Plant City’s annual Railfest is set to make its return this Saturday, Oct. 9 after taking a year-long hiatus.
Now in its sixth year, the event will once again be held at the Robert W. Willaford Railroad Museum at Union Station Depot. It’s located at 102 N. Palmer St. in Plant City. From 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., the function is promised to host a number of fun amenities for all ages.
“We look forward to it,” said Bennie Lubrano, executive director for the museum. “We just hope that the community comes out and enjoys what we have to offer.”
Throughout the day live music will amplify the downtown district as attendees partake in the festivities.
Grammy Award-winning DJ, Cliff Brown, will usher in the opening of Railfest with some of his tunes. As the day proceeds, The Alex Belliveau Jazz Quartet will also perform live.
The event’s comeback will offer multiple activities from the Ride the Willaford Express, and a bounce house, to face painting and balloon art.
An auction is set to take place as well as a live karate demonstration presented by Chris Welbon Karate Clubs.
And patrons don’t have to leave with empty stomachs as the function will be supplied with various foods and goodie bags for kids.
Plus for the first time, Railfest will rollout its newest feature – Henry’s Hidden Train Hunt. Guided with the help of maps, adults and children alike can go on a scavenger hunt to find 10 model trains hidden throughout Plant City’s historic downtown.
The first 100 participants to complete the hunt will be awarded with a custom train lapel pin from the museum.
While entertaining, this activity will also allow seekers to learn something educational about Plant City.
“Each train has a special historical link to the location in which it is hidden, along with a trivia question,” said Arley Smude, with Plant City Main Street. “While it is fun for the entire family- scavenger, train and history enthusiasts can expect a challenge.”
The premises on which Railfest stands is steeped with that history.
The Plant City Union Depot was established in 1909. This came after Henry B. Plant, the city’s namesake, started erecting railways throughout the Sunshine State.
Although it hasn’t been operational since 1971, the Union Station Depot has stood the test of time, remaining a historical landmark in Plant City.
And the city has been determined to keep this landmark alive with activity, after seeing a setback due to COVID-19.
The festival had been postponed three times since the pandemic began early last year- until now.
With the cancellation of the 2020 Railfest, Lubrano said that it’s been long overdue in presenting the Golden Spike Award.
Held at each Railfest, the accolade is given to a Plant City resident- recognized for his or her positive impacts in the community.
Lubrano recalled the initial recipient for whom the museum was named– Robert W. Willaford.
“The first one we gave away was obviously to Mr. Willaford,” said Lubrano, “because without his contribution of the equipment outside and most of the stuff in here, we wouldn’t be here.”
Vice Mayor Michael Sparkman also remembered how instrumental Willaford was in the building of the train-viewing platform at Union Station Depot.
Sparkman said that of the estimated $220,000 collected, Willaford donated $1,000 plus a caboose and engine – two centerpieces outside the museum.
Currently, the museum’s two-story tower is in need of repair. Lubrano said that the majority of the Railfest proceeds will go toward remodeling for additional space and for better handicap accessibility.