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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Train book love: "By the Shores of Silver Lake"

My old copy of
By the Shores of Silver Lake
Now that we are back to a school schedule, the day trips will be at a minimum for awhile, but not the mental journeys. My kids and I have been reading through Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books. I've always loved historical fiction, so I started the kids with some of the picture book adaptations of her stories. Once they were hooked, we jumped in to the "real" books and they keep asking to continue as we finish each one. I mention this here because we are currently beginning "By the Shores of Silver Lake. " I'm happy to report that my 7-year old boy has enjoyed reading these books about pioneer girls without complaint, and he has been rewarded by chapters in this volume describing the Ingalls family heading from Minnesota to Dakota Territory via their first train ride. This was in the days when trains were new and dangerous, at least to the young passengers, so the descriptions capture a palpable sense of adventure. The look of the stations and train cars, the clamor of the engines and cars connecting, the rumble of the ground as the trains approach and the feel of soot long after the ride ends, all come through in rich detail.

To be honest, I will never love trains as much as my eldest son, but from an educational perspective there are so many reasons to encourage his interest. As this book reminds me, loving railroads gives him -- and by default his siblings -- a chance to learn about history, industry, society and so much more. If a kid is going to have an obsession, railroading is a fine one to have.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Winfield: Hedges Station

Hedges Station Depot in Winfield's Oakwood Park
        Having kids who love trains, I often repeat safety warnings about the dangers of getting too close to real railroad tracks. Fortunately, the noise at most stations keeps them safely away from rail lines. They were delighted to discover a place last week where wandering across the tracks was perfectly safe. Winfield's Hedges Station Depot is a small 1800s depot that has been moved to its current Oakwood Park location. Inside there are a few rooms to explore and some artifacts from town history. It's a quick walk-through for youngsters because getting back to the outside tracks is the priority. A short stretch of reconstructed tracks offers all sorts of opportunities to "play train."  Once that's been done, exploring the rest of the park and its playground make the outing enjoyable enough that, before we even left, my oldest said, "This is a great park. When can we come back here?" 

Winfield is a designated "Train Town"
One of the railroad artifacts inside the depot

Want to know more? Hedges Station is Winfield's oldest standing building. Read more of its story here and here

After a visit to the depot
enjoy the playground, too

Chicago: IIT"s McCormick Tribune Campus Center.

I love architecture as much as my oldest loves trains, so it was a treat for all of us to attend an event last month at the downtown campus of Illinois Institute of Technology. The McCormick Tribune Campus Center houses both the student union and a CTA Green Line stop in modernist elegance. Just the act of parking under the el and pondering the trains zipping into the silver tube that is that station was a thrill for the kids. For pictures, you'll have to peruse other corners of the web because we are in the phase of toddlerhood for my youngest in which stopping to take a picture means a photo of a blur about to get into mischief and/or danger. So, we stop, we look and we promise to return another time when we can enjoy the environment at a more relaxed pace.