests." This past weekend I was flipping through the American Profile magazine that came with our local newspaper and stopped at the full-page ad for the "Golden Spike" Cuckoo Clock. Now, I'm the first to admit it: I have an image in my mind of the person who buys collectible items. First characteristic: it's not necessarily someone who saves his allowance quarters in a plastic piggy bank. I forgot for a moment that my dear 7-year old son has never seen a train, in any form, that he doesn't love. I tore the ad out of the paper and handed it to him with a,"Here's something you might like." He spent at least 10 minutes pouring over the picture reading the description, and considering where in our house the cuckoo clock should be placed. This particular item isn't just a train on a clock, but a commemoration of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. I was pleased, then, that my little guy knew that the train that circles base of the clock is the Jupiter locomotive, something he recognized from countless hours spent studying books of railroad history. Once again I was happy to see that episodes of history have become exciting to him simply because of the railroading part of the story. For now just the picture of this clock will join the many other train pictures posted on the wall of his room. You never know, though. Santa gets Christmas present ideas from so many interesting places. Our house may yet have a train tooting it's whistle at the top of every hour. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Tinley Park: Odyssey Fun Farm's Cow Train

In my on-going quest to find the perfect combination of fall fun and railroad love, here's what's piqued my interest today: the Cow Train! Many orchards offer rides on a barrel train, which is usually a tractor pulling 55-gallon barrels hitched together. Odyssey Fun Farm in Tinley Park has taken the concept a step further with the Cow Train. No plain ol' barrels here. This "train" takes its farm location seriously with bovine-inspired, Holstein-patterned cars. 

In addition to the train and a pumpkin patch, Odyssey Fun Farm's other activities include pig races, a corn cannon, a pillow jumpy, kid zone, and a corn box (because corn is a lot less trouble to clean up from the floor of your car than all the usual sandbox sand!). There's plenty more to do and if you truly need more activities, or the weather doesn't cooperate, the farm is right next to Odyssey Fun World with ample inside entertainment options. 

Odyssey Fun Farm is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through October 27, weather permitting. Look it up on Google Earth before you go and you'll know you've found the right place by zooming in on the corn maze (although, as of this writing, last year's maze is what I saw). 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Schaumburg: iHobby Expo

As real autumn weather slowly arrives in Chicagoland, it's time to think of indoor weekend activities for the family. Keep your eyes open for (or your search engines pointed to) hobby shows around the area. For example, this weekend's iHobby Expo in Schaumburg features a free ride-on Thomas train and model train layouts in addition to plenty of other activities, such as model building and racing. Kids under 10 even get in free. (Adult admission is $12. Seniors pay $10 on Sunday only.) The show happens from 10 a.m. till 5 pm. today (Oct. 6, 2013) and tomorrow at the Schaumburg Convention Center

Friday, October 4, 2013

Batavia: Pete's Train at Poplar Acres

A favorite miniature train ride from north-central Illinois has a new suburban location this fall. The Waterman & Western Railroad is currently chugging away at  Poplar Acres, just west of Batavia. "Pete's Train," named for builder and owner Pete Robinson, is a  "1/4 scale model F-3 Electromotive" in bright red and yellow pulling passengers in open-air cars also built by Robinson and his team. This is Poplar Farm's first public season in over two decades, and they have plenty more activities for fall fun. For $10 guests can ride the train as well as enjoy a tractor ride, two corn mazes, three big slides, baby animals, larger farm animals and more. Individual train ride tickets are $3. Hours are Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 8 pm. and Sundays from 10 a.m. till 6 p.m. 

Poplar Acres is at 39 W. 100 Main Street, Batavia.  

Update: The Kane County Chronicle features a profile of Poplar Acres in the Oct. 5, 2013 edition of the paper. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Naperville & Chicago: Pullman lecture and bus tour

For the history-loving adult railroad fan, Naperville is the place to be. Tonight North Central College professor Ann Durkin Keating will present "The Town of Pullman Lecture." The event, beginning at 7 p.m. at Naper Settlement's Century Memorial Chapel, will give attendees a look at George Pullman's model industrial town. On Saturday, Oct. 12, a bus tour leaves at 9:30 a.m. for the  40th Annual Historic Pullman House Tour.  The tour will include visits to historic homes, from modest worker dwellings to the grand mansions of company executives. 

The Historic Pullman House Tour happens only once each year, but visitors can attend on their own either Saturday, Oct. 12 or Sunday Oct. 13 from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. Contact the Pullman Visitor Center at 773.785.8901  for more details. 

To attend the Naper Settlement lecture or tour, call 630.420.6010. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Glencoe: Chicago Botanic Garden's "Trains, Tricks & Treats"

I have a special place in my heart for the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe because it was there that my husband asked me to marry him. We were there the day after Christmas for that special event, but it's always a treat for us to visit in any season to see how the plants of the many gardens change with the seasons and the special events featured in such a beautiful setting. Autumn is a can't-miss time to go. 

In honor of Halloween, the Chicago Botanic Garden is decorating in especially spooky fashion in the delightful Model Railroad Garden. On October 19 and 20, young ghosts and goblins may visit in costume and trick or treat amid the train tracks.  "Tricks, Trains and Treats" happens from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m. and full details -- there is an entry fee -- can be found at

If you can' t make it to the Model Railroad Garden for the Halloween treats, be sure to visit before October 27, when the garden closes for the season. 

Expect fall color and spooky scenes during
the Model Railroad Garden's
"Trains, Tricks & Treats"
at the Chicago Botanic Garden