Museums dedicated to transportation and its history are
typically considered something old men, war veterans and collectors
enjoy most. But that's a stereotype museum directors in the Chicago
area want to change. In our own backyard, museums and stores
dedicated to planes, trains and automobiles offer something for
every member of the family.
"Vintage," "bizarre" and "formerly owned by the stars" describes
just a small portion of the exhibits at Volo Auto Museum. While
adults may enjoy classics such as The Dukes of Hazzard's General
Lee or the Delorean from "Back to the Future," every member of the
family will love the museum's latest Cars in Wonderland
Cars in Wonderland features vehicles and displays from favorite
Hollywood children's shows and films. Cars' Mater, Lightning
McQueen and Doc Hudson are featured alongside Scooby Doo's Mystery
Machine, SpongeBob SquarePants' Boatmobile and more. Life-size
character figures complete each display, and visitors can watch
cartoon shorts in the Disney-themed theater area.
"Walking through this exhibit, families don't know what's around
the next corner," says Brian Grams, the museum's director. "It's a
permanent exhibit, but it will always be changing. We are always
looking for ways to change and build the museum."
During the fall months, the museum hosts its haunted trolley
tour. The museum is built on an 1848 farm, and guests and staff
have experienced some creepy things. Discovery Channel's Ghost Lab
crew even made their way to the museum to see what the fuss was
about. Families can hear about the paranormal activities and enjoy
the attraction on weekends beginning in late September and
Volo Auto Museum
27582 Volo Village Road
The Air Classics Museum of Aviation, located in Sugar Grove near
the Aurora Airport, is home to retired aircraft and helicopters, an
exhibit featuring plane engines, and the stories of innovators and
heroes in aviation.
Families can arrange private tours during the week or visit the
museum during general admission hours on Saturdays and Sundays.
Before exploring the planes outside, families are guided through
an indoor exhibit featuring airplane models and equipment and
stories of people who lived their dream to fly. There is a coloring
station to keep kids busy if they get antsy while parents
Outside is the most exciting part of the tour: the planes!
Families can sit in two planes and one helicopter to play pilot and
co-pilot while learning about how technologically advanced planes
are and why some were painted like sharks to fool the enemy during
The museum is creating an exhibit dedicated to commercial
aviation. Henry Winkler, the museum's curator, says new things
always are being added.
Air Classics Museum of Aviation
44W546 U.S. 30
Are there any words more tempting for a kid than "do not
touch"-particularly when they're surrounded by toys practically
crying out to be played with by enthusiastic little hands?
That's why I took my 2-year-old nephew to America's Best Train
& Hobby Shop, a dream come true for his choo-choo crazy self.
The inconspicuous shop doesn't look much like a toddler playground
until you step inside.
Half of the store is devoted to toys-it claims to have one of
the largest selections in the state. The narrow aisles are packed
full of fun products, and yes, lots and lots of trains. Pop culture
favorites like Thomas and Chuggington get a lot of shelf space,
with everything from playsets to PJs begging to be bought.
But the highlight of the store isn't quite as obvious. Tucked
into the back corner (where there are also spacious restrooms) is
the Kids Station, a room containing eight different train tables
for visiting kids to use.
On a quiet Monday morning, we had the room all to ourselves.
Aidan loved maneuvering choo-choos from track to track and table to
table-and not having to put them away afterward.
There's also a Calico Critters table for those who prefer
woodland animals to planes, trains and automobiles.
It's best to hold your little one's hand in the other half of
the store, where model trains abound. Aidan loved the large model
train platform with, by my count, five different engines. Stools
allow kids to get a close-up view, and they'll love spotting
everything from jack-o-lanterns to playground swings. If you ask,
the employees may even turn on the trains for a show.
Best yet, our outing would have been completely free, had I been
able to resist buying a conductor hat and a train-shaped lollipop
to remember our hands-on, train-filled day. -- Elizabeth
America's Best Train, Toy & Hobby Shop
865 Maplewood Drive, Itasca