I honestly didn't care much about trains until my son bombarded me with his Thomas obsession. I then heard about the Day Out with Thomas celebration at this location. While that had its own fun, mostly for the kids, I fell in love with the big steamer they have when we went again in the fall. I went on more excursions after, some diesel, some steam, but nothing beats the steam to strike that deep, inner nerve of nostalgia.
I've watched many trains over the years, but nothing, NOTHING beats the thrill of those puffs of smoke and steam while the big 2-8-2 comes charging down the line. Since it backs into the station, we often ride it to the Mine stop, get off, picnic there, and wait for it to come back to pick us up. This is the best spot to watch it come in full force and speed. It will go back up the line and back up to pick you up from there. You don't have to buy the mine package to stop there, only if you want to take part in the mine tour (fun for younger kids.)
The views of the river are better in spring/early summer and fall, as otherwise the foliage blocks some of the view. Other reviewers complained about the views of the backs of houses, but I guess I'm one of those folks who finds that fascinating, as I always enjoyed nosing at people's and business' backyards while riding NJTransit. It's a differing view you don't really get to see otherwise.
The track and station area, while nothing fancy, have their own historical charm. There is a placard for Lehigh Valley RR under the stone bridge. Across the tracks by the river are the remnants of other stone structures. There is a nearby skate park, and towards the back of it is an exit to a trail in the woods that follows some old rails that cut through chunks of mountain. Not sure who owns this property, so be wary, but it's neat to look at. There are also old lime kilns which you can view as one of the stops for the Easter egg hunt or the Pumpkin pick (both for kids.) There are also historical remnants throughout town in a short walking distance of the station.
I recommend a ride during the cooler times of year. I don't care for heat at all, so I'm biased, but the antique passenger cars, while having fans, are not air conditioned (the onboard gift shop is though.) Windows do open though, at least in the cars we were in. The conductors and engineers dress in old-timey railroading gear, and on the regular excursions (to the mine or corn maze) they play old-fashioned piano music.
If you sign up for their mailing list, you can sometimes get coupons. I took my father to the "Dads Ride Free" weekend, and he said it was one of the best times he's had in a long time. We took the steam train for that ride. Totally worth it. Say what you want, but I prefer the smell of coal to diesel. Just an FYI the passenger cars do use diesel to generate electricity, so you may smell some exhaust at times. The workers are always willing to answer questions about steam and railroading.
The Day Out with Thomas venture is a lot of fun for the kids but very, very busy and crowded. That's to be expected though. However it's worth going just to see the real Thomas-painted steam engine in action. The first time I saw it start chuffing and puffing, *I* got chills! There are train tables and mega bloks for the kids to play with while waiting for or after rides. Of course you have to exit through the gift shop they set up (if you want the free prize,) but the merchandise, while pricey, is comparable to sourcing the items locally (unless you have an AC Moore coupon for the wooden railway.) There are bounce houses, a petting zoo, and other forms of entertainment and snacks to buy, but the kids are all cramming towards the train tables.
There is also an active Norfolk Southern freight line that passes over the bridge with trains running frequently, something the kids might enjoy viewing. I will state that while this in no way is the fault of DRR Excursions, it is very open towards the active tracks as you walk down the path to get to the station and festivities. Keep a close eye on the kids passing this area. I think NS should put a fence there, just in that spot considering this tourist attraction, but that's NS's call to make.
It is certainly pricier than a NJTransit ride, but remember that this is a non-profit organization, and your dollars go towards preserving history for generations to come. Most of the people who operate it are volunteers. The typical excursion is more reasonable, the Thomas train is pricey, but I imagine it isn't cheap to get a hold of a replica Thomas engine as well as provide the other festivities.
While I make it a point not to go in summer except for the Thomas excursion (and it is hot on that train, I will warn you, for those who don't do heat well) we all enjoy ourselves every time we go. While I'm sure there are fancier operations elsewhere, for where I live in NJ, it's a direct ride and a great time, whether we're riding or just stopping to watch as we explore the rest of the area. And there's no greater rush than seeing that steamer barreling down the line.
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