A very pleasant surprise, this museum which is right next to Zoo Miami (formerly MetroZoo) was a perfect morning outing with the kids. We got to see loads of trains as well as about 10 nice model train setups. This brought back memories (those again!?!) of my old Lionel set (long lost) that I had back in the day – I wonder how I didn’t get massive electric shocks and realize now why the push trains have taken over. And, in this day and age, the unavoidable Thomas the Train was well-represented – particularly in the huge play area with loads of push-train sections that my 4 1/2 year old son was absolutely nuts for. We probably could have (but didn’t) spent the whole day just there because he had such a ball except that the battles between kids for “my train” became more and more frequent and after a while, us adults were pretty much ready to move on. The other highlights of the museum:
- A nearly complete Silverliner train in Stainless Steel complete with dome viewing area on the roof and sleeper cabins. We weren’t sure we would all want toilets in our sleeper cabins but in terms of privacy, you can’t complain. The cars were very well preserved and made you yearn for them to make a comeback
- A poignant display with a segregated car and information about the black Pullman porters. The interesting side note though is that the black porters did get to see the whole country and also bring back ideas to the South as they traveled. The sad bit was that, for example, when they got to the end of the line, they were excluded from all local accommodations and so had to stay on the train. Inside the model exposition area I mentioned, there was an (entirely uncommented) exhibit about the porters including a retirement certificate (31 years 9 months of service), some paintings and uniforms, and a few books about the porters and their connection to the creation of the black middle class. Floridians have always been skittish about the legacy of slavery and segregation (not having been as publicly scorned as neighboring ‘Bama, ‘Sippi, or Georgia) and perhaps that explains the lack of explanation there. That being said, in the segregated car, there was a bit more documentation and such. One interesting tidbit is that Bessie Smith got her fame due to the porters transporting here music across the country. If she had ever been able to claim money for any of her music, she would have had several gold records because according to the panel, there were about 16-20 million copies of her albums exchanged.
- The Presidential Railcar which we didn’t get to visit – last used by Reagan for one day…
- The train ride. Now this one was purely for the kids. It appears you are on a tiny steam train when in fact, when you are on the back of the train, as we were, you can hear the electric motor humming away. Kids loved it though.
- The site was actually where they used to store blimps – or airships – during WWII and there is some documentation of that in the museum shop as well as a few models of the U-boats that they were intended to track. Unfortunately, the entire site and all three mega-hangars (17 stories tall each!!) were destroyed with 236 aircraft as well by a huge hurricane in 1945. The site was leveled and never used for military purposes after that. The price tag for that damage was $40M – a fortune at that time.
- The gift shop also had loads of Thomas the Train magazines and paraphernalia but as it started to pour down rain and the kids were starving by then, I didn’t get enough time to grab anything there…