(check website for departure times)
To say the least, the Florida Railroad Museum was not what I expected. I assumed that this train ride would be, at best, eye-rollingly dull, fit only for children and train nuts … and at its worst, hokey. However, I was surprised to find it was none of these things! Quite the contrary, it was a quite enjoyable 90-minute excursion.
Located in the small country town of Parrish, off SR 301 halfway between Sarasota and Tampa, this collection of old railcars – some still operational, some permanently stopped – is a real treat.
The ride itself, while only 6 1/2 miles, tootles along at 15 miles an hour through Florida swamps, Spanish moss-festooned forests, and “you pick-em” fruit fields. We boarded through an air-conditioned restaurant car from the 50s, and sat in a reconditioned baggage car on secondhand school bus seats. The windows were removed to afford al fresco contact with the countryside. No yellowed windows here!
Don’t expect a guided tour with some guy on a bullhorn, though. You can get information about these trains only by asking the all-volunteer staff. And they will go on about railroad history if you continue standing next to them. It was from them that we learned that the curiously divided car ahead of us was a former “Jim Crow” car with separate partitions for blacks and whites, decommissioned after the Civil Rights Movement. (The segregated water fountains had been removed.) The fourth one was a converted phosphate hopper car that provides a bumpier ride than the others. The train traveled up to Willow, a ghost town that was formerly a prosperous sawmill town until the Great Depression. There are about a dozen train cars parked there, some being worked on.
Back in Parrish, the parked cars are more presentable and include a Tropicana refrigerator car and a Pullman sleeper whose compartments still have their bedsprings and cloth covers from 1948. Although a bit musty and in need of restoration, it is open to the public. Tickets (for non-special events) are $14 for adults and $10 for children. If you are in Tampa Bay, this museum is definitely worth a trip!
Also, you can consult the web site for special events such as a “Murder Mystery Dinner Train” and “Hobo Saturday.”