TAMPA — Matt Bryant and Michael Walsh call it “train-fanning.” They’ve been doing it since they were knee-high to a railroad track.
So, of course, as train fans, the 17-year-olds from Clearwater and Palm Harbor, respectively, made their way downtown Saturday to take in Tampa Union Station’s National Train Day festivities.
Hauling camera equipment and wearing T-shirts with train logos on them, the two took it all in. Wouldn’t have missed it, they say.
National Train Day is held each year to introduce the masses to trains and train history. This year it also was a way to celebrate the 75th anniversary of streamline passenger service to Florida.
“My aunt worked as yardmaster in Ohio for the Chessie System (Chesapeake & Ohio Railway) when it was still around, so I guess trains run in my blood,” Bryant said. His uncle, too, worked for the railroad back in the day. “I was introduced to trains at an early age.”
He and Walsh both have elaborate model trains at home. “When I was six months old, my dad took me to the train tracks and I’ve been coming back ever since,” Walsh said.
“It’s not so much a hobby for us as it is a passion,” Bryant added.
Hundreds of people strolled through the 102-year-old train depot, took tours of a 1950s private car and stood on the platform of a rail car where President Obama and other U.S. presidents have stood. Others gawked wide-eyed at the “City of Tampa” model created by the Greater Florida Lego Users Group, complete with all the skyscrapers, Tampa General Hospital, and Ybor City with trains racing circling it.
The real Tampa, too, has railroads coursing through its history. Henry B. Plant ran his steam engine to Tampa for the first time in 1884, opening up Central Florida to people who otherwise might never have come here.
Amtrak still uses Tampa Union Station to host the Silver Star, which carries passengers between New York City and Miami. And CSX freight trains haul phosphate and other goods across Hillsborough County day and night.
A number of families with young children made their way to the station on North Nebraska Avenue on Saturday to introduce new generations to the history of trains.
Seven-year-old Camren Adams of Tampa came with his grandparents. It was the first time he had seen trains, he said. “I’ve learned they’re big,” he said, but added he wasn’t eager to ride on one.
“We brought him to the train show to introduce him to what his grandfather loves,” said Della Griscti, Camren’s grandmother. “My husband, Paul, used to have model trains in his home and he wanted to share that love with his grandson.”