With Halloween right around the corner, the Martin & Frances Lehnis Railroad Museum will provide a unique experience for children during what will be a non-traditional version of the holiday.
Free mini-train rides will be available at the museum, located at 700 East Adams in Brownwood, from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31, sponsored by Mattressville in Early.
“We’ll have some precautions in place, social distancing will be in place because we’re expecting a crowd,” said Crystal Stanley, Curator of the Lehnis Railroad Museum. “People are going to want to get out on Halloween and there’s not as much to do this year. Marty the Mouse will be out to greet everybody and keep everybody entertained and they’ll be candy, of course.”
The Lehnis Museum has plenty of plans in place beyond Halloween.
“We’re already preparing for November which is National Model Railroad Month,” Stanley said. “The first Saturday of every month is Family Day, so we’ll have reduced admission and that Saturday we’ll actually let the kids turn the trains on themselves. We’ll have to do one at a time to disinfect in between, but the kids are really interested in the trains.
“One weekend we’ll have a clinic at the mini-train and they’ll learn how that is being built. We’ve re-done the whole layout out there. Another weekend we’ll start our Christmas layout and someone will be here to show them how we do that. We’ll probably continue with the Christmas layout another weekend and let them run the trains again.”
There are also plans in the works for Christmas events at the Lehnis Museum, though they may look different from years past.
“We usually do a Polar Express experience two weekends in the evenings, but I’m not sure we’ll be able to do that this year just because of all the things that are in place,” Stanley said. “It just doesn’t seem feasible because it’s really hands-on. We’re trying to work out a different plan but we still want to have a special weekend, probably that first weekend in the evening where we’re looking at planning something where Santa can come and take pictures and ride the train with people.”
Plans are also still in place to bring the locomotive from Vulcan to the museum as well.
“We’re still getting it, we’re just trying to work out details with relocating the fire truck over to the fire station, and we still have to lay track,” Stanley said. “It is coming, but the pandemic has really put a kink in a lot of our plans and we’re working with it the best that we can.”
The pandemic caused the museum to close for several months, but that presented an opportunity to freshen up the look.
“We had to get our collections out of the Timmins building, so we took that time to evaluate what was in our collection and what our exhibits look like, and we’ve actually re-done a lot of them,” Stanley said. “One whole wall is all new with a designated lantern exhibit with hands-on experiences where they can turn on some lanterns. We have the signal light exhibit, we have time tables, we have the railroad china exhibit, one on the Harvey House and I’m still working on the Brownwood Santa Fe Depot area.
“But the biggest one I’m working on, which is a blank wall now, is part of the Lehnis collection that included engine parts, so that was what was in the Timmins building . We’re planning to do a whole exhibit on how the steam locomotive works and have those engine parts in here so you can see where they were, what they look like. You can look at a picture all day but when you see the actual engine part and how big it is, and the work that had to go into, it makes a bigger impression.”
A Beadle grant also allowed the museum to add hands-on steam learning in the play area, as well as make improvements in the butterfly garden, including the addition of a new seating area.
“We’re very appreciative of that local grant,” Stanley said. “We’ve taken advantage of this time. Even though we were closed it seems like we had more work to do when we were closed than we did when we are open.”
And though field trips are currently not taking place, the Lehnis Museum has adapted to that change as well.
“We’re putting an education program together and we’re going to do a traveling trunk that we’ll be taking to schools to see if that’s something they’re interested in,” Stanley said. “We’ll be including items from the museum and a program for the teachers to use like they would use if they were going on a field trip, they’ll just have it in the classroom so it’s safer.”