Sprout has a serious case of the Train Bug. So when I saw the Gaithersburg Community Museum was having a day focused on trains, I knew we just had to go. With Little Bird in the carrier and Chris’s parents visiting, we were ready for a day of train-centric fun.
What I didn’t realize until I got there was exactly how much “train” there was. From casually passing by, I knew the museum was built inside of an old train station. But it’s actually much more than that; there are actually three separate trains on display. As Sprout knows about several different types of trains, this was particularly exciting.
First, there is a huge black locomotive (a 1918 Buffalo Creek and Gauley #14 Steam Locomotive, according to the website) that must have pulled quite a bit of freight in its day. It reminded me very much of the Big Strong Engine from the Little Engine that Could. While you can’t go inside or climb on it, it’s still impressive.
Behind it is a little red caboose, fitted out as a children’s play space. Wooden tracks were scattered across the floor, with a variety of little trains to accompany them. A number of young children were also sprawled across the floor, each in their own private train world. As soon as he saw the tracks, Sprout plopped himself down and joined the crowd. In addition to the tracks, the caboose also had coloring sheets and crayons, resources on other local train-themed activities, and bins of dress-up clothes. I spotted quite a few kids with conductor’s hats. One of the docents was also handing out neon-colored plastic train whistles, which made a surprisingly accurate sound. (I’ve now played it a number of times to accompany Sprout singing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”)
Last in line was a Budd commuter train, the predecessor to the MARC train that connects D.C. to Baltimore and West Virginia. Standing outside of it, Sprout raised his arms, his wordless way of indicating he wants to be picked up. While I’m not sure what scared him, it may be that I mentioned the MARC connection and it’s terribly loud when we watch it from the pedestrian bridge near us.
Once we got inside, he was fine, wandering down the aisle. They still had the commuter train seats, giving us a comfy spot to read books from their little library. Sprout very much enjoyed listening to me read Train – so much so that he requested it three times. Besides books, they had some lovely paper crafts to bring home. But by far the coolest thing was the fact that they had the engineer’s area open so you could pretend to drive the train. Surprisingly, Sprout looked in and then walked away, but the other kids were thrilled. Perhaps another day.
After stopping in for sandwiches at Java Junction, a cute restaurant adorned with train photos, we took one last spin around. We stopped in the museum building, which has a couple small exhibits about Gaithersburg’s history. The most amusing part was a section that mainly seemed to focus on “antiquated technology.” Sprout saw a typewriter for the first time and slammed on the keys with ease. He also picked up how a rotary phone worked quickly, holding it up to his ear and talking into it. We also had the good luck of running into some of our friends and their four-year-old son, a welcome bit of socialization. They also got to meet Little Bird for the first time, although he slept through it.
As this community day was just one of the museum’s regularly-held events, we’re sure to be back again before Sprout is over his train mania.