WASHINGTON—One young daughter sat on her dad’s shoulders as she blew a green train whistle and watched model trains travel a track. Another young boy jumped up, peering over the table to get a view of the model “Polar Express” train coming around the bend and blowing smoke behind its path.
It was all part of the National Postal Museum’s annual “Train Day” celebration this weekend, commemorating the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.
Three model train groups set up tracks throughout the museum, and visitors enjoyed a fun-filled day of train-themed games and activities.
When entering the atrium, visitors began at the Railway Post Office Training School, where they could learn to talk like a railway post office clerk. They learned terms like “rattler” (a freight train) and “dressing a rack” (preparing a train for mail service).
After testing their railway knowledge, visitors moved to the “Train Whistle Code School.” Kids could pick from different colors of bright yellow, blue, green, and purple train whistles to try their codes, filling the entire atrium with echoing whistle noises.
Boys and girls gathered around the “Coloring Corner” to color train cars, the museum’s mascot Owney the dog, who traveled with the railway post office, and other patterns.
Visitors pretended to be railway mail clerks inside the museum’s railway post office car, at which visitors sorted letters by destination in the train’s cubbies, just as railway mail clerks used to do.
Young children also tried their hands at being railway clerks. One at a time, they hopped on a small electric train engine and rode in a circle. They swung by one station picking up a mail bag before turning the bend and dropping the mail bag in a box on the other side of the track. The activity was meant to simulate how railway mail cars seldom made stops to pick up and drop off mail.
The Rappahannock Model Railroaders from Fredericksburg, Virginia, displayed a model train set in the museum atrium. The set showed people waiting on platforms and construction workers performing road maintenance.
The Northern Virginia NTRAK model railroading club’s track included smaller-sized trains and a freight-style Postal Service truck parked outside a bank and another Postal Service truck in what looked like a residential neighborhood. The trucks donned the old “standing eagle” Postal Service logo.
The largest track belonged to the Washington, Virginia, and Maryland Garden Railway Society in the museum lobby. Their set featured a large Amtrak train and displayed an early-1900s-style car which read “U.S. Mail” and also had the “standing eagle” logo.
Public Programs Manager Motoko Hioki said the event spiraled off of Amtrak’s celebration of train day several years ago.
Union Station, which serves several Amtrak routes is next door to the Postal Museum. The station used to host a National Train Day celebration at which several Washington-area model railroaders displayed their tracks. However, the station no longer does the event.
Hioki said around 5,000 people attended the Postal Museum’s train day event over the weekend.
The museum’s next event is called the “Dog Days of Summer” and is set for late July. The museum will celebrate railway mail dog Owney and other animals who played a part in postal history.
“We will also be celebrating the museum’s 25th birthday” Hioki said, though she declined to say how.
At the Dog Days event, the museum will partner with local animal rescue groups and the Amtrak Police K-9 Unit to host an adoption fair, according to the museum’s website.
The event is scheduled for July 28 and 29 at the National Postal Museum.
by Tasos Kalfas, @TasosKalfasWRGW