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Before the summer ends, take your kids to ride on a 1920s locomotive in Danbury for free

In the heart of Danbury, lies a museum with a fully restored train station dedicated to educating its community about the history of railroading as a part of local heritage. Built in 1903, the museum houses collections of artifacts, model trains and a research library on the railroading industry in New England and the northeastern United States.

As a part of the Connecticut Summer at the Museum program, the Danbury Railway Museum is offering free admission to children 18 and under, plus an accompanying adult. As a museum with a mission to educate children, they are happy to welcome visitors they might not usually have.

The program is funded through a $10 million investment from federal coronavirus relief funding and runs through Monday, Sept. 4.

Dave Fuller, a volunteer at the museum, is the conductor of the 1925 passenger coach car that visitors can take a short ride in.

Dave Fuller, volunteer train engineer at the Danbury Railroad Museum, drives the Alco RS-1 diesel locomotive shuttling guests on the “The Railyard Local”. In operation since 1995, the museum is housed in the historic Union Station that opened in 1903 but fell into disrepair by the 1990’s. Today, the museum contains railroad artifacts, historic photographs and model train exhibits inside, and a 10-acre historic railroad yard outside. Through the Connecticut Summer at the Museum program, children receive free admission at all Connecticut museums through Sept 4, 2023.
Greg Miller
/
Connecticut Public
Dave Fuller, volunteer train engineer at the Danbury Railroad Museum, drives the Alco RS-1 diesel locomotive shuttling guests on the “The Railyard Local”.

“We don’t work here, we play here,” he said. “When I was a little kid, all I wanted to do was drive locomotives – be a locomotive engineer – and my parents, because I am probably the last generation now that would have worked for the railroad in my family, said ‘No way under God’s sun are you ever gonna be a railroad worker.’ So, I had to wait for my parents to pass away before I became one.”

John Eaton is the train’s car host. He makes sure to gather all the visitors beforehand and lets out a loud “All Aboard!” which visiting children seem to love. The train makes several stops before its final destination and Eaton gives visitors a little snippet of Connecticut’s industrial past.

“Connecticut was a big factory state, we made toys and trucks and tanks and toasters and Timex watches,” he said. For generations, Danbury was also one of the biggest hat manufacturers in the entire world.

That industry died down post World War II and the train station fell into disrepair because it was rarely used. But in 1996, the museum changed location and fully restored Danbury Union Station. Since then, the Metro-North has donated cars and cranes, the museum has purchased their own trains, and they’re working on restoring a railway turntable.

John Eaton (center), volunteer “car host” at the Danbury Train Museum, shares historic information along the “The Railyard Local”.
Greg Miller
/
Connecticut Public
John Eaton (center), volunteer “car host” at the Danbury Train Museum, shares historic information along the “The Railyard Local”.

Wade Roese has been with the museum since 1996, he’s a former president. He says people who visit are always surprised by what they find within the museum’s ten-acre railyard.

“This [program] is a part of our kid-oriented program. We have lots of functioning model trains which kids love,” Roese said. “It’s amazing because we’ll have kids come in and they’ll run up to an exhibit and go ‘Oh. This is new!’ I mean, our [adult] members won’t recognize when we have something new, but the kids always do.”

The museum is open year round. From April to November, visitors can ride the Railyard Local. Danbury Railroad is completely run by volunteers that are in charge of maintaining the equipment, museum operations, and restoring old locomotives.

Lesley Cosme Torres is an Education Reporter at Connecticut Public. She reports on education inequities across the state and also focuses on Connecticut's Hispanic and Latino residents, with a particular focus on the Puerto Rican community. Her coverage spans from LGBTQ+ discrimination in K-12 schools, book ban attempts across CT, student mental health concerns, and more. She reports out of Fairfield county and Hartford.

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