Hands-on railroad history

Published 9:00 pm Thursday, June 18, 2015

Anyone who has had to wait 20 minutes or longer for a long, slow-moving line of train cars to cross the highway on Wilroy Road or Nansemond Parkway or North Main Street would readily recognize that trains in Suffolk today can seem like more of an annoyance than an artifact of history. In fact, many of those people would readily admit to wishing the city’s railroads had been completely lost to the sands of time.

In reality, the history of the railroad — if not the ever-present and often frustrating reality of trains — is nearly lost to Suffolk. Despite the importance of trains to Suffolk for so much of the city’s history, today they exist largely as a frustration.

That’s unfortunate, because there’s so much to learn about Suffolk through studying the city’s connection to the railroads that have crisscrossed it through the years.

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On Saturday, folks will get a chance to renew the romance of the railroad during an event at the Suffolk Seaboard Station Railroad Museum. The Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society’s free Hands-on History event takes place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the station on North Main Street, where visitors will, among other things, get to hear from a re-enactor portraying station master Laurence Baker, who will explain some of the history of the railroad in Suffolk.

They’ll learn about the dining car and caboose operations, about lantern signals used along the lines and about the Morse code signals that telegraph operators used to help towns keep in touch.

There will be crafts for the kids, demonstrations by museum volunteers and plenty of old-fashioned fun inside and outside of the train station, which is one of the city’s great little under-appreciated gems.

We can’t promise you won’t get caught by a train on the way to Saturday’s event or on the way home from it, but we can promise you’ll have a better appreciation for the railroad and its importance to Suffolk after you’ve had a chance to get your hands on a little history.