Tuesday, July 5, 2011

All Aboard!

You've all heard me discuss parenting missteps, and I've made a lot of them in my day.  Cael has developed a serious lack of personal boundaries and you've seen Graham's now infamous fall.  So it's no secret that I mess up from time to time.  In fact, this is a good opportunity to issue that disclaimer to anyone I don't know that might stumble across this blog.  Or to my loyal following of readers in Peru, whoever you are!  (How cool is that?!?)  Seriously, friends... do not try any of my kids' (or my own) antics at home.  It could spell disaster.  And according to Cael, disaster is spelled P-O-O-P. 

But this weekend, for two brief hours, Joel and I were able to fulfill Cael's lifelong dream.  A dream so grand and specific I didn't think it would be possible.  But for a measly sixteen bucks, my son got to ride a steam engine. 

On Saturday, we headed out bright and early for Boone, IA to ride the Boone Scenic Valley Railroad.  The train ride was to take place at 1:30pm, so we left the house at 8:30am, planning to stop for lunch in Ames before heading over for the big reveal.  Cursing Mapquest and their pathetic timing estimations (we were more accurate when we told Cael the car trip would take 4 episodes of Curious George), we pulled into the Ames Target at 10:15am to wander around and kill some time.

We'd decided early on not to reveal the surprise until the last possible moment in an effort to avoid the onslaught of "Are we there yets?" that would inevitably serve as the soundtrack to our adventure.  But being the smarty-pants that he is, Cael had surmised that this outing was secretive-- and it was a secret for him. 

"What is the (sur)prise, Mommy?"

"Are we almost to my 'prise?"

"Is that my 'prise?"
  (Pointing to a bucking horse on a western gear store's sign.)

"Yep, Cael.  We drove almost 2 hours to take a picture of you with that sign."

"That's really cool!"

Daddy and Graham at Hickory Park
Once we'd finally reached eleven o'clock, it was early enough to justify a trip to Hickory Park Restaurant which conveniently opened at 10:00am.  Just great.  For those of you that have not had the experience of dining at Hickory Park, allow me to enlighten you.  Hickory Park is a themed restaurant, and the theme is MEAT.  If you plan to eat there, bring your appetite and maybe an absorbent rag to sop up the "meat sweats" that will set in after an hour or so post-binge.  Let's say, for example, you choose to order the  "Combination Dinner".  You are about to consume:

Slices of smoked beef, turkey and pork with 1/4 chicken, a four-bone sample of pork ribs and a 6 oz portion of our smoked sausage link.......... 1/4 chicken (dark) $18.95....... 1/4 chicken (white) $19.95

Papa and Cael at Hickory Park
And that could spell disaster for a person about to take a 2-hour train ride with no air conditioning.  And in that case, disaster definitely would be spelled P-O-O-P.  Our little group, which included Joel, Papa (our favorite companion and a lifesaver as it somehow requires six arms to contain two small children), the boys and myself, made somewhat better choices not knowing if there would be a restroom aboard the train.  After each of us selected one of about 8,000 available sundaes as a bookend for our already sinful lunch, we waddled to the car and off to the train station in Boone.

Upon our arrival and after the big reveal (see video below), we explored the station and the gift shop.  Like an industrial-strength magnet is drawn to steel, my kids were able to sniff out the Thomas The Train wooden rail set that was assembled in the gift shop.  I think the opportunity to play with that set might have been enough for him-- he and Graham both were so deeply involved in their train fantasy that it took a blaring train whistle to pull them back to reality.  We marched up to the conductor, and after Cael and I had a lengthy discussion of the difference between the train conductor and the engineer, the Conductor punched our tickets and we climbed aboard.  Cael squealed with delight to experience some of his favorite details from "The Polar Express", like the ticket punching and to hear "ALL ABOARD!" being yelled before we pulled away from the station.

Scary pic of the high bridge I shamelessly stole here
The ride itself was almost two hours long, but as we quickly learned it was really a one-hour trip followed by another one-hour return trip (backward) to the station.  In that one hour, we traveled through a lot of corn fields, a lot of boneyards for trains of yore, and one terrifying, 2600 foot bridge-of-terror with a 186 foot drop straight to the ground below and what couldn't have been more than 4 or 5 inches of steel on either side of the train.  I'm not normally afraid of heights, but during those few minutes I seriously contemplated wearing one of Graham's diapers in case I had an "accident".  Do I love these kids this much?  I guess I do. 

Graham and Cael reversed roles for much of the ride.  No, Graham didn't accost any strangers or challenge anyone to "whip it out", but he was as wiggly as I've ever seen him; running up and down the aisle of our passenger car and leading Joel on a wild goose chase for much of the ride.  Cael, in contrast, sat in stunned silence as he watched the scenery.  He did stick his head and torso too far out the window for my personal taste, but I held on to his legs so he couldn't go far.  His hair would grow back anyway, right? 

After returning to the station and taking a few photos of the engine that pulled us back, the men visited the restroom while I kissed the ground and thanked God for allowing me to live another day.  I thought about kissing the engineer that returned us safely, but he was really dirty and greasy.  I was grateful, but not that grateful.  Someone also not feeling so grateful was the girl throwing up repeatedly on the mat right outside the station exit.  She must not have liked that high bridge either.  Or maybe she kissed the engineer... who knows.  We got lucky; no one had any motion sickness issues and the boys both loved the trip.  Moments after being piled into the car, both of them were out cold and exhausted from their railroad adventure.

There were way too many photos and clips to share in this format, so I made a little video to commemorate his big day.  But it was more than a day-- it was a dream come true for Cael.  Any hope we had of finally satisfying his thirst for trains was dashed, however.  The trip simply renewed his interest and he has now added a random "Choo!" to his regular conversations.

"Mommy, what are we -CHOO- having for lunch?"

He just can't contain his enthusiasm, and I'm thrilled that we could do it for him.  I love choo, Cael.


  1. This is the sweetest story yet! I loved the video.


  2. Izzy had a blast watching that video. She keeps saying "One more train?!". Haha. Glad they had so much fun! They are adorable! - Natasha

  3. Thanks ladies! I love making those compilation videos and this blog gives me an excuse to make some more! There were just too many pictures to share!

  4. great stuff! Listen, if you're interested in more steam engine fun, let's talk. My brother-in-law owns an engine and is way up on the food chain at Old Threshers Reunion in Mount Pleasant. Lisa

  5. That's so cool! Cael's so enamored with it that he is impressed by just a photo of a steam engine. He's easy to please!

  6. How Exciting! I loved the video!

  7. I'm lovin' Cael and Graham like my own grandkids. they are so cute and fun! Their mom and dad are pretty creative and special too. Choo!

  8. Thanks so much! Cael and Graham are willing to claim anyone that will laugh at their goofy jokes, so you're "in"!

  9. Love it! What a wonderful surprise for your boys! I love the video. What a wonderful memory.

  10. Thanks, Heidi! We had a great time, but it's going to be tough to live up to! I hope Graham has easier interests!

  11. Just came across your blog (thanks to your husband - I am a colleague). Love it! I can easily relate as I have a 3 year old. Did you see that they (Boone Railroad) dress up a train to look like Thomas? The event is held in September. You can even get your picture taken with Sir Topham Hatt. And the day includes a shorter train ride - no bridge.


  12. I have heard about the Thomas ride but we haven't done it. Definitely on my list! That particular event combines his two loves- television and trains, so we'd be fools not to give it a try. It may have to wait until next Spring, however.


Leave your own "ism". Cael and Graham double-dog dare you.