Gavin has never really been a train kid. Sure, he enjoys watching Thomas and Friends from time to time, but he was never train-crazy like some of my nephews have been. I remember my sisters taking their kids to the Minnesota Children's Museum to see the Thomas exhibit when it was there, taking them to the Jackson Street Roundhouse, taking them down along hwy 61 just to watch the trains go by, visiting and shopping at Choo Choo Bob's Train Store. I thought Gavin would be more into trains, but he just hasn't been, and that's perfectly fine with me! He has so many other interests, I don't know if we could keep up with one more! He's into tractors and motors, dirt-biking and ninjas, inventing and building and creating and how things work, making his own recipes and potions, and drawing all things mechanical!
However, on our way to our family lake place, we drive past the old "Minnesota Zephyr" train station. The Minnesota Zephyr was a dinner train operating out of historic rivertown Stillwater, Minnesota for 20 years, which served nearly 1 million diners in it's time. The Zephyr's operation closed several years ago. The dining cars were sold in 2012 and moved by truck to Bayport, MN just south of Stillwater and then were later transported by rail to Colorado. The two engines were to be moved later, but as of today, they still sit on blocks in the old parking lot for the Zephyr's station. Every time we drive by them, Gavin asks about them. He wants to know why they don't travel anymore and why they went out of business. We've explained that the trains worked with tickets just like we have to buy tickets to ride on an airplane or buy tickets to go see a play or a movie. The money from the tickets helps pay for the costs of running the business like paying the pilot for the plane or the train engineer, like paying for fuel, the food served, etc.
One day when driving through Stillwater and passing by the abandoned engines, he said out of the blue, "Mom, next time your job pays you for working there, can you give that money to the people who own the trains so they can pay to get them running again and we can go ride on them?" Oh, dear sweet, naive child... if only it were that easy. (If only I made that much money and didn't need my paycheck!)
A few weeks ago on our way home from the lake, I had both kids in their jammies and Addison fell asleep in the car. It was a quiet Sunday evening in Stillwater and no one was in sight. I decided to stop and let Gavin have a closer look at the engines. They're beautiful, really. We weren't in any hurry and as long as Addison was peacefully asleep, there was no rush to get home. It was still light outside and it was a lovely, cool summer evening. I parked the car near the engines and left the car doors open, so she would easily see us if she woke up. Addison slept in peace while Gavin explored the engines! There was no indication that they didn't want us exploring - no barriers or signs or anything and there is a nice little parking lot right there. They did have the doors of the engines chained for safety, but they were still open about 6" so we could get a pretty good peek inside the engines too!
Worn and weathered leftover sections of the old platform were a reminder of these engines' glorious, shining history.
They were so surprisingly big close-up. This little guy was dwarfed next to the huge engines.
It's often these unplanned little stops along the way on an ordinary day that make the greatest impression. This was a really neat little adventure that only took about 20 minutes and was completely free. It's important, I think, to just get out of the car sometimes and explore at a slower pace... to look around you and appreciate what you often miss. This time it was the Zephyr, but sometimes it is a little patch of wildflowers along the roadside, a babbling creek, a family of geese in a pond, a sandy patch along the bottom of a limestone bluff, a caterpillar making it's coccoon along a walking path. Get out and explore!