Trains that go nowhere, and everywhere

I ask your  forgiveness if I nod off while writing this week’s column. (Or even worse, if YOU fall asleep while reading it.) That’s because my wife and I have just had the long-delayed, much-anticipated, highlight-of-the-year pleasure of having our son, his wife and our three grandkids (ages 20 months to 4 years) stay with us for nearly a week while they visited the mainland from their home on Oahu, Hawaii.
Now that they’ve gone back home, I’m sure I speak not only for myself, but also my wife when I say, we’re exhausted. It’s one thing to have your household instantly grow by five people, but to have three of those new houseguests be high maintenance, toy-tossing, bath-splashing, juice-guzzling, puzzle-playing, ankle biters of pre-school age – yikes a mighty. Stock up the fridge, abandon the sleep cycle and pass the Advil, please.
So, where do you go around here to entertain houseguests who live in a paradise like Hawaii? Certainly not the beach. That would be like taking Tiger Woods miniature golfing. A picnic or two by a mountain stream would have been nice. But Angeles Crest Highway is closed until further notice. Descanso Gardens? Too quiet and peaceful for our little house-monkeys. The family had just spent the day at the L.A. Zoo prior to coming to our house, so that option was out as well.
Luckily, we had a never-fail, always fun, wear-‘em-out, works every time destination up our grandparental sleeves – Travel Town. Officially, this haven of trains and transportation history just inside Griffith Park is called the Travel Town Museum. (5200 Zoo Drive, L.A. 90027 – take the Forest Lawn exit from the 134 Fwy – Phone: 323-662-9678 /
I’ve been visiting Travel Town since my own childhood – and have many fond memories of climbing up and into the various massive steel locomotives parked for all of time on railroad tracks that go nowhere. Give or take a retired steam belching behemoth or two, on any given day Travel Town has 16 or so locomotives in its collection, along with dozens of freight cars, cabooses, passenger cars, dining cars, sleeping cars, oil tankers, mail cars and other former tenants of the tracks. To stand alongside these huge locomotives with such names as Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, Southern Pacific and Western Pacific is to stand alongside history itself.
Over years, Travel Town has seen its share of improvements and renovations. Some of the exhibits have come and gone – including my personal favorites – the military fighter planes that used to be on display. At one time, I remember walking through a hangar-like building that housed T-Town’s impressive number of antique fire engines. But according to official materials, these vehicles were transferred to the brand new fire fighting museum in Los Angeles in late 2001. I guess I can live with that. After all, it’s called Travel Town, not the Fire Engine Farm.
What’s still there is a very impressive, massively imposing collection of the metal machines that helped build a nation, settle the west and ignite the wanderlust of countless adventurers, seekers of opportunity and captains of industry. Our Hawaiian houseguests found the Oahu Railway and Land Caboose, Coach and Passenger/Mail Car built in 1900 particularly fascinating.
To cap our visit to Travel Town, we bought tickets for the whole family; kids, uncles, mom and dad, ‘Tutu’ and ‘Kapuna’ (that’s Hawaiian for ‘Grandma’ & ‘Grandpa’, by the way) to ride the 18.5-inch gauge railroad that circles the park. The $2.50 cost of an optional ride on the miniature train is the only cost you’ll have if you want to visit Travel Town and bring your own snacks or picnic lunch for the day. Entrance to the park and to all the exhibits are (ready for this?) absolutely free. Now THAT’s worth blowing a whistle over.
I’ll see you ‘round town.