Different eras

At the Eastern Shore Railway Museum, guests can tour several different cars representing different eras, styles and railroads. (Mike Holtzclaw, Daily Press / February 9, 2007)

Some museums allow you to walk through displays of historical items and photographs. The Eastern Shore Railway Museum allows you to walk through history. The museum, which opened in 1988, is located on the grounds of a train station that was built in 1886. But the museum isn't a building. It consists primarily of seven train cars representing different railroads, different eras and different functions.

The cars sit on the railroad tracks, with the station's original guard shanty and maintenance shed alongside. The original ticket station, sadly and inexplicably, was razed a few decades ago, but when the museum opened a vintage ticket station was imported from a nearby town to complete the image.

Of the seven trains, one (a rare 1912 wooden boxcar) is closed to the public and another (a Nickel Plate caboose) is being restored and will reopen this summer. The rest are part of the regular tour. They range from a Wabash caboose to a mid-20th century observation touring car that allowed wealthy passengers to view the passing countryside in high style, either from comfortably padded chairs or from the outdoor observation deck.

To generations that have grown up in the age of convenient and affordable air travel, the railway museum's cars will be revelations. Folks who have never taken a long train ride will be fascinated by the 1950s lightweight sleeping car from the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac line. Each unit in the train is a study in efficiency - so tiny that an adult can barely stand up and turn around, but fully equipped with a comfortable seat, a sink and toilet, a closet, and a wall that folds down into a bed.

If the railroad cars showcase what life was like on the rails, the museum tour - which costs just $2 for adults - provides a truly interesting education about what life was like in a small railroad town in earlier times.

The town of Parksley was built around the train station in 1886. In the station's heyday in the 1940s, 14 trains would pass through each day - seven freight and seven passenger. At that time, the ticket station was still divided into separate waiting areas for black and white passengers, and the walls bore small metal signs that banned spitting, due in part to a health concerns following a tuberculosis outbreak. (The ticket house is a two-story structure, allowing the station agent and his family to live upstairs.)

Inside the small structure that serves as the museum's lobby and gift shop, you'll find a collection of vintage items that will be endlessly fascinating to anyone who enjoys learning about old-fashioned railroads - pieces of clothing and equipment dating back to the 19th century, all used on the various rail lines that went through Virginia.

For several generations, it was the railroad that connected cities and regions across the United States. For visitors who only know that history through books and country songs, a visit to the Eastern Shore Railway Museum will make it seem far more real and immediate.

Mike Holtzclaw can be reached by phone at 928-6479 or by e-mailing >mholtzclaw@dailypress.com.


Info: 757-665-7725 or chinco teaguechamber.com/i-rail.html

Admission: $2 adults, kids under 12 admitted free

Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 1-4 p.m. on Sundays. The museum is closed on Wednesdays between November and March.

Eats: The Club Car, across the street from the railway museum, is an inexpensive and atmospheric place to grab lunch. The Lunch Box, also within walking distance, is a short-order restaurant where you can order sandwiches and other simple fare.

Lodging: There are several bed-and-breakfast establishments on the Eastern Shore, including several in nearby Onancock. Check out Colonial Manor (757-787-3521 or colonial manorinn.com), which has rooms starting at $60.

Getting there

Cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel to the Eastern Shore and continue on U.S. 13. You'll drive for about an hour before you hit Route 176. Turn left onto 176 into Parksley. The museum is on Dunne Avenue.

Tolls: It costs $12 to cross the bridge- tunnel, but the return trip is just $5 if it's within 24 hours.

From the Peninsula: Starting at J. Clyde Morris, it's almost exactly 100 miles. Speed limits vary on U.S. 13, so expect the trip to take about two hours each way.