PARRISH – Just east of the outlet mall in Ellenton in Manatee County is the Florida Railroad Museum. It’s a museum of real trains put together by volunteers, and on weekends they take an old diesel engine, pull a couple of passenger cars, and ride up the rail to an abandoned logging “town” called Willow.
The trips take just over an hour; you get to see a few orange groves, creeks and strawberry fields. The railroad right of way is owned by Florida Power and Light; a conductor said that while the plant is fired by natural gas (pumped across the Gulf of Mexico, wow!), the rail line is preserved in case they ever need to refire the plant with coal in an emergency.
There are two engines that pull the cars, one used as backup. The cars have different histories. The observation car is basically a reworked freight car but the two passenger cars really take you back, including one that served on the Alaska railroad.
It’s a great family adventure, and the kids from age two to six seem to enjoy it the most.
At Christmas, there are Santa specials. On special occasions, the museum is taken over and becomes a vehicle for a Thomas the Tank Engine promotion. It’s a few miles past the Ellenton Prime Outlets on Route 301 on the route to Sun City in Manatee County.
Below, a video of the ride and some shots of the railroad and museum.