That was the sound of my son’s childhood.
It started with wooden trains, then his plastic GeoTrax set sprawled around the hallway. The sound rang through our house constantly. It seemed like it would go on forever.
It didn’t, of course. My son is 10 now, more interested in Minecraft and the Seahawks than in railroad construction. So when I booked a ride on the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad, I was curious: Would it still hold his interest?
The train boards in Elbe, a hamlet of just 29 residents along the highway to Mount Rainier National Park. Elbe is tiny, but its devotion to trains is hard to miss. You can dine in a train car that’s been remodeled into a restaurant, or stay in a motel room that once was a caboose.
On a summer weekend, the town’s population is greatly outnumbered by the crowd at Elbe’s bustling train depot and gift shop. Once aboard the train, you take your pick of seats in enclosed or open-windowed cars. The 40-minute ride winds through seven miles of leafy forest to Mineral, an old mining and logging town that’s now a tourism destination for outdoorsy types.
On a clear day, the route gives you a view of Mount Rainier’s snow-capped peak as the train crosses the upper Nisqually River. The mountain is one of the attractions of the ride, but it’s not the star, which is just as well. You wouldn’t want to count on a star as notoriously camera-shy as Rainier.
No, the stars of this show are the trains.
A 40-minute stop in Mineral gives you time to explore its assortment of historic steam and diesel engines — the Satsop, a little engine that once greeted visitors outside the giant mall in Auburn; the Rayonier No. 2, a beastly Willamette Geared Locomotive built in 1929 to haul logs; and more than a dozen others — maintained by a small staff and devoted volunteers.
Passenger cars line the tracks, and you can buy refreshments from the concession stand in — you guessed it — a train car. You can even ring the bell in one of the engines, though that might earn you some funny looks if you’re an adult.
For the trip back to Elbe, we rode in the far back of the train, where you can stand in the mountain air and let your mind wander as the tracks trail off behind you through the forest. It’s easy to see why we have such affection for these machines.
The boy’s verdict? He pronounced it a “great day” as he and his little sister began plotting return trips to Elbe during the drive home.
Meanwhile, I had visions of new construction on the HO-gauge train set in my garage.
That’s the thing about trains. The fascination never really goes away.
If you go
The Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad runs each weekend through Oct. 25. Santa Express rides operate Nov. 28 to Dec. 21.
Directions: Take I-5 to Highway 7, then drive south to Elbe, about 100 miles from Everett and 75 miles from Seattle.
Cost: $18-32 per person; free for kids 2 and younger.
Tickets: Book a trip at www.mrsr.com or by calling 888-783-2611, ext. 3.
Upcoming special events: Civil War Train, 10 a.m. and 12:45 and 3:30 p.m. Sept. 20; Washington Wine Express (must be 21 or older), 3:30 p.m. Oct. 4; Pumpkin Express, 10 a.m. and 12:45 and 3:30 p.m. Oct. 25 and 26; Costume Party Train (must be 21 or older), 7 p.m. Oct. 25; Santa Express, 10 a.m. and 12:45 and 3:30 p.m. Nov. 29 through Dec. 21.