17 Apr 2013, Posted by admin in Packages,Top Slider, No Comments. Tagged Cat in the Hat, Easter Bunny Express, Lebanon, LM&M, New Media Bureau, Ohio, railroad, University of Cincinnati
The Lebanon, Mason & Monroe Railroad combines vintage train rides through Southwestern Ohio with modern themes.
Story, photos and map by Tara Spacy
Pulling up to the Lebanon Mason & Monroe Railroad station in the quaint downtown of Lebanon, Ohio, is like taking a step back in time. Red train cars line up on the track like racers. Conductors stand at the entrance of the train, ushering passengers on board, as families rush to claim seats together. Inside the cars are row after row of worn leather seats, with an occasional suitcase stuffed in the luggage racks overhead.
The LM&M Railroad offers the nostalgic train rides through the countryside of Warren County, just northeast of Cincinnati, from spring to autumn. Passengers learn about local history and railroad operations while viewing bucolic scenery.
The rides have a family atmosphere.
“We’ll have a lot of grandparents that will bring their children out or their grandchildren out,” says General Manager Carolyn Abbott. “They’ll be like, ‘Well, back in my day I rode the steam engine train in whatever city to whatever city,’ or ‘Well, last time I was on a train is when I took it for war.’ So that part is really neat.”
The trains were once commuter coaches from New Jersey in the 1930s, Abbott says. The railroad tries to preserve the historical aspect as much as possible, only replacing and repairing parts as necessary.
While the trains may be vintage, many of the rides have modern themes. For the Harry Potter ride, passengers can dress up like their favorite characters, learn magic tricks and eat treats straight from the Hogwarts Express. For the Cat in the Hat ride, kids meet the cat himself and take part in a variety of games. The most popular themes are the North Pole Express and their Pumpkin Patch Express.
The season kicks off with the Easter Bunny Express. On the weekend before and of Easter, the train travels about four and a half miles south to a picnic area at the back of Southwest Golf Ranch. There, kids have the opportunity to meet the Easter Bunny, hunt for eggs and color Easter-themed pictures.
The best part?
“Meeting the Easter Bunny, duh!” laughs Abbott.
Abbott, 22, has been working at the LM&M Railroad since 2008. She quickly has worked her way up, doing every job from hauling trash to customer service to passenger/conductor operations. However, she has had to deal with her fair share of mishaps along the way.
“One thing with railroads, it’s never the same thing twice. And anything and everything that could happen, it can and will happen,” she says. “So I have learned very quickly how you have to be adaptable. You have to keep cool under pressure. You have to be able to deal with things.”
Two years ago, during a Pumpkin Patch Express ride, Abbott and the crew had to car pool 400 passengers back to the station after the train broke down.
“Those are the times where internally you’re panicking,” she says.
“But then you quickly have to put a plan together, you’ve got to get everyone lined up, you’ve got to make sure the conductors know what’s going on, you’ve got to find out what’s going on with the train.”
Aside from mechanical failures, the railroad has had to deal with new themes flopping. Abbott says a 4th of July train failed miserably. Other themes are difficult to profit from because they cost too much to produce.
At the beginning of each season, the railroad must work out the schedule for the year, figuring out which days the train can and cannot run. Next, the railroad schedules its top-sellers, such as the Pumpkin Patch Express. It fills in other themes during the remaining months. Then, it has to figure out ride times, which Abbott says are often repeated from previous years. Finally, once everything is scheduled, it hires vendors and actors and order props it might need, such as the Easter eggs for the Easter Bunny Express.
“It’s kind of an involved process,” Abbott says. But she says it is the dynamic atmosphere and daily challenges that are what make her love the job. And being able to rely on her team for help and support are what make her job invaluable.
“Everybody here is such a close-knit family,” she says. “I’ve never been anywhere that has as tight of a family as we have here.”
As the train pulls back into the station, families gather their belongings and prepare to step back into reality. As the crowd disperses, a sense of nostalgia still lingers in the air, and the train sits, like a pillar in time, as the world goes on around it.