Sunday, January 8, 2012

#243: New York Central Railroad Museum

It started off as a trip to Amish Acres.  I have never visited this popular Nappanee tourist attraction, so I thought today, on this lazy, sunny Sunday, it would be a great brunch destination.  With thoughts of homebaked pies and pastries in mind, my cohort and I jumped in the car, and the 28 miles to Nappanee passed in a flash.  Following the signs, we arrived at Amish Acres...where there was only an empty parking lot to greet us.

A phone call confirmed that they were closed until March (disputing the hours listed online).  We decided that playing one round of 'the ring game' on the deserted grounds did not suffice for an adventure, and we got back into the car determined to find an alternate destination.

I admit that sometimes I hold local businesses to a double-standard.  I want the charm and authenticity of a place whose owner seems to be part of the community, a real person; on the other hand, I want convenience --why aren't most restaurants open in DTSB past 9PM!?!-- and clarity--why hasn't the website been updated in months?!?  Yet I must place my frustrations aside and remember that just as I cannot work 24/7, I cannot expect businesses to.  Owners need vacations and days home with the family just like I do.

We kept this in mind as we drove around looking for a local restaurant open on a Sunday.  Soon enough, somewhere near Bremen, we spotted a restaurant with a parking lot filled with American-made cars and a 'OPEN' sign in the window: Country Cafe.  The special was chicken and noodles, and the regulars were eating it up.  I myself was delighted by the hush puppies and sweet tea on the menu.  We filled up on the downhome cooking, so much so, no room for homemade pie was left.  But the day was still young, and we were still hungry for adventure.

We took the long way home, through Elkhart, and thanks to smartphones, we realized that the National New York Central Railroad Museum was nearby, just across from the Amtrak station downtown.  I didn't know any more than that, but that was enough reason to drive past.  And I am so glad we did.  Although the parking lot was rather empty, this time, the neon 'OPEN' sign was on to welcome us inside. 

The museum recounts the history of railroads, both in the region and nationwide, and appropriately, is housed in 1915 passenger coach.  The gift shop is in 100 year old freight house.  There are artifacts and photos in a timeline sequence that show how railroads were built and operated, what it was like to travel via rail, and when and where trains went.
The South Shore

I found this museum wonderfully interactive, and to be honest, I was more excited by the Brio set and functioning conductor's bell as much as the historical displays.  The indoor museum ends in a wonderful model train room, which features models of the trains displayed outdoors.

If one enjoys playing around inside, the outside holds even greater fun.  The "rolling stock" consists of (at least?) five trains.  First is the Mohawk, #3001, the only one remaining in the world, which is the largest piece of steam equipment this line featured.  It is jaw-dropping.  The wheels are taller than an average adult.

There are boxcars, the lead car of the last east-bound 20th Century route, a 150-ton crane, and an old South Shore train car.  (I found that South Shore's interior design hasn't changed much in the years.)  The best part?  You can hoist yourself up onto the decks and explore inside.  If you've ever been to a ghost town out west, you know what I'm talking about.  Passing trains add to the ambiance.

We drove back to South Bend a little more knowledgeable about railroad history.  It was only appropriate that the route home paralleled the tracks.  The museum was a true delight and the perfect way to spend a snowless, wintry Sunday. 

Where:  721 S. Main Street, Elkhart, IN
Phone: 574.294.3001
When: Sundays, noon - 4 PM; closed Mondays; Tuesday-Saturday, 10 AM - 4PM
Cost: $5/adult; $4 for children and seniors

Did I mention you can climb on them?  (I think...) Of course, I couldn't resist striking my best conductor pose.
One cool fact I remember: Elkhart once had the largest railyard in the world...and is still second overall.  This picture helps:

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  1. Thanks for the info! BTW, I believe that Amish Acres is closed on Sundays, even in the summer season (as are most Amish attractions).

  2. Y'know, that would make sense, given their traditional values! At Amish Acres (and unlike Shipshewana), they open up their doors to visitors on Sundays. The website lists Sunday hours as 10 AM - 5 PM ( we just didn't read the part about the new year!

    Look for a post on Amish Acres in March...


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