All aboard! Next stop, “TRAINS!”

All aboard! Next stop, "TRAINS!"

Follow the tracks of children’s footsteps this summer into Cheekwood’s TRAINS!

TRAINS! operate from 9:30-4:30 pm every day, weather permitting

A New, Popular, and Permanent Playhouse

Located in the gorgeous Turner Seasons Garden, all can board this happy yellow platform perfect for children of any age. To add to the kids’ enjoyment of TRAINS!, we have added a new and permanent feature: a Train Depot in the form of a playhouse inspired by Loren Long, illustrator of The Little Engine That Could.

Imagine incredible sights through our many binoculars, gizmos, and games built into the sides of the wooden train station, designed and installed by T.W. Frierson Contractor, Inc. and Design Constructors, Inc.

Once you have guided the train inside the built-in locomotive, celebrate your success by sliding down a giant, winding green slide, then climb your way back up to the top on an interactive web!

The Thrilling Train Exhibit

Terrifically popular since its opening, this imaginative train exhibit moved last year to the Turner Seasons Garden with many new updates so that it is better than ever! The current display features five completely separate train tracks that totals to over 800 feet in length–that’s almost three-fourths the height of the Eiffel Tower! We use G scale (garden trains) about 1/22 the size of real trains that are specifically designed to brave the outdoors as they entrance the grownups and ignite children’s imaginations. The exhibit, directly adjacent to the brand new playhouse, also features an enchanted walking bridge, a special children’s tunnel, and fantastical dioramas of miniature fairy lands!

The new train tracks, designed by Applied Imagination, were built and opened in 2018 and funded by Jim Crossman in honor of his children and grandchildren. Just to make it even more magical, there has been new lighting installed by Outdoor Lighting Perspectives so that visitors can enjoy the TRAINS! exhibit during evening hours such as Holiday LIGHTS and during Thursday Night Out throughout the summer and fall.

Overall, the process of building the display took over three months, beginning in a Kentucky warehouse where many special features and bridge parts were constructed then trucked over to Cheekwood for its final assembly. But what does it take to maintain the Cheekwood TRAINS! display? Our gardening staff goes hard at work to landscape, trim, and maintain the forest area, while our security and volunteer staff clean the (800 ft!) train tracks daily to remove the dust, tree sap, and pollen that drifts over from the surrounding foliage. Even the chipmunks love our exhibit so much that they tunnel underneath the tracks, which leaves behind all sorts of debris that needs to be cleaned. Due to their constant movement, the train engines and rolling stock also require frequent cleaning, lubrication, or–for the fragile elements–even replacement.

Many days long-time volunteer Chuck Smith can be spotted around the Cheekwood campus wearing his official engineers cap and blowing his train whistle. If you see him around the TRAINS! display he’ll tell you a bit of train history or challenge the kids to help him find Pepto the pink elephant or other odd items riding the train cars. He’s even been know to get everyone dancing if the music is playing. When asked why he does it he said “because everyone is still a kid at heart and loves the magic of trains.”

Step Into the Story

Some other whimsical playhouses include “Oh, The Places You’ll Play” inspired by Dr. Seuss, “Hill Top Garden” inspired by Beatrix Potter, “Charlotte’s Barn” inspired by Garth Williams, and “We Are Wild” inspired by Maurice Sendak. Storybook Houses opened on May 1st and will be on view throughout our gardens until September 1st. From June 22 through September 1, visitors may also enjoy Childhood Classics: 100 Years of Book Illustrations in the Museum of Art.

Special Thanks to Our Contributors:

TRAINS! made possible by Jim Crossman in honor of his grandchildren, Claire Ellis, Clayton Ellis, and Cora Crossman.

Lighting installed by Outdoor Lighting Perspectives, funded by Laura Anne Turner

Storybook playhouse installed by T.W. Frierson Contractor, Inc. and Design Constructors, Inc.

Summertime at Cheekwood, Storybook Houses, and Childhood Classics: 100 Years of Children’s Book Illustrations are presented by Vanderbilt Health. The TRAINS! exhibit and new depot feature are made possible by Jim Crossman. Additional support for Storybook Houses has been provided by Sara and Richard Bovender, Karyn McLaughlin Frist, Kailey and JR Hand, Sharalena and Dick Miller, and an anonymous donor.


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