The beginnings of the Florida Railroad Museum actually predate the museum itself. A form of the museum was started in 1981 and the museum itself was later recognized in 1982 as the official State of Florida railroad museum (it is also known as the Florida Gulf Coast Railroad Museum). Located in Parrish, Florida (just outside of St. Petersburg) today the museum highlights railroading in general but tries to cover Florida’s rail history in particular. Along with featuring several pieces of rolling stock and locomotives (including a number of operational diesels, an Alco RS3, EMD GP7, and GE 44-tonner) the museum also has several other activities you can take part in, such as excursion trips. If you are in the area please consider paying them a visit, it is certainly worth the price of admission.
While I suppose no railroad museum looks to date its presentation to a specific time period the Florida Railroad Museum predominantly features equipment that was operating between the 1940s and 1950s such as its Alco RS3 diesel locomotive and B&O "Wagon Top" caboose. However, in general the museum is interested in keeping alive the history of the state's railroads, from their earliest beginnings in the 1860s to when larger companies came along such as the Atlantic Coast Line, Seaboard Air Line, and the famous Florida East Coast system. Since the museum began operations in the early 1980s it has worked hard to provide an enjoyable experience for visitors, such as the construction of additional track to operate excursion trains.
One of these activities is an on-site tourist train, which operates six miles between Parrish and Willow and includes your choice of an open-air or air-conditioned car. The excursion train also offers a number of different options including chartering just a car or the entire train. The museum also offers caboose rentals for birthdays as well as cab rides and discounts for large groups. The Florida Railroad Museum also offers the unique chance to operate a diesel locomotive. The cost is not provided directly on the museum's website so if you are interested you will need to call. However, you must be at least 18 years of age to operate the locomotive and must complete a short class before actually getting in the right-hand seat.
Aside from the static displays and general train rides the museum offers they also feature special events throughout the year such as allowing Dads to ride for free on Fathers Day, charters in their operable caboose (which provides for a 1.5-hour trip for up to 16 people, many like to take advantage of it for events like birthday parties), A Day Out With Thomas the tank engine, and holiday extras (particularly around Christmas, Easter, and Halloween). As for the future of the museum they hope to build additional track and displays to allow more of their rolling stock and equipment to not only be displayed to the public but also protected from the elements in the event monies can be found for their restoration. So, if you have any interest in Florida railroad history or would just like to help with a worthy cause please consider providing a donation or just volunteering to help out. I know that they would very much welcome, and appreciate it!
All in all, if you are ever in southwest Florida and interested in railroads and/or history you should certainly consider a visit to the Florida Railroad Museum, it is a fine operation with plenty of historic equipment and memorabilia on hand to see. For more information about the Florida Railroad Museum's please click here to visit their website which provides everything concerning cost of entry and when they are open.
Florida Railroad Museum Locomotives and Equipment
* Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal Railroad (BEDT) Porter 0-6-0T #12
* Cargill EMD NW5 #61
* New York Central Alco RS3 #8277 (Painted as Seaboard Air Line #1633)
* Pennsylvania Railroad Alco RS3 #8604
* US Army GP7 diesel locomotive #1835 (Donated by the Department of Defense in 1993)
* US Army GP7 diesel locomotive #1822 (Donated by the Department of Defense in 1993)
* Atlantic Coast Line Coach #1116
* Baltimore & Ohio "Wagontop" Caboose #C-2417
* Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Commuter Coaches #3518 and #3572
* Illinois Central Railroad Coach #2682
* Louisville & Nashville Pullman Car
* Norfolk & Western Railway Caboose #518415
* Southern Railway Baggage Car #142
* Texas & Pacific Railway Caboose #12070
* Union Pacific Coach
For more reading about Florida railroading you might be interested in Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad that Crossed an Ocean from author Les Standiford. The book details Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast and it’s building of the spectacular Key West Extension, a very long railroad bridge that connected the Key West island chain with the mainland of Florida. The bridge and extension were lost with the massive 1935 Hurricane but the bridge supports remain today carrying Highway 1 to connect the Keys to the mainland. Also, for more information and reading about excursion trains and railroad museums you might want to consider picking up Tourist Trains Guidebook from the editors of Kalmbach Publishing's Trains magazine. The book lists and reviews over 400 excursions and museums found throughout the country and is an excellent resource if you're looking for one to visit. In any event, if you're interested in perhaps purchasing either (or both) of these books please visit the links below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.