A couple of weeks ago our family was in the very unusual situation of having absolutely no Saturday plans. It was also raining cats and dogs which prevented us from our go-to plans of visiting a local park. With a rambunctious 5-year-old who is NOT cool with watching TV all day we checked the RCM calendar for options. Luckily for us the North Alabama Railroad Museum was running two trains that day. I’d heard great things about the Santa Train from a friend last year and thought it would be an activity we might enjoy so we packed up the Rocket Van and headed north and I’m so glad we did. We ALL enjoyed it (something that can’t always be said for our family outings) and will definitely be riding the rails again soon.
One interesting fact about the museum is that it’s a non-profit run entirely by volunteers. These people are serious train enthusiasts, a fact that becomes crystal clear as soon as you enter the depot and see the conductor and engineer dressed up in their requisite “uniforms.” Even if your child has only the most rudimentary interest in trains, they’ll find a lot to peak their interest here. My guess is any question they have can be answered by one of the many volunteers. My 15-month-old loved walking up and down the aisles like a little mini-conductor and our older girl had a blast chatting with the volunteer who punched our ticket and was dressed up a like a train robber.
We were advised to get there 30 minutes before the train was set to leave and that’s a perfect amount of time to buy your tickets (if you didn’t already purchase online) and walk around a bit and explore. We didn’t do too much of that since it was raining but we did enjoy looking around inside the depot and seeing all the historical railroad artifacts, photos, and paraphernalia. There are two types of trips, the regular rides are more than an hour in length (our ride was 1:15 round-trip) and the shorter rides which tend to be those aimed more directly at children like the upcoming Punkin’ Pickin’ Run in October and the Santa Train in December are closer to 40 minutes. This is something to keep in mind if you have a child that is on the younger side because while our 5-year-old loved every minute of the trip, our littlest got antsy about half-way in.
- There is no working bathroom in any of the cars so BE SURE to use the restroom at the depot before leaving.
- No food or drink allowed on the train. Eat before your trip. These are restored antiques and should be treated as such.
- Yellow jackets seem to find train tracks a good place to build their nests. There are signs in the open-air car warning you to watch out for them. This should be taken very seriously and adults and children alike should be aware.
- Trains can be noisy and the whistle especially can scare young children so make sure you are keeping a close eye.
- While it’s perfectly okay to walk around the train before it leaves the station and once its started, it’s a good idea to start your trip seated so your kids can get used to the feeling of walking on a moving train.
- Look for the people wearing NARM shirts or name tags. These people are filled with all kinds of train knowledge and can answer almost any question our little one (or you) can think of about this wonderful piece of local history.
If I’ve convinced you to give it a try, there are plenty of opportunities before the end of the year to enjoy this local attraction. On October 12 enjoy one of the shorter rides, the Punkin’ Pickin’ Run which takes riders through the woods to Normal, AL, where all passengers will then disembark the train to visit a small pumpkin patch. Every child will be able to choose his or her very own pumpkin to take home! Then on both October 26 and November 2 you can take a longer ride and view all the fall colors from the peaceful picture windows on the train. And of course for two weekends in December (7, 8, and 14) there is the very popular Santa Train. This year NARM has added a first class train with its own dedicated Santa and a special treat in addition to the gift all children receive at the end of the ride. All tickets can be purchased online or at the depot. Since children’s rides tend to be especially popular, it’s a good idea to buy tickets early for those events.
What: Chase Depot and Railroad Museum
Where: 694 Chase Road, Huntsville, AL
When: Throughout the year
Cost: $15/$10 for regular rides, $15 all passengers for special trips (Santa, Punkin’ Pickin’, Peter Cottontail)
More Info: www.northalabamarailroadmuseum.com