By Barb Krause
I’m not sure what’s more exciting for a child: a train ride with a pizza and soda, or the ice cream cone promised afterwards. My daughters, ages 10 and nine, eagerly jumped in the car one Saturday afternoon in May for the 20-minute drive from Lake Geneva to the East Troy Electric Railroad. My husband and I had never visited the railroad before, or downtown East Troy, so this was a new experience for our entire family.
We arrived with ample time to explore the depot before the Pizza Train was scheduled to depart. The historic East Troy Electric Railroad depot consists of a ticketing area, small museum and green space outside with picnic tables. The museum portion of the building offers a lot to read about local railroad history, vintage photos, memorabilia and interactive displays.
We ventured outside so we could watch the train arrive at the depot, with much fanfare from the groups ready to board and a conductor waving from outside the front car. We boarded and were directed to two tables for two on one side of the train, so that each of us had a window seat. Tables big enough for four were available on the other side of the aisle.
The conductor made announcements and our drink order was taken. Kids receive unlimited soda (if you want to go down that sugary path) and for adults, there’s a bar service. The train started its journey right away, chugging along through the greenery of rural Wisconsin.
Dinner included garlic knot rolls, which were delicious, and a pizza for each table (several topping options are available). We were served quickly and enjoyed watching the scenery go by out the window as we ate.
A little more than a half hour into our journey, the train slowed to a stop at Byrnes Park, a pretty trackside park with a play area. Everyone got off the train and enjoyed the late spring sunshine and the playground. Many groups took photos in front of a huge lilac bush. Then the conductor signaled that it was time to hop back on for the ride home.
On the way back to East Troy, the conductor entertained the kids by handing out coloring sheets and telling us more about the railroad and other special train rides offered during the year. He also explained that each rider receives a free ice cream cone at J. Lauber’s Ice Cream Parlor located across the tracks from the depot.
J. Lauber’s is a treat in itself: it’s a 1920’s-era old-fashioned ice cream shop with candies we recognized from our childhood and plenty of ice cream flavors to choose from. The owner, John Lauber, is one of the founders of the East Troy Electric Railroad Museum and has operated the ice cream shop for more than 40 years.
Needless to say, the kids had a hard time deciding on an ice cream flavor, but it gave the adults plenty of time to reminisce about all of the old candies on display. We enjoyed our cones outside and the girls asked if we could do it all again some time. Maybe we could try the burger train next time, we all agreed … and definitely more ice cream.
RIDING THE RAILS
Young and old alike — adventure seekers or railroad buffs shouldn’t pass up the chance to take a trip on the East Troy Electric Railroad. The 14-mile round trip journey between East Troy and Mukwonago offers a glimpse of the early days of interurban rail system in Wisconsin. An all-volunteer crew operates the trains and the museum, which features 32 pieces of “rolling stock,” including street cars from Milwaukee and Minneapolis, plus interurban cars from Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railroad and Sheboygan Light Power & Railway.
The railroad runs regularly scheduled trains from April through November and offers a number of fun options in addition to the pizza train. You can board the train in East Troy and take a ride to Mukwonago’s Elegant Farmer, enjoy a themed dinner train, take a journey on the bunny train at Easter or board the Christmas train for a family-fun adventure.
The railroad welcomes charter trips for birthday parties or other special events, and encourages families to check out their membership opportunities. For more information visit easttroyrr.org.