The ticket prices for this “Train Show” were $8 per adult and $2 per child 3 years old and up. We were in the entire exhibit hall less than thirty minutes. My sweet son walked all around the building, holding my hand quietly, asking at each table, if there was something he could touch. No, nothing you can touch. Over and over again. Even on the “Famous” place where “kids run the trains”, that was false advertising. I don’t consider it enjoyable or interesting to a child to be allowed to barely touch a lever, without moving it, for sixty seconds, while an adult does all the fun stuff (which the child could be capable of doing).
In this post, I am going to describe our family’s experience at the New Braunfels Train Show Jamboree, which was less than stellar. I have not found other reviews for this event online, and hope our story could help other families in the future.
On this, my personal blog, I do my best to post positive and contemplative things, which I hope can have an impact on my readers. This story will be an exception to the usual programming around here.
Overall, the event was advertised as family friendly. We didn’t find it to be a child or family-friendly event. It is an event designed for adults, specifically elderly retired men, who collect and build vintage, expensive, model trains.
So, here was our experience Saturday.
My boys are 18 months and 4 years old. The four year old is currently enthralled by trains, specifically, Thomas wooden railway trains. He has a train table and train track at home, and owns several of the Thomas engines.
First off, we drove an hour to get to the event. Secondly, adult tickets were $8 and child tickets age 3 and up were $2. Third, they only accepted cash, so once we arrived, we had to leave again to go get cash. Once we got inside, we were sorely disappointed.
Here’s some information from the website that talked about the event.
– “Over 60 Vendors from Texas, and some from out of state, displaying on over 300 tables, for you to buy, sell, or swap.”
In reality: When we entered the main room, we found collapsible type tables set up all over the room, with model trains laying on the tables, and elderly men selling them. There were signs everywhere saying “do not touch.” The prices of the train parts averaged $200 to $2,000 and some were more expensive than that. We walked by table after table, looking at vintage, collector items of adult toys, in prices no parent would allow a small child to touch, even had there not been a slew of “do not touch” signs. As we passed table after table, my son would look longingly at a few trains that took his interest and ask, “Mommy? Are these for touching?” No. “How about these? Are these for touching?” No, I’m so sorry, son. Occasionally, I allowed him to place a finger or two on a train priced under $200, because he was so patient and gentle, and because I couldn’t stand to answer his quiet question, “Mommy, could I touch this one? How about this one?” with yet another, “No.”
Based on the advertised phrase “for you to buy, sell, or swap” we got the impression that attendees of the event could buy, sell, or swap items. My sweet son had brought a bag of his Thomas wooden trains that he was hoping to swap or sell or buy with other kids. Of course there was nothing like this, as all the sellers were set up in advance, and nothing like his was being sold.
We finally located ONE table that sold child toy items, including a few Thomas trains. All the train toys at that table were priced substantially higher than the identical items can be purchased at regular stores like Target or Toys r Us.
– “Kids get to be a Junior Engineer at our Famous ‘Kids Run the Trains’ Layout.”
In reality: We asked if there was anything here that kids could do, and were told there was a place kids could run the train. We went to that area, and found a running model train engine set up on collapsible tables. It was made from miniature size pieces, very fragile, vintage, with lots of “do not touch” signs. The model train on the track was going around and around, and the table was set up at about an adult’s chest level height (too high for kids to see easily). There was a separate table nearby, with a black electric box that had a handle to make the model train start up and go around, or stop. The black box also had a button to make the engine whistle sound, and the horn to sound, and the lights to turn on or off.
My son was allowed to sit in a seat next to the elderly man who was using the controls. The man connected an engine to the model train on table, then came back to the black box, near where my son was seated. Wordlessly, the man pushed the red lever, and the train began to go around and around. Then he pushed some buttons for the whistle and lights and horn. Then he allowed my son to put two fingers onto the red lever and touch the lever, without moving anything, while the elderly man continued pushing the whistle and horn and lights button.
Since the lever seemed so simple, I rather expected him to let my son at least pull the lever down (stopping the train) and push it back up (starting the train back up again), but he did not. Since pushing the buttons for the horn and whistle also seemed extremely simple and impossible for a four year old to break, I expected perhaps my son to be allowed to do so. Instead, the man continued pushing the buttons repeatedly, and telling my son, “Listen!” After about a minute of patiently waiting, holding two fingers gently on the immobile lever which the man kept gripped in his fist, my son quietly asked to go do something else.
– “Extra large exhibit of Lego Trains”
In reality: There was quite a large table set up (perhaps 8 ft by 8 ft) with a very fun looking lego train going around and around on tracks through a lego city. It was colorful and had a few Disney type characters built from lego, in the lego city where the lego train was going around. There were high plexiglass walls around everything so it could not be touched, and also a barricade to keep people several feet away from the plexiglass. There were no stools to help a small child get up high enough to see very well. And even if they could see very well, you were so far away from the train, you couldn’t see details to well. After watching the train go around and around a few times, perhaps a couple minutes, that was all there was to see.
As we left, we asked staff members if there was anything “child friendly” to do with the train show – perhaps we had missed something. They recommended leaving the show, and driving a few minutes away to ride the miniature train for which we had the free tickets. They told us we should have received the “free tickets” when we entered the show. Of course we hadn’t, but they were kind enough to give them to us at that point. The staff also recommended the New Braunfels Railroad Museum (which is free). And they recommended McKenna Children’s Museum (which we have been to, and there are high ticket prices there, even though it is a small children’s museum).
We didn’t come to New Braunfels today for the children’s museum; we came for a train show, for my train-loving son to have an awesome train-filled day. Clearly there was nothing for him at this train show.
– “Free Ride Ticket to the Landa Park Miniature Train for all children, age 5 and under.”
We drove a few minutes away to Landa Park, hoping to put our children on a free ride the “miniature train.” The Landa Park Miniature Train is quite similar (if not nearly identical) to the one at the San Antonio Zoo / Brackenridge park. We soon learned that in order to ride it, we were expected to purchase adult tickets ($3 each), since the free tickets were only for our children. They wouldn’t let us on the train without purchasing adult tickets, and of course we could observe it was not something we could send our children alone. We declined to pay more money at this point.
We walked across the street, and had a picnic lunch at Landa Park. There are several playscapes at the park, quite fun for children. We spent a little time there, and the kids loved it, while the adults tried to lick our wounds of disappointment over the two failed events thus far today. But you know, it’s a park. There’s lots a great parks in San Antonio which aren’t an hour’s drive away.
– “Museum Store with thousands of items available at low cost.”
This was the last stop of our day. We drove to a third separate location, the New Braunfels Railroad Museum, which is indeed free. Surprisingly, at the free museum, you may also receive a “free child ticket” to ride the miniature train. The same ticket we had received at the Train Show (the ticket that was just for children, where an adult still has to pay). The same ticket that was marketed in the event advertising as a benefit of attending the Train Show. At the Railroad Museum, you ask for a child train ticket, and they will give you as many child train tickets as you need. This would be a great (free) way to get a discount on riding the train, should riding the miniature train be something you wanted to do. You could do this any day the Railroad Museum was open, which is much of the year. It has no connection to the Train Show Jamboree.
The Railroad Museum was small, taking about thirty minutes to see everything. However, it the best part of our day, because there are actually things a child can do.
You can go inside an old train engine, and a dining car, and had it not been under renovation, also a caboose. You can pull the bell of the train engine (too difficult for a kid to do, but they had fun trying). You can pull levers inside the train engine. You can sit in a chair in the dining car and pretend you are riding the train (they also rent out the dining car for parties).
Inside the “museum”, which is the old train station, there are a few rooms. One has old antique train station and train parts set up behind barricades (again, where you can look but not touch). One room has a few model trains at adult eye level, behind plexiglass, and the model trains do not run.
In another room, there is a train table for kids to play with. You know, the kind of train table you have in your house, because your child loves trains. Just like that one you have at home, and maybe at daycare or church. Only this one has a handful of broken tracks and a few cute Thomas train engines. Later, when I asked a staff member about things a child could do, they actually directed me to that train table. As if a train-loving child has never seen one before, and it would be “so” exciting to them.
In another room, there are several more adult miniature model train displays, at adult eye-level, behind high plexiglass walls. One is operating, running around and around the tracks. In that room, there is one Thomas child-size toy train at a child’s eye level. It goes in and out of tunnels so fast you almost miss it, and of course it says “do not touch.” In this room there are a few stools for kids to look at all the operating model train that you can’t touch.
In a final room, they sell a very small assortment of overpriced train type toys. It’s about the size of one fourth of the Target Dollar Spot. I’m really not sure how someone decided to market this as “thousands of items available at low cost”, unless they included cheap disposable toys like jars of pencils, stickers, and stamps, that parents buy just to get the kid to stop asking them to buy something.
At this point we finally purchased a small train for $13. It included a battery-operated engine, tender, two boxcars, and tracks for the engine to go round and round, that we could set up and enjoy at home. You will need to purchase batteries elsewhere, or hope you have some at home. At least you can set it up and enjoy it at home. Where it can be touched.
I wanted to go into detail, so you could “see for yourself” through my eyes, the experience of a family and a train-loving four-year-old, at this event. I didn’t want to merely say “we didn’t think it was child-friendly.”
For families with train-loving kids, I could definitely recommend visiting the New Braunfels Railroad Museum, which is free and open much of the year. I could also recommend picking up free child train tickets at that Railroad Museum, and using them to get your kids on the Landa Park Miniature Train for free, since paying $3 each for adult tickets wouldn’t be so bad at that point.
I could honestly never recommend the Train Show to any family with children under ten years old. And I’m not sure I would take any child, except perhaps a model-train obsessed teenager who has a few thousand dollars in allowance money to spend. The people the event is designed by, and for, are adult collectors of high-end, vintage model trains. The one Lego train set up and the laying a finger on the train lever, are a bad joke for a child, and for the parent considering the price of admission. You could have done a lot of fun things for $20, and this event just wasn’t one of them.