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Field Trip: Interurban Railway Museum

Interurban Railway Museum 901 E. 15th St., Plano, 972/941-2117; interurbanplano.org
Hours: Mon.–Fri. 10am–2pm; Sat. 1pm–5pm.
Admission: Free, though a $2 donation for adults and $1 for kids is suggested. Museum tours and guided field trips can be arranged.

If you lived in Plano in the late 1800s, you probably worked a farm, shared the unpaved streets with mule-drawn carts – Plano was renowned for its home-bred mules – and seldom saw or ventured into the budding metropolis of Dallas several miles south. You were country folk, and your life revolved around the cotton harvest.

The arrival of the Texas Electric Railway in 1908 changed all that. You could hop on a sleek, swaying railcar for 40 cents and make it to Dallas at the awesome speed of 60 mph. Sure, there were lots of stops along the way, but all of a sudden you were connected to a whole new world. So long, cow pies and cotton-picking: Hello, city streets and department stores.

Today, of course, Plano has been absorbed into the sprawl of Dallas, but the Interurban Railway Museum relives the moment when Plano was just getting linked to the larger world. The Texas Electric Railway, which operated on direct current like a streetcar, thrived in the 1920s, then slowly fizzled to its financial demise in 1948. Cars were available to most people by then, rendering the railway redundant.

Many kids can’t resist the lure of trains and planes, and the Interurban Railway Museum – situated in the only remaining Texas Electric station – will clue them in on a mostly forgotten chapter in the history of transportation. The Texas Electric Railway ran every hour from 6am to midnight, getting folks to Dallas and as far south as Waco cheaply, comfortably and mostly safely. Passengers often shared space with the U.S. mail.

Children will be fascinated by the beautifully restored Texas Electric Railway car on the grounds, which preserves a row of the leather seats as well as an artifact of the era’s evils – a flip-out sign in the rear of the car that reads “Colored,” obviously employed when African-Americans saw fit to board. The car had its own tiny toilet, which, as your children will undoubtedly ask and discover, dumps right onto the tracks. Your guide will be happy to point out the exit hole.

Inside, the free-admission museum has a small but nicely designed collection of railway artifacts and photographic displays chronicling Plano history. A side room presents well-engineered hands-on activities that demonstrate the principles of electricity, and kids will enjoy a miniature electric-train display that recreates the wooden facades, dirt streets and small farms of rural Plano.