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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Geneva History Center

The LGB club's Swedish Days layout
We stopped in to the Geneva History Center during Swedish Days to take a look at the LGB Model Railroad Club display. The club regularly appears at locations and events around the Chicago area, so we had previously enjoyed their large-scale layouts at Brookfield Zoo and Morton Arboretum. In honor of Swedish Days, this display included buildings adorned with Swedish flags and a small Kirsten doll of American Girl fame. These details and more than 20 others were included in a scavenger hunt for guests. Number one on the scavenger hunt, and seemingly most popular with viewers, was the coaling tower that repeatedly filled cars with "pearls."

When I was able to pull my son away from the display for a few minutes to look at the rest of the museum, he delighted in the dioramas of train stations from Geneva's past. One is just outside the building's Mary Bencini Room where the train show was held. The other is within the top-notch "Greetings from Geneva" exhibit in the main gallery. (This permanent exhibit on the city's history also included a hands-on design your own subdivision table that kept my future civil engineer engaged for quite awhile.) Once again, trains get us in the door and a little extra local history sneaks into unsuspecting young brains while they are looking and playing. That, my friends, is the reason I'm willing to keep feeding this passion for trains!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Lisle: Morton Arboretum

When is a train not a train? When it's a tram! This past weekend we attended an event at Morton Arboretum, which included a tour of the arboretum's grounds on their Acorn Express. For reasons we can't determine, it was not at all what the toddler wanted to do with his day, so trying to convince him that it was a fun choo-choo or a truck with neat people trailers unfortunately did not work. (Thankfully, he dozed off a few minutes into his loud protest.) The older kids, however, enjoyed the chance to sit back and watch the scenery go by. At the arboretum, the real draw for kids is the children's garden, which is where we spent most of our day. The tram is a nice break between hikes, though, and certainly gets families farther into the grounds than most will likely get with young children.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Aurora: David L. Pierce Art & History Center

Summer has officially begun, which means we are already planning our free days with help from our summer handbook: the Passport to Adventure. Since so many of its suggestions are local history museums and so many of our towns owe much of their early success to the railroad industry, I can sneak in some summer learning while my train fan thinks we're just looking for more train stuff.

Roundhouse model 
Aurora's David L. Pierce Art & History Center second floor exhibit provides a walk through the city's history, including the role of railroads in the community's development. My kids' favorites included the model of the Roundhouse, a real handcar and an engine's bell. There are also numerous pictures of trains that once traveled through town. For my toddler, it's enough to see the choo-choo on the wall. My older guy knows enough train history at this point that he can now tell me more about the steam engines, Zephyrs, etc. than I can explain to him.

Since we are in the middle of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie, seeing artifacts from the pioneer era interested my kids, too, and they asked about several other older items, like clothes, stoves and phones: "Did Laura and Mary have this in their house?" Often the answer was no, but we talked about who could have used it, both famous and in our own family.

Since I was so happy the museum prompted my kids to ask questions about history, I was willing to be talked into buying a few items in the gift shop. The staff there was very nice and helpful about pointing out things in the museum and the shop that would interest the children.

And for the drive home, simply taking Illinois 25 past the Roundhouse restaurant, Metra station and along the tracks made for happy travelers.


The David L. Pierce Art & History Center is at 20 E. Downer Place, Aurora. 

Quiz your kids on local train history
or stand back as they tell you what they already know.  

Small hands can't resist ringing this old bell. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Geneva: Boxcar Restaurant

In celebration of the end of the school year, we visited the new Boxcar Restaurant in downtown Geneva this week. The moment we walked in it became my new favorite train restaurant. Just like other railroad-themed restaurants in the area, this one surrounds you in train decor, brings food to the table on a model train, and is heavily populated by a young, train-loving crowd. The difference is that the decor is warm and cozy. (And not too noisy!) Realizing that the grownups bringing their young diners to the restaurant want a nice meal in a comfortable space, the owners of this place have panted the walls in warm earth tones fitting a classy Geneva restaurant. The train decorations, including a wonderful wall-filling black and white photo of Geneva's station in steam engine days, have a classic vintage feel. There are TVs to watch while the meal is on its way (tuned to Nick Jr and Sprout when we were there) but my kids spent their waiting time with their faces against the window watching the Metra drop off commuters at the Geneva station. They also loved the ride-on, coin-operated train. Despite their inability to sit at the table for the meal, they still managed to grab enough bites between excited "The bells are ringing!" moments to finish their entire meals. My husband and I enjoyed our food, too. So, praise to the kitchen staff for respecting the taste buds of their clientele. Most glorious of all, with everything to watch around him, my toddler actually stayed in his seat from the time we came in until it was time for all of us to go. That never happens. Boxcar, I love you!

Find the Boxcar at 500 S. Third Street in Geneva, just two doors down from Geneva's Metra station.