All Aboard: A Trip on the Hill Country Flyer
My wife and I are always looking for fun family activities to do with our seven-year-old son, Parker, especially anything that can also involve my dad, who adores Parker.
Recently my wife found an amazing experience for us—involving a 1960 Alco Diesel locomotive. It was the perfect family excursion. For Christmas, Sharon bought three tickets for the Austin Steam Train’s Texas Hill Country flyer—one for me, one for my dad and one for Parker. Parker, being 7, was stoked and so was my dad (who’s well over the age of 7). I was thrilled, too. I’ve always loved trains, and I couldn’t wait to share that with two of the most important people in my life.
On the day of our trip, a Saturday, Parker, my dad and I piled into the SUV and headed over to the Cedar Park station. Parker couldn’t even sleep the night before, he was just so excited! His eager anticipation fed my own, and I couldn’t wait to get started, either. So we got a bright and early start and arrived in plenty of time for the 10am departure time.
Getting into the spirit
We had some time to walk around the depot and I felt a renewed appreciation for how interesting my dad is. He knew random facts about everything from the importance of the Diesel locomotive to the history of the train in Texas. For example, did you know that the initial 20 miles of track between Harrisburg and Stafford’s Point became the second railroad west of the Mississippi River and the oldest component of the present Southern Pacific? I think I was more intrigued by his stories than even Parker, and that’s hard to do. When the conductor called out, “ALL ABOARD!” we boarded, all three of us fully embracing the spirit of our adventure.
Once on board, the three of us were in awe of the pristine train. Every car was different and each was perfectly refurbished to its own time period. The Silver Pine and Eagle Cliff cars looked as if they never left 1948 and the P70s were straight out of the 1920s, down to the functioning open and close windows. It felt like stepping back in time. It was Parker’s first time on a train, and he wanted to check out everything.
After we had explored the interior of the train car, we found our assigned seats and took advantage of the scenery that was flying by. From the wooden trestle bridge over San Gabriel River to the rolling hills that make Hill Country what it is—there was something to marvel at in every direction. Though we were men of few words on our way to the historic small town of Burnet (a two hour ride from depot to destination), it didn’t matter, because I knew that we were sharing an experience that would be talked about long after.
A Wild West afternoon
When we disembarked in Burnet I could tell that we were already feeling closer as a family. I was listening more intently, Parker was holding my hand and my dad was looking at me in that knowing way that only dads can. Before grabbing lunch, we took some time to explore the little western town and had some fun fancying ourselves Texas outlaws. In true outlaw fashion, we couldn’t miss the Wild West Gunfight, so we picked up some lunch and headed over to find a front row seat to the show. As part of The Burnet Gunfighters Inc., the actors are volunteers who travel performing gunfight reenactments with hilarious slapstick humor and improvisation. Before the show, they gave a brief presentation on gun safety and talked through the concept that firearms are not toys. It was a great way to get Parker interested in the show, but enough to keep him from asking us for a colt .45.
By the time we boarded our Flyer to head home, our ears were ringing from the showdown, our bellies were full and we were planning our next great adventure together. The next two hours rushed by, nearly as fast as the scenery and when we chugged into the Cedar Park Station I wasn’t ready for our day to end.
Luckily, as my dad pointed out, this was just the beginning of the fun! We had plenty of other adventures to look forward to together.