PLANT CITY — The city will celebrate its railroad heritage and the recent completion of a train viewing platform with two days of festivities beginning Friday.
Railfest also will include dedication of the old train depot in honor of retired engineer R.W. “Bob” Willaford, who donated a retired caboose and his extensive railroad memorabilia collection to the city.
The caboose and a train engine he donated are on display outside the depot at 102 N. Palmer St. The smaller pieces in his collection, such as railroad signals and a handcar, are inside the depot building.
The new, $220,000 two-story train viewing platform is across a set of tracks from the depot.
City Commissioner Mike Sparkman, who convinced Willaford to donate his collection valued at more than $230,000, said Railfest won’t be a one-time event.
“I think the depot and platform will be a big draw for downtown and we want to have a celebration every year,” he said.
Railroads always have been part of Plant City, which was named in honor of Henry B. Plant, who brought rail lines through in the 1880s. The depot, Union Station, was a stop for passenger trains from 1909 until it closed about 1970. The building was donated to the city in the 1970s.
Plant City long has been a popular destination for tourists who like trains because it has a lot of rail traffic and two sets of tracks that intersect at the depot.
Railfest starts at 6:30 p.m. Friday with the screening of movies at a parking lot next to the depot. “Thomas & Friends: King of the Railway,” will be shown from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., and “The Great Locomotive Chase,” from 8 to 10 p.m. Free popcorn and ice cream will be served while supplies last, city Special Events Manager Deanna Hurley said.
Saturday’s festivities run from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., including a depot museum dedication ceremony at 11 a.m. and lunch available for purchase from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Activities during the day include depot tours, live music, children’s games such as bounce houses, face painting and more. Parkesdale Farms will hand out free strawberries from 9 a.m. until the supply of 25 flats runs out, Hurley said.