The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co & Museum is an amazing place to learn about early Maine railroads, and to take an absolutely delightful ride on a historic train car, right along Portland’s beautiful waterfront.
The museum is located along the Eastern Prom, right in Portland. The address is 58 Fore Street, and it’s very easy to spot (there are train tracks leading up to it after all!) As you enter Portland from I-295, you’ll take Exit 7 onto Franklin Street Arterial, and then a left on Fore Street. The museum is right across the tracks and walking path, from the ocean.
When you first arrive, your first thought might well be to make sure your car is legal, and get a parking pass on your dash. Avoid running to the parking meter though, and first head inside to purchase your tickets. When you do, let them know you have a car in the lot, and they’ll provide you with a parking pass to display on the dash.
When we toured the museum, it was a spontaneous visit, so I hadn’t studied the website like I usually do, and we learned this the hard way. Since there’s a noticeable “pay-for-parking” meter down at the other end of the lot, one of us went scurrying for a paid parking slip, while the other got the kids out of the car and ready for our adventure. Oops!
The parking lot isn’t huge, so there’s potential for it to fill up on especially busy days. If you find that there’s just no space when you arrive, there’s a parking garage right on Fore Street, and metered parking on the nearby streets.
As of 2018, ticket prices are $10 for adults, $6 for ages 3-12, and $9 for seniors. These prices include both rides on the train as often as you’d like on the day of your admission (trains run on the hour), as well as admission to the museum.
If you’re just looking to see the museum without a ride, you can do that for $5 ($3 kids/$4 seniors).
Inside the Museum
When we decided to go ride the train, I truly thought that would be the whole appeal of the experience – the actual train ride. I knew there was a museum, and thought it probably had some fascinating memorabilia that would be of interest to adults, but probably not to children as young as mine.
How wrong I was!
From the moment we walked into the museum, there was kid-friendly fun to discover in every nook and cranny! Right near the entrance are two wonderful toy train sets that young visitors are encouraged to enjoy. With plentiful “miles” of tracks and an abundance of rail cars, there was plenty of real estate at the table to keep many sets of young hands happy.
A tiny manager’s station sits right behind the tables, inviting young conductors to come in and take a break. And a coloring table nearby is well-stocked with train-themed coloring and activity pages, and plenty of crayons.
But for the more bookish youngsters, what comes next is the real treasure – a library car. It’s a beautifully-restored little car with a lofted reading nook, nice low benches, plenty of cozy lighting…and LOTS of kids’ books about trains.
Izzy is truly her mother’s daughter, and could have stayed in that car all day.
Imagine life in another era
The history in this place is just amazing! Beautifully renovated, century-old train cars are set up right inside the museum, several of which are available to walk through, sit in, and explore. Only a very few areas are off-limits, so it’s easy to find a seat you fancy, lean back, and picture yourself in a bygone era.
Can you imagine riding in this gorgeous parlor car? With the ethereal lighting streaming in, that old tune “This train is bound for Glory” seems just about right, and I got the tune stuck in my head for the rest of the day!
While there are informative signs throughout the museum exhibits, most of the history lesson here comes from the conductor’s narrative, during your train ride.
To help kids prepare for their visit, it can be fun to do a little learning about historic trains ahead of time. These are some of my favorite free educational resources I’ve found:
From the library, we’re working our way through many of the titles on this excellent list of children’s books about trains.
Riding the rails
Since the train leaves on the hour, and rides last about 35 minutes, there’s plenty of time for boarding between trips. I really appreciate that the staff welcome you to board as early as you’d like, giving plenty of time to stroll through the train and find a seat you like.
We boarded really early, and amused ourselves by blowing little wooden whistles that are sold by the ticket counter (available for $2), and learning some of the whistle signal codes that are taught in the enclosed booklet. We tucked the whistles away as the train filled up, and pulled out our tickets. The very important business of having a ticket and handing it to the conductor is really something to anticipate when you’re four!
The train leaves promptly on the hour, so you don’t want to dally. The fun thing is that your ticket is good all day, so you can ride as many times as you’d like.
You can choose from both open or enclosed cars, and if the weather permits, I really suggest the open cars. The tracks go right along the old Eastern Promenade, which is now a wonderful walking and biking trail. And just on the other side of that is the sea. It’s just absolutely delightful to feel the salt breeze as you clickity-clack along, and listen to the conductor share all kinds of interesting history about lighthouses and islands as you pass them.
The train stops for a ten minute break at the end of the route, so you can get off and stretch your legs. Little ones are welcomed back to sit in the engineer’s seat and ring the train’s bell, and it’s absolutely worth encouraging a kid to take them up on the offer. Setting foot in a real live working engine, and hearing the bell ring as you flip over the switch is pretty magical.
It’s hard to picture anything more serene than riding this charming little train on breezy summer day, so it might be difficult to imagine choosing to visit in the fall or winter. BUT – the museum folks plan some very special events in the off-season, including a POLAR EXPRESS ride (complete with hot cocoa, carols, cookies, and Santa), and a “Pumpkin Train” ride, where little ones can decorate mini pumpkins and sip hot cider. This is a train you’re going to want to ride more than once.
Until pumpkin time, little train… It’s been a pleasure!
For more information, please visit the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co & Museum’s official WEBSITE.
How about you? Have you ever visited the Maine Narrow Gauge Railway, or ridden a narrow gauge railroad? I’d love to hear any tips you might have to share with new visitors, and welcome you to leave a comment below!
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