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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.