Railroad Days celebrate the rail industry’s history in the Omaha Metro area. We try to attend annually. Lisa’s Uncle Brad loves trains, so it’s a great way to spend the day with him.
Railroad Days allow visitors an opportunity to visit five train-related attractions – Lauritzen Botanical gardens, Union Pacific Railroad Museum, Durham Museum and the General Dodge House. The attractions are in Omaha and Council Bluffs. Families (two adults and their dependent children) pay $15 for the weekend.
The area has a deep history in the railroad industry. Union Pacific – the largest railroad in the United States – is headquartered in Omaha.
We always start our adventure at Lauritzen Gardens. It usually takes the most time. Plus, with 90-degree weather in town, we try to knock out the outdoor sites in the morning. Nothing says trains like air-conditioned museums.
How is a botanical garden train related? Well, sit back and enjoy the ride, err, story.
Kenefick Park is home to two Union Pacific train engines. They’re actually part of a “Welcome to Omaha” display that drivers see as they enter the city from Council Bluffs on Interstate 80. It’s difficult to get a good photo of the welcome display, because you basically have to be on the shoulder of the interstate. I dream of the day when the city puts a short walking path below the display for visitors to get an up-close view of the welcome exhibit.
The trains are two of UP’s best – Centennial 6900 and Big Boy 4023. Brad loves having his photo taken with trains. Lisa says it’s the one time you don’t have to ask him to smile.
Lauritzen is home to one of the largest – if not the largest – outdoor model rain displays in the country. It’s debated, apparently, because Chicago has a larger display, but part of it runs indoors. Omaha’s is all outdoors. The large-scale trains run during the warm months. A couple of years ago, the display was almost ruined by severe storms.
The gardens also had miniature trains on display at the visitors center.
Visitors were able to view an 18-foot long passenger train made from Legos.
In addition to the train exhibits, people could wander through the gardens, taking in the beauty and fragrances of the flowers. The roses looked beautiful.
Lauritzen is hosting a “Gone Wild” statue exhibit this year. Statues of bears, rams, elephants and other animals are located throughout the gardens. We plan a return visit to take in the statues and more flower viewing.
After spending more than an hour at Lauritzen, we headed across the river to Council Bluffs and its attractions.
First stop was the Rails West Railroad Museum. It was also our last outdoor attraction. The museum is located at an old train depot. It has a mix of indoor exhibits and train cars outdoors.
Of course, with Brad, we had to head straight for the cars.
We checked out a couple of the old steam-powered engines in the park. The trains are a bit weathered and dated, with some rust and damage. But, to most people attending, they appreciated the history and the opportunity to get inside the cars.
The park features trains from various railroads that operated in the area through the decades.
The Omaha Car featured original furniture and accents. It was part of a train company that operated between Chicago and Lincoln (Nebraska), and would stop in Council Bluffs.
A mail car featured slots for specific communities along the tracks.
The depot featured items from the different railroads. Hats, gear, equipment and photos filled the rooms.
The depot has a large display of model trains on display, too.
The General Dodge House allows visitors a glimpse into the family and social life of the Civil War veteran, who was called into action by President Abraham Lincoln to oversee the railroad construction.
The Union Pacific Railroad Museum provides visitors a look at the history of the railroad, train travel and the development of the western United States.
The railroad, approved by federal legislation in 1862, was a major accomplishment for President Lincoln during the Civil War.
The museum has a replica of the train car that was built for the president’s use. He was assassinated before he could ride in it.
The museum takes a look at transportation before the train came about – covered wagons were used by pioneers to travel thousands of miles for a new start. Steamboats carried people along the rivers.
As the white man moved west, the Native Americans’ way of life became threatened and later vanished. No more buffalo hunting. No more migration.
Railroads were built using a lot of immigrants. Chinese workers were used a lot. The museum features a display on the immigrants.
The UP Museum offers visitors a great view in the equipment used by railroad employees.
Did you know that the Union Pacific has its own police department?
Did you know that the train industry was the reason for the creation of time zones?
The museum also gives visitors a great look at train travel through the years – from sleeper cars to dining cars.
Looking at a display of china, I wondered how often they broke dishes during rides. The ride had to be bumpy at times or the train could sway.
The museum allows visitors a glimpse into modern operations, highlighting the Bailey Yard in North Platte. Hundreds of trains pass through daily. It’s the largest train yard in the world.
The Harriman Center is UP’s version of air traffic controllers. A controller monitors the movement of every train on UP’s tracks.
Visitors had the chance to “drive” a train engine in a simulator.
Our last stop was at the Durham Museum. It’s housed in the old Union Station depot near downtown Omaha. It honors Omaha’s rail history with some neat exhibits.
The gift shop is a converted ticket office. Statues give visitors the image that people are still traveling through the building.
The main train displays are on the lower level. Several train cars allow guests the chance to walk through and sit in passenger cars. You can check out a train engine and caboose, as well.
A model train display takes up a large section of the exhibit area.
The Durham offers special exhibits a few times each year. Currently, an exhibit on “Lost Egypt” provides an interactive look into the history of the region, as well as some displays. An actual mummy is on display.
The museum also includes a look into the area’s history – from early Native American life to Omaha’s development, as well as an exhibit of Omaha hosting the World’s Fair in the late 1800s.
We finished our Railroad Days with a visit to the diesel engine parked outside for the weekend. As always, Uncle Brad was game for a photo.
While we enjoy checking out the displays and exhibits during Railroad Days, we enjoy more the time we spend with Brad. It adds to the fun.
For more information on Railroad Days or to follow-up on next year’s plans, please visit www.omaharailroaddays.com.