At some point in every kid’s life, they fall in love with cars, trucks and things that go. What really gets their motor running? Trains. Chicago has tons of fun for choo-choo enthusiasts, from a train museum to a festival to hobby shops. In honor of National Train Day on May 11, put on your conductor’s hat and steer your family to these great locomotive-themed attractions.

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The Great Train Story at the Museum of Science and Industry
Follow more than 20 miniature trains as they make winding journeys from Chicago to Seattle and back again. It all plays out on 1,400 feet of track on the museum’s main level. Trains traverse re-created Midwest prairieland, open plains, the Rockies and Cascades. Along the way, your aspiring conductor can tinker with interactive stations that allow you to build a mountain tunnel, raise and lower a drawbridge, and load lumber on a train car. Our favorite part is the downtown Chicago section, where a pint-sized CTA train glides through a scaled-down Loop.

Insider tip: Play Eye Spy using the museum’s list of hidden things to look for in the exhibit. Click here for the list.

Museum of Science and Industry
57th St. & Lake Shore Dr.
773-684-1414
Online: www.msichicago.org
Open daily, 9:30 am-4:00 pm
Included in general museum admission of $10-$18

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Illinois Railway Museum
Even if you don’t know a GG-1 from a Shore-liner, you’ll feel like a bona fide locomotive pro after visiting this southwest gem. You’ll find it out in Union, Illinois, near miles of wild, untamed landscape. The trains here are no mere miniatures and are on view in huge display barns. You’ll get up-close to real steam engines from the Golden Age of Railroad, including those from the historic Milwaukee Road, Chicago, Burlington Northern and Union Pacific lines. Not only that, but the museum has a five-mile stretch of working rail line, where you can ride a mid-20th-century Pullman car and steam engine.

Insider tip: Up the ante by visiting in August, when the museum hosts its annual Day Out With Thomas event. Ride on a super-sized Thomas the Tank Engine and meet characters from Thomas & Friends at this hugely popular attraction.

Illinois Railway Museum
7000 Olson Rd.
Union
815-923-4391
Online: www.irm.org
Open Mon.-Fri., 10:00 am-5:00 pm; Sat. & Sun., 9:00 am-6:00 pm
Admission $7-$14

homewood-railroad-days

Homewood’s 10th Annual Railroad Heritage Day
Freight traffic and commuter rail lines have long keep southwest suburban Homewood abuzz. Celebrate the village’s train history at a free annual event for all ages on Sunday, May 19. This year’s blast features a new interactive kids’ area, where eager beavers can conduct model Lionel trains and ride on “Little Obie,” a scale model of a Canadian National locomotive. You can also scope out model trains, antiques and train accessories.

Insider tip: When you want to see the real deal, drop by Homewood’s Rail Watching Platform, located at Harwood and Kroner avenues. You’ll see freight and commuter trains glide by and hear the live audio feed to the switching yard.

Homewood Auditorium
2010 Chestnut Rd.
Homewood
708-798-3000
Online: www.homesweethomewood.com
Held Sunday, May 19, 9:00 am-3:00 pm
Admission is free

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Berwyn’s Toys & Trains
The kind of store that time forgot, this family-owned gem has something for young and old alike. Its specialty is O-Gauge electric trains (models popularized in the mid-1900s) from makers like Lionel and Mike’s Train House. But you can also find items that are less of an investment, like plastic kits, pine cars and slot cars (which run around $10 and under). Watch a model train spin around a miniature city and mountain range, and scope a huge array of Thomas & Friends merchandise.

Insider tip: When your sidekick loses steam in the train room, motor over to the toy room, where you get your pick of Schleich figurines, Playmobil sets and LEGO kits.

Berwyn’s Toys & Trains
7025 Ogden Ave.
Berwyn
708-484-4384
Online: www.berwynstoytrains.com
Open Mon. & Thurs., 10:00 am-7:30 pm; Tues., Wed., & Fri., 10:00 am-6:00 pm; Sat., 10:00 am-5:00 pm

americas-best-toy-train-and-hobby-shop

America’s Best Train, Toy & Hobby Shop
The classic hobby shop stocks everything from electric trains to specialty engines to wooden and plastic locomotives. If your little caboose lover can’t find a ready-made train to suit him, he can make his own. They’ve got hundreds of DIY kits for beginning and experienced modelers. Add the finishing touches with a choice of more than 5,000 paints.

Insider tip: There’s an onsite repair shop where experts fix Lionel trains, no matter their era. So if Grandpa’s been holding on to his vintage set, pull it out of hiding, bring it in for a tuneup and give it a second life.

America’s Best Train, Toy & Hobby Shop
865 Maplewood Dr.
Itasca
630-467-1102
Online: www.americasbesttrain.com

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Tutto Italiano Ristorante
Heaping plates of pasta and a walk-in train add up to a kiddie fantasy. Live the dream at this Italian restaurant in Printer’s Row. In addition to a homey dining room, it has seating in an actual refitted train dining car, attached to the back of the restaurant. The long, narrow space ends with a stunning wall painting of a steam engine.

Insider tip: Keep them eating at a steady clip by ordering one of the sure-to-please kid faves: three cheese ravioli or fettuccini marinara.

Tutto Italiano Ristorante
501 S. Wells St.
Printer’s Row
312-939-4824
Online: www.tuttostogo.com
Open Mon.-Fri., 11:00 am-10:00 pm; Sat., 5:00 pm-10:00 pm

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Are you a Thomas or Chuggington kind of family? Let us know in the Comments below.

— Danielle Braff

Photos: Courtesy of Museum of Science & Industry, Chicago; Illinois Railway Museum; Village of Homewood; Berwyn’s Toys & Trains; America’s Best Train, Toy & Hobby Shop; and Tutto Italiano