In western Woodford County is a wonderful attraction: the Bluegrass Railroad Museum. Not only is this a “static” museum with the typical displays, it is a living, working, moving museum.
In short, you can take a train ride!
I’d been on the train ride a few years ago in the fall, but wanted another family outing, this time to see the spring colors. The weather did not disappoint, and after lunch in Versailles at Ricardo’s, we headed to the museum. Lunch at Ricardo’s was particularly appropriate because it used to be the Versailles train station.
The museum is located on the western end of town, near the baseball fields and a large recreation center. There’s plenty of free parking.
This time, I opted to get first-class tickets rather than coach. On our previous excursion, I tried to save a little bit of money by buying the cheaper tickets. That really was a mistake. The seats as I recall in coach were quite hard and there’s no heating or air conditioning in that part of the train. I can attest, therefore, that the first-class tickets (five dollars more per ticket), were worth it. We had comfortable seating throughout the trip.
The engineer explained how the whistle would blow to signal our departure from the small station, and off we went, headed west towards the Kentucky River. The river was approximately 7 miles away.
We trundled along through the Bluegrass, spotting several thoroughbred horse farms. We even made a stop in tiny Milner, where we picked up some passengers who had missed the train (and therefore about a quarter of the whole journey).
Our trip on the tracks had us running parallel to US 62; it was easy to see the cars on the road from the train (the tracks are so close to the road in places that it’s hard to see the tracks on the above map). We passed through fairly deep limestone cuts, which became more common as we approached the steep and hilly ground around the river. During this portion of the excursion, I spotted a deer running through the woods.
You actually do not cross the river. Although there is a bridge, it was condemned for passenger trains in 1937; it was condemned for freight in 1985. The bridge, which dates from approximately the 1890s, was never renovated. According to one of the guides, in the 1980s when the bridge was towards the end of its working life, the railroad workers approaching the bridge feared it. They could feel the bridge swaying under them as they passed over the river, which is over 200 feet below. The guide told a story of how railroad workers would get off the train and cross it on a hand car, leaving one poor worker (who had no doubt lost a bet) to drive the train across the river and the deep gorge.
Once at the river, you can see four distinct things.
First and straight in front of you is the bridge, looking every bit as rickety as you can imagine.
Second and below you is US 62, the road which runs parallel to the train tracks and crosses the river.
Third, to the right and slightly north across the river is Wild Turkey Distillery, its rickhouses, visitors’ center, and distillery plant all within clear view. As one drives west on US 62 across the river, on the other bank just above the road is a billboard (only a shadow in the picture below). The billboard says: “See the house that Jimmy built.” Jimmy Russell is the Wild Turkey master distiller and has been for sixty years.
Lastly, to the south and low along the river is a massive quarry (look at the picture of the bridge and the lower left).
Just out of sight to the north is a large electrical plant. A lot of the land to the north on our side of the river (Woodford County; Anderson County is on the western side of the river) is owned by the electrical company, Kentucky Utilities.
We could not actually see the river; we were too far up and there was already too much vegetation.
On the ride back, we were sleepy, some of us dozing, as the train trundled back to the station, almost rocking us to sleep as it swayed side to side on the tracks.
The entire excursion took approximately 2 1/2 hours, a wonderful family outing on a lovely Kentucky spring day.
The Bluegrass Railroad Museum is a non-profit organization and celebrates its 40th year in 2016.