I gladly welcome any reason to take my boys to the Great Lakes Science Center, so when the opportunity arose to check out the newest exhibition, “All Aboard! The Science of Trains,” we made the trip downtown as soon as our schedules allowed.
Set up in the science center’s lower level, All Aboard! is a train enthusiast’s dream — and isn’t every little boy a train enthusiast? (Girls, too, of course!) Through February 19, rail fans of all ages can get a closer look at the world of the railroads from locomotives to cabooses, through hands-on exhibits and the rail history of Cleveland. In collaboration with the Midwest Railway Preservation Society, All Aboard! encompasses the technical wonder of locomotives, the science and engineering of rail transportation, authentic local artifacts and plenty of opportunities to learn through play.
After being beckoned into the exhibit by the giant, flashing railroad crossing sign, our first — and longest — stop was the center of the room, where a large section of floor space was designated as the Community Build Area. Multiple bins of wooden tracks, complete with buildings, bridges, hills and magnetic train cars, let kids get creative and build their own railroad village. When we visited, a handful of children each had plenty of space to build sizable feats of engineering alongside one another. There’s also a separate area for the littlest train lovers, with Thomas the Train banners, train tables and play mats that have roads and rails printed on them.
Around the room’s perimeter are displays and exhibits that encourage hands-on fun (and learning — but kids will be having so much fun, they won’t realize they’re participating in a science lesson). Interactive carts explain everything from MagLev trains, to superconductors and levitation, as well as energy and fuel. Kids can find out how much force is required to move a 10,000-pound wheel set along a track, how bearings reduce friction on a train wheel set, and why trains can be a mile or two long.
They also can operate and compare a steam and diesel locomotive with model trains on three separate tracks — the easy-to-turn control knobs made this particular activity fascinating for my sons; even my 22-month-old got the hang of it. Another popular spot for our family was the locomotive bell that the boys rang by pulling on a rope.
And, of course, there was the ride-on Dominion Energy Train, which was custom built by Cleveland-based Lawn Tracks. With unlimited rides included with general admission, it’s a child’s dream come true (we rode enough times to sit in each train car at least once).
Adults and older kids will appreciate the history element, including local artifacts: the original brass “Schedule Board” from Terminal Tower; and maps, photos, posters and other artifacts on loan from Midwest Railway Preservation Society that highlight Cleveland’s role in the nation’s rail history.
When planning your visit, be sure to note the Science Center has switched to its fall/winter operating schedule: Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sundays noon-5 p.m., and closed during all home Browns games. Visit greatscience.com for information.