All Aboard: Riding the Rails with the Kids & San Antonio Living TV

All aboard!

By age six, my son Reid had read The Little Engine that Could countless times, along with The Polar Express. He'd seen the Polar Express movie, three times, in 3D! He had even been to a birthday party at the old railroad museum in San Antonio, too. But one morning as we sat waiting at a railroad crossing, as Reid pointed and shrieked with glee as we counted every car, it occurred to me that the little fellow in the backseat had never actually been on a real train.

Reid and I quite often visit his grandmother in Austin, so one morning I told him we had a special treat planned for the next day: we were going to visit Grandma, but this time we were going to ride a train! Reid was so excited as we packed some juice boxes, crayons, coloring books, and a box of animal crackers for the trip. We got up early, drove to the nearest station (in San Marcos, Texas), and stood on the platform in the morning sun.

Soon the thrilling sound of the train whistle could be heard in the distance. A father and his two children were also waiting on the platform with us. The children all squealed with delight as the train chugged to a halt before us.

Climbing into the train, Reid was all eyes. It was a joyous morning as my little son and I explored every fascinating part of the train. Reid thought that the tray tables that came down from the back of a seat, forming the perfect drawing table for his crayon masterpieces, were an ingenious invention. The tiny bathrooms were a mystery to explore. He loved the snack bar area in the car below with its big, wide windows and the hillsides rushing by. I sipped coffee as we sat there in a booth talking and sharing lions and tigers and bears from his box of circus cookies. Soon Reid wanted to climb the stairs and sit in the observation car with its windows that curved up overhead. The view was beautiful. Everything was green and lush as we passed through Buda and Kyle and came into South Austin.

The train arrived in Austin 15 minutes ahead of schedule, and neither Reid nor I was ready for the adventure to end. However, when his two cousins Olivia (7) and Ellen (4) came with Grandmother Turk to greet us at the station, the engineer allowed the kids to climb on board and look around, and so they, too, were able to partake in our railroad fun.

Several weeks later, San Antonio Living (WOAI TV San Antonio, Channel 4) heard about the fun Reid and I had on our train ride, and so they decided to film kids having fun on the train for one of our Travel Tuesday segments. Our favorite friends, grandparents themselves, Charles and Claire Beall came along, as did beautiful Caroline and handsome Samuel Berridge and their lovely mother Michelle; little Duncan McLaughlin and his pretty aunt Karina Cardona came with us, too (she is one of the SA Living producers and acted as our camera-woman). My son and daughter Reid and Carrie (17) were there with me.

Marc Magliari of Chicago (Manager, Amtrak Media Relations) helped organize the trip for us, and the kind folks at Amtrak treated us to a fine ride, with Operations Supervisor Burrel Parham acting as our host. We went from San Antonio to San Marcos that morning, and the children loved every minute of it. Mr. and Mrs. Beall sang songs to the kids and read them stories, and Mr. Parham made sure that cartoons were showing in the observation car when the children got restless. He also gave us a tour of the sleeping cars and dining car.

The experience reminded me that the simple things are the best things, and the old ways of doing things should be considered once again. The railroad has a long, rich, vital place in the history of the United States, and our children will enjoy learning about it so much more by riding the rails.

Take your kids on a train ride. When they hear that lonesome whistle blow in the night, the happy memories of your time together will ride through their dreams till morning and stay with them for a lifetime.

Fun Facts and Train Information:

1828 - America's first passenger train stars service in South Carolina.
1837 - First sleeping car is introduced in 1837
1869 - Golden Spike is driven in Utah territory (Transcontinental railroad completed)
1971 - Amtrak is created
1995 - US boasts 170,000 miles of track & 209,000 railroad employees

Times and Fares for trips from San Antonio
Dallas 8 am-4:20 $26
Laredo 4:10-6:15 am $18
Houston 1 am-5:45 pm $52
LA 5:40 am -10:10 am $221

For a train trip you simply must take with your children one day, consider riding the Grand Canyon Railroad. For more information, visit This is a trip that adults and children of all ages will treasure forever.

See for more information about US domestic train travel, fares, and schedules. E-mail me at if you have any questions about this or any other segment.

Janis Turk, Travel Writer