When we visited the Florida Railroad Museum to check out some old trains, we ended up going on a 90-minute train ride.
In this small, rural community of Parrish, the museum is a collection of old rail cars, some still operational, some permanently stopped. The ones that are restored are turned into recreational rides. And they are a real treat.
The ride itself, while only 6.5 miles long, tootled along at 15 mph through Florida swamps, Spanish moss-festooned forests, and “you pick-em” fruit fields. We boarded through an air-conditioned restaurant car from the 1950s, and sat in a reconditioned baggage car on secondhand school bus seats. The windows were removed to afford al fresco contact with the countryside. There were no yellowed windows! There was also no tour guide on a bullhorn, though. Just the all-volunteer staff, who went on about railroad history whenever we stood next to them. It was from them that we learned that the curiously-divided car ahead of us was a former Jim Crow car with separate partitions for blacks and whites, decommissioned after the Civil Rights era (The segregated water fountains had been removed).
The fourth car was a converted phosphate hopper that provided a bumpier ride than the others. The train traveled up to Willow, a ghost town that was a prosperous sawmill town until the Great Depression. There are about a dozen train cars parked there, most being worked on.
It is here that we conducted our interview with Heather Vick, the manager of the gift shop.