By JOHN HARVEY
Thousands of people flooded both sides of Railroad Avenue Saturday, Nov. 4 to take part in the 15th annual Ashland Train Day.
Despite cloudy skies and periods of rain throughout the day, Mother Nature couldn’t put a damper on the families and train enthusiasts that flock to The Center of the Universe every November to take part in this celebration to one of the country’s oldest forms of transportation.
“Ashland was founded by the (Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac) Railroad, so everything around here is connected with the railroad and this event and honoring our railroad heritage,” said Bill Gatewood, president of the Ashland Main Street Association, that annual sponsor the event. “One thing that I’ve found out is that everybody likes seeing rain, no matter what age you are. So the grandparents and grandchildren, as well as the people in between, love to come see the trains.”
The event officially started at 10 a.m. but Gatewood said people started lining up at the Ashland Station at 6:15 a.m. to catch an early glimpse of the trains coming through. Numerous folks took photos of the trains passing through. In addition, there were train enthusiasts with YouTube channels filming the event to post online.
Gatewood said the event traditionally attracts 10,000 people to the area, which brings great exposure to the town.
“Ashland Main Street Association puts it on so we want to promote our downtown businesses and it’s a good economic draw for all our businesses around here,” he said. “It gets people in town; they get to go into the restaurants they get to see the downtown that may not normally come downtown.”
There were plenty for people to see and do Saturday at this family-friendly event. From games and food vendors to scavenger hunts and music, there was something for everyone to enjoy. There was a free kiddie train that folks could ride throughout the area to get in the spirit. Also for the kids, there was a bounce house that was a big hit along with photo opportunities with the Train Day Bears. People chronicled the day with a photo in front at the new selfie board located by the train mural.
The Hanover Arts & Activities Center hosted several model train exhibits, including the ever popular train races. The Ashland Red Caboose was open and a popular exhibit for folks to go through. There were several old-time railcars for people to look at and enjoy.
The main attraction of the day was watching the trains come through the area. CSX and Amtrak both made frequent passes through Ashland, allowing train enthusiasts to get an up-close and personal perspective into this mode of transportation.
Kids and parents alike got into the act too, by dressing in their best railroad attire. Many children and adults wore the traditional overalls with the red bandana and hat. One young railroad enthusiasts was decked out in a full conductors outfit, including tie, jacket and hat.
“I like seeing the kids dressed up,” Gatewood said. “The absolute cutest ones are the little girls in the little pink bib overalls and their hats. They are just adorable.”
Tamara Aw posted on the Ashland Train Day Facebook page her appreciation of the event.
“We had a fabulous time learning and exploring,” Aw wrote. “Ashland is a really beautiful town. Train Day offered different options of things for the kids to do. The mini train stations were adorable. The free trolley rides and free train rids were so cute. Everyone was informative and extremely pleasant. We are very happy to have participated.
Powhatan’s Brandee Shafer agreed.
“Ashland is such a charming town,” Shafer wrote. “I loved the ambience and everyone was so incredibly friendly. Someone in the museum provided us with scavenger hunt tickets and it was an amazing idea. We made all the stops. We loved the bears in costume, the trains running through the center of town, all the model train displays and the train races.”
Gatewood said it was a great day, even if the weather wasn’t ideal.
“We still have a good following,” he said. “We had a couple of years when it rain on and off and everybody went inside and did their thing and when it stopped they came back outside and moved around. We’ve got some diehard people out here.”