A large crowd of residents and visitors gathered on Saturday at the Atchison Railroad Museum to mark the fourth annual Atchison Train Festival, a celebration of our town’s history on rails.
For about 30 years, the great 811 steam locomotive has served as the centerpiece element of the museum. In operation since 1989, it also is the host of today’s Atchison County Rail Festival, which is a key element for tourism and business throughout the Atchison community.
“This is a piece of our history,” said Maria Miller, Visit Atchison tourism director, who organizes the event with the host Northeast Kansas Railroaders. “This is what we have and what Atchison is known for. And so we’re really excited to host this community event, so we can open some of the train cars and let people go inside them.”
The event is catered to families who know they hardly will need to ask their children twice, “Hey, want to come check out a choo choo?”
With the historic artifacts, activities like Atchison-Topeka & Santa Fe-themed mini railroad, a balloon artist and a performance by blues guitarist Dan Bliss, the reasons people from across the region got on board with the festival are clear.
“We all start as little kids and grow up to be big kids,” said Dave Haupt, treasurer of the Northeast Kansas Railroaders. “(This is) for the little kids riding the train and enjoying Thomas, up to my age and then going even older.”
The kids had free run of the Atchison Railroad Museum, extending outdoors for almost 10 blocks of parked, historic rail cars, cabooses and service vehicles.
“My son’s on the autism spectrum,” said visitor David Greene, of Overland Park, Kansas. “Trains are one of the things that kind of keeps him (busy), or retains his focus on things, and it’s something that he gets very excited about. So, it’s all about the kids.”
Wei Chen, an assistant professor of decision sciences and supply chain management at the University of Kansas School of Business, traveled from Lawrence to attend the festival.
“We have a small kid at home, and we want him to have something educational to enjoy,” Chen said. “For small children like him, I think this is a really fun experience.”
Greene said he wishes more towns would make the kind of investment Atchison has made in the restoration of history.
“You know, I never really knew about the whole history of the railroad until coming here to this festival,” he said. “And I think if they do this in future, and make it bigger, it’s going to be a big hit around the area.”