These two simple words run like an electrical charge through my 3-year-old son, filling him with visible joy. We are going to ride a train! A real-life, metal monster with jets of white steam, a clanging bell and engineers shoveling coal!
Trains hold a special magic for young and old alike, and for a mind filled with Thomas the Tank Engine, seeing the real thing is like a dream come true. The Georgia State Railroad Museum in Savannah is a place where just such magic happens.
Located in the heart of downtown Savannah, the Georgia State Railroad Museum could very well be a hidden gem in the midst of the hustle and bustle of downtown. The museum may be found at the foot of the Talmadge Bridge right off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
It is a sprawling complex consisting of well-worn brick buildings housing offices, workshops and a fully functional roundhouse and turntable. When you visit, you will be greeted by several acres of locomotives of all sizes and types, as well as rail cars that range from a bright red caboose to fully restored presidential luxury cars that hearken back to a golden age of travel. Nearly all of these are open to you to explore or accompany a denim-clad guide on a free tour -- a guide who in the garb of an engineer is not only informative, but with neckerchief and cap, is also covered with soot for he is fresh from actually driving one of the fully restored and operating locomotives at the museum.
The centerpiece of the Georgia State Railroad Museum is the 85-foot turntable that functions just as it has for more than 100 years and the opportunity it offers in actually riding one of these restored locomotives. Several times a day these locomotives are operating, carrying visitors on a short ride but offering memories that can last a lifetime. Jets of steam, the shrill whistle, the clack and clang of iron on steel are all felt and heard, and you will be transported to another age -- an age before texting while driving, HOV lanes and road rage even entered our minds.
Recently, my family and I visited the Georgia State Railroad Museum for the first time. Not only were my children thrilled to play among the cars and buildings, but the train ride was something that has certainly left an impression. The staff were friendly and helpful and before we knew it we had spent several hours exploring and enjoying the entire museum. The Georgia State Railroad Museum offers a unique experience that should not be missed, a coupling of fun and learning where you will be tempted to turn off your phone and simply enjoy stepping back in time.
The Georgia State Railroad Museum is at 601 W. Harris St., just off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Savannah. It is a 30-minute ride from Bluffton and as you descend from the Talmadge Bridge, you can even see the sprawling facilities and unique buildings. The museum is open at 11 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday, and train rides are offered on most days but on a varied schedule: diesel rides are at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.; steam rides are at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.; all Sunday rides are at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. only. Schedule and locomotives are subject to change, so you are advised to call ahead. Admission is $10 for adults and includes train rides and regularly scheduled activities; admission is $4 for children 6 and younger; free for children 1 and younger. The museum is also open for group events such as weddings and other activities. Details: www.chsgeorgia.org, 912-651-6823
THE CROSSROADS OF TECHNOLOGY AND HISTORY
In 1827 the South Carolina Railroad was chartered, and it created a technological stampede that was akin to the iPhone revolution. With a single rickety track running from Charleston to Augusta, commerce changed as cotton no longer had to make its laborious way to the coast for shipping. Within a short time, the Central Railroad and Canal Company was formed in Savannah to counteract this new marvel of the industrial age that was siphoning off profits from Georgia businesses. When the ravages of the Civil War came to Savannah, the sprawling railroad facility was spared General W.T. Sherman's torches for it enabled him to repair his equipment and guns before resuming his terrible "March to the Sea" through South Carolina. The roundhouse, repair shops and buildings of the Georgia State Railroad Museum is home to facilities that are believed to be the best preserved and largest antebellum railroad repair and service facility in the world -- and only a short distance from Bluffton.
Bluffton resident Matt Richardson enjoys taking day trips with his family and exploring the Lowcountry. To see more pictures from his adventures, go to www.Flickr.com and search on the username "greenkayak73." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.