A chorus of train whistles filled the Beaches Museum and History Park as families, collectors and enthusiasts flocked to Riding the Rails: Pablo Beach Train Day Saturday, Sept. 10.
Commemorating a time in Jacksonville when the train was a viable means of transportation, the event kicked off at 10 a.m. with live renditions of old-time songs performed by DoubleTake. Visitors were treated to a trip to the small worlds of yesteryear with two operating model trains in the 1900 FEC Mayport Depot and museum lobby, hamburgers and hotdogs courtesy of Boy Scout Troop 37 and tours of the museum’s 1911 steam train, Locomotive No. 7, where kids were welcome to sound its bell with a pull cord.
The inaugural event drew a crowd of locomotive professionals and hobbyists eager to share their interests with the children, many of whom were seeing trains for the first time.
Hobbyist Lloyd Lippert, who contributed antique pamphlets and a few of his own model trains to a display in the 1903 Pablo Beach post office, was more than happy to spread his passion to others. The collector and operator amassed a selection of toy trains mainly from the 1950s, many of which were restored with paint jobs he studied from Florida East Coast Railway Historian and event keynote speaker Seth Bramson’s book, “Speedway to Sunshine.”
“I just wanted to share the hobby because I get a lot of enjoyment out of it myself,” he said. “There’s a lot of great history with these trains. I’ve been a collector for about 20 years and … it’s made me happy, so I want to make sure others can enjoy this, too.”
In addition to numerous displays, Operation Lifesaver was in attendance to demonstrate train and railroad safety and a small-scale kiddie train carted kids and parents around the neighborhood aboard colorful train cars. Bramson took the Beaches Museum Chapel stage later in the day to present a lecture on the history of the Florida East Coast Railway, developments leading to the current day and the “boom and bust” of the railroad system. The 1900 FEC Foreman’s House was also open for tours.
Though the event was only presented for the first time this year, visitors expressed excitement at the prospect of Train Day becoming an annual event and appreciation for yet another slice of Jacksonville history being immortalized. Parents Jon and Whitney Carter welcomed the opportunity to show their 3-year-old daughter Jessica a form of transportation that could be obsolete when she’s older.
“When we were growing up, it wasn’t that rare to see steam locomotives,” said Jon. “I was raised playing with toy trains and … getting excited to hear the whistle late at night. By the time our daughter is our age, I think most of them will be replaced or retired.
“It’s hard to come by (trains) like this nowadays, so I think it’ll be really fantastic to have an event like this every year to teach kids about them and to preserve their history.”