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Plant City Observer Friday, Mar. 25, 2016 2 years ago

Train-tootin' Fun: RailFest set for next month

Plant City’s RailFest 2016 is set for first week of April.
by: Emily Topper Managing Editor

Plant City residents won’t want to lose track of a popular event set for the first week of April.

RailFest 2016 will be chugging into town Saturday, April 2. This is the third year the family-friendly event has been held and the second time it has been hosted by the Robert W. Willaford Railroad Museum. In 2014, the City of Plant City hosted the event for the dedication of the rail museum. 

Bennie Lubrano, executive director at the Robert W. Willaford Railroad Museum, said that this year’s event will have activities for train aficionados of all ages. 


Like any good festival, RailFest 2016 will have the classic kid favorites: bounce houses, face painting, a balloon artist and cornhole. 

But this year, a name for for the museum’s bright-red caboose, displayed on the yard of the museum, will be chosen from suggestions from train-loving tots. Children who attend KinderCare, A+ Learning, Kids’ World and First Baptist Church of Plant City, as well as special education students at Plant City High School, each received a train picture to color earlier this month. Once the drawings were completed, they were returned to the museum along with a caboose name suggestion. 

The caboose name will be chosen and announced at the April event, and a plaque with the new name will be hung inside the caboose. 

“It’s something to involve the kids, to get them a little more involved in it,” Lubrano said. “It gives them some reason to come out and check it out.” 

Kids who attend the event also will receive goodie bags while supplies last, complete with a free frisbee from CSX. Between activities, youngsters can also and have their picture taken with H.B. Plant and take a ride on a half-scale, fully functioning model of a 1910 steam engine. Built by Robert Woods, the steam engine was featured in the City of Plant City’s Christmas Parade. 


The event will also feature a variety of craft and antique vendors, as well as bluegrass music performances. Musician Keith Marr will be playing railroad-themed music in the museum, including original railroad songs. 

Art addicts will be able to participate in a silent auction and view new historical photos from the Plant City Photo

Archives and History Center. The museum will be auctioning off prints of a painting of the train museum, in addition to a framed and completed railroad puzzle and a locomotive diagram brought in from an estate sale. A book about the railroad museum’s dedication also will be auctioned off, and the copy will be signed by museum namesake Robert W. Willaford. 

“We thought we would try to do something special,” Lubrano said. 

Willaford will be at the event all day and will bring along a maintenance rail car that once belonged to the United States Army. The car was first built in January 1945, and this is the first time that Willaford will present it to the public. Once rusted and faded, Willaford had the entire cart restored and repainted this year. 

“That’ll be the first time anybody sees it,” Lubrano said.  

Attendees will also see an Amtrak train up close. 

During the event, the museum board will present the second annual Golden Spike Award, a plaque with a golden railroad spike attached. The award is given annually to a community member who has shown dedication to the train museum. The first Golden Spike Award was given to Robert W. Willaford. 

Contact Emily Topper at [email protected].

Emily Topper graduated cum laude from Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, with a degree in communication (journalism) and a minor in creative writing. In May 2015, she joined the staff of the Plant City Times & Observer. In addition to covering news, features and photo events in...

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