COLUMN: All aboard for the Kentucky Railway Museum

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By Deanna Godman

Like most young children, my daughter has always been fascinated by trains. She talked about trains. She watched the trains go by when we were driving (the trellis at Pope Lick is especially popular). We watched TV shows about trains. And several years in a row, she received pieces to a train set.

So when my husband found a Groupon available for the Kentucky Railway Museum, we leaped at the chance to take our then 3-year-old on a real train ride.
The Kentucky Railway Museum is located in New Haven, which is approximately an hour away from Spencer County. We were given a specific time to arrive for our train ride, and told to allow about an hour to tour the train museum. We arrived in New Haven early so that we could eat lunch before out trip, but learned that most of the restaurants in the area were closed or out of business. We ended up having a picnic of fried chicken from a local gas station.
The museum is filled with train equipment and artifacts from the early days of the railroads, including a handcar. It is a small museum, but is filled with fascinating railway objects. Each item in the museum has a description, sometimes paragraphs long, explaining the history, since they do not have docents available (or at least did not the day we visited). This is wonderful for train enthusiasts or more patient adults, but I was the only person in my party interested in reading very much inside the museum.
One interesting thing I learned about was the invention of time zones, and how it related to the railways. Communities used to set their own time, based on solar time. It does make sense that it should be noon exactly when the sun is overhead, and that even within a time zone, the placement of the sun will vary according to how far west a city is. With the introduction of railways, rapid transit made it difficult for communities to have times that differed so widely from one another. It was proposed (by Sir Sanford Fleming) to have standardized time zones so that the trains could run on time.
The highlight of the day was the train ride, of course. Our daughter has never been fond of loud noises, so we were concerned with how she would do with the sound of the engine and the whistle. While she did jump when she heard the whistle, and covered her ears each time, she loved riding the train. She sat on her knees and stared out the window at the passing countryside, enraptured by the fact that she was on a train.
The train conductor came through to punch our tickets and told us the history of the museum. Handing our tickets over (just like on Dinosaur Train, a popular cartoon) and getting them back was one highlight of the trip for my daughter.
The Kentucky Railway Museum owns a decommissioned track in New Haven, which enables it not only to host the train rides, but also allows it to claim a permanent home. The museum was previously located in Jefferson County, on La Grange Road. The lease ran out in 1993, however, and the museum had to relocate. Rather than lease another location with a track and run the risk of needing to move again, the museum purchased 17 miles of track in LaRue and Nelson counties from CSX, which had decided to abandon that portion of track.
The railroad runs past rural and farming land. Horses, chickens cows and other livestock are sometimes visible, and occasionally wildlife can be seen. The train stops in New Hope to turn around. There is a small convenience store (not museum-run) where visitors can pick up snacks before boarding the train for the return journey.
We enjoyed the trip so much that the following summer we took my mother, sister-in-law and 8-month-old nephew to ride the train again. The baby got so relaxed by the rumbling of the train that he slept for much of the ride.
Our daughter asks frequently when she can return. The Kentucky Railway Museum is worth the trip, especially for kids of any age who love trains. The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace and the Boyhood Home are only a few miles down the road from New Haven, and can make the outing into a trip to take up the whole day.