The In The Shadow of the Railroad Museum Blog is Back!

I am proud to bring back the In The Shadow of the Railroad Museum Blog after being on a hiatus for a few years!

Over the past few years since I premiered this blog over at Blogger, I had it up for a few months but for personal reasons I ended up taking it down.  In addition, I have became a member of and proudly became a train crew member at yet another railroad museum in Florida:  The Gold Coast Railroad Museum in Miami.

Just recently I switched web hosting providers and my new web hosting provider provides much better support for not only my websites but for blogs hosted on the WordPress platform.  When I converted the Edward Ringwald Blog from Blogger over to WordPress I has very impressed with the look and feel of WordPress.  That said, I decided to bring back the In The Shadow of the Railroad Museum Blog and put it in my awesome blog collection here at the Edward Ringwald Websites Network.

I know, it’s been a few years for this blog but you’ll see more exciting entries to come.  But for the time being, please feel free to sit back in your comfy railroad coach seat and enjoy.

Welcome to In the Shadow of the Railroad Museum!

Hello, and welcome to another great blog written by Edward Ringwald (that’s me).  I got to admit, I have been a railroad enthusiast since my childhood years, going back to the days when Amtrak used to run to St. Petersburg.

Back in those days if you lived here in St. Petersburg you could take a nice day trip on Amtrak to Clearwater or even Tampa and return the same day.  In fact, right after I got out of school for the day my grandmother would take me to the Amtrak station in St. Petersburg to let me see the Silver Star start making its 1,200+ mile northward trek to New York City as Train 82.

But Amtrak service into St. Petersburg would not last for long.  Amtrak decided to discontinue service to St. Petersburg in February 1984, replacing it with bus service to Tampa Union Station which continues to this day.  After all, buses are subject to the same traffic delays out there on any of the major bridges connecting St. Petersburg with Tampa including Interstate 275’s Howard Frankland Bridge, which was at the time a single four lane span prone to accidents.

Today, the options are very limited for a resident of the Tampa Bay region as far as a day trip on the rails is concerned.  While Miami-Ft. Lauderdale has a great rail based mass transit system thanks to Tri-Rail, and Orlando is just about to get its rail based mass transit system thanks to SunRail in May 2014, the Tampa Bay region basically has a lack of rail based mass transit.  In fact, rail travel in the Tampa Bay region is more excursion based rather than commuter based; the Tampa Bay region resident is practically limited to three choices as far as same day rail travel is concerned: 

1.  Round trip on Amtrak’s Silver Star (which is today’s Train 91 southbound and Train 92 northbound) to Winter Haven and back.  It is possible to go to Sebring and back in the same day and I’ve done it several times, but a trip of this nature has to depend on the timeliness of the southbound Train 91 in order to avoid having to spend extra money on a hotel room in the Sebring area.

2.  A trip on the TECO Streetcar Line linking Ybor City with downtown Tampa including the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

3.  A weekend excursion trip on a train run by the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish, a northern Manatee County community located on US 301 five miles east of the southern terminus of Interstate 275 at Interstate 75.  It’s a six mile train ride from Parrish to the community of Willow located on the Hillsborough-Manatee county line and the trip is not only fun but educational too!

Now let me talk to you a little bit about the Florida Railroad Museum, if I could get your attention for just a moment.  (Just like I would say when I give my safety briefing to the passengers in my assigned car).

The Florida Railroad Museum was founded in 1982 with the goal of preserving Florida’s bygone railroading history as the Florida Gulf Coast Railroad Museum.  The museum began with donations of railroad passenger cars from the golden age of railroading and in 1987 ran a series of excursion trains on the former Atlantic Coast Line track from Tarpon Springs southward to Clearwater in conjunction with CSX Transportation (which was formed from the merger of several railroads including Atlantic Coast Line’s successor, Seaboard Coast Line) as CSX was getting ready to abandon the section of track from Tarpon Springs south to Clearwater.

The museum moved into its present day grounds in Manatee County in the 1990’s after negotiating a lease of the trackage from Florida Power & Light, which wanted to maintain rail access to its Manatee Power Plant after CSX abandoned the section of track from Willow to Ellenton Junction.  The terms and conditions of the lease was very simple:  All the Florida Railroad Museum had to do was to maintain the track.

Today the Florida Railroad Museum offers regular train rides on Saturdays and Sundays as well as themed train rides scheduled at various times throughout the year.  Speaking of themed train rides, the museum offers plenty of them for all ages at various times throughout the year including:

The Hole-in-the-Head Gang Train Robbery

The Murder Mystery Dinner Train

A Day Out With Thomas (which is a popular favorite among children and is based on the Thomas and Friends TV series featuring Thomas the Tank Engine and Sir Topham Hatt). 

The Peter Cottontail Express, held around Easter

The Pumpkin Patch Express, held usually the weekend before Halloween

Von Kessinger’s Express, a World War II reenactment usually held around Veteran’s Day

The North Pole Express, held on three weekends in December on Thursday through Sunday nights before the Christmas holiday (this is also a popular favorite for the holiday season; it is so popular that tickets sell out rather quickly once tickets go on sale) 

Your experience begins the moment you step on board the train.  After finding where you want to sit and the train leaves the train station in Parrish, you are taking a ride that takes you back to the days when taking the train was indeed the way to go.  The rails that the museum’s train operates were laid in 1903 and the train takes you on a six mile journey through the woodlands of the Florida that once was, before the era of interstate highways such as Interstate 275 and air travel such as Tampa International Airport and Southwest Airlines. 

Once your train arrives in the community of Willow, you get to see the switching operations from one of the open air passenger cars and you get to see the yard in Willow.  In fact, the yard at Willow has a lot of history to it:  Willow started out as a company town for a logging mill operation in the early 1920’s; by 1929 the Great Depression hit which resulted in the shutdown of the logging mill’s operations.  An attempt to revive the logging mill was attempted in the 1930’s was to no avail.

The line that the Florida Railroad Museum runs on was laid in 1903 by a subsidiary of the Seaboard Air Line (SAL) Railroad, which was fully acquired in later years.  The line used to be the home of many of SAL’s great passenger trains including Tampa to Venice service.  In 1967 SAL and its competitor, Atlantic Coast Line (ACL) merged to form Seaboard Coast Line (SCL).  Upon the formation of SCL thanks to the merger, duplicate rail lines were being abandoned at an albeit fast rate; SCL at the time favored the ACL route paralleling US 41 (which is today’s CSX AZA Line, the home of the Tropicana Juice Train).  Passenger service on the line from Tampa to Venice was discontinued in 1971 when Amtrak came into operation.

Unfortunately, the former SAL line was slowly being abandoned from the Hillsborough County community of Durant (east of Valrico) southward towards the bridge spanning the Little Manatee River.  But Miami-based Florida Power & Light (FP&L) needed to maintain its rail access to its Manatee Power Plant, and FP&L purchased 12 miles of the rail line from Willow south to Ellenton, including Parrish.

Once the line was purchased by FP&L, who was going to maintain it?  After all, FP&L is in the power business providing reliable electric service to millions of Floridians from Bradenton and Sarasota south to Ft. Lauderdale and Miami.  But not in the railroad business.  Enter the Florida Railroad Museum and its willingness to maintain the six mile stretch of line from Parrish to Willow and – voila – the rest is history.

Today all that is left of the CSX ownership of the rail line – which is the SW Line in CSX-speak – is a short spur from the AZA Line in Palmetto south of 10th Street to Ellenton.

I have a great page on the Florida Railroad Museum including a slideshow gallery of pictures for your viewing enjoyment.  You can find that page on my website of all things Edward Ringwald at!

Admission for the regular ride days for adults (as of December 2013) is only $14.00, while children 3 to 11 years of age can ride for only $10.00.  Children under 3 get to ride for free.  Remember, themed train rides are priced differently and it depends on the specific themed train ride; therefore, a check of the Florida Railroad Museum’s website is highly recommended.

Don’t you know that the Florida Railroad Museum has cabooses available for charter?  A caboose charter is perfect for your child’s birthday party, wedding reception, family get-togethers – the possibilities are endless!  Again, the Florida Railroad Museum’s website has all the details on how you can charter the caboose for your next best party or event.

With all the introductory stuff about what this blog is all about in mind, I am going to close out this first entry with a video that I made of trains passing through Tampa’s Ybor City that is on my YouTube channel for your viewing pleasure.  This video showcases Amtrak’s northbound Silver Star (Train 92) as it makes the backing move into Tampa Union Station and the departure for the continuation of its northbound journey, as well as a CSX train hauling freight to South Tampa.  This video has been viewed over 80,000 times since I posted it and it’s the most popular video on my YouTube channel!  So sit back, relax, and enjoy the video:

And by the way, stay tuned for more entries here from In the Shadow of the Railroad Museum!