EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first column in an occasion series by Jerry Lofstrom about the construction of the train viewing platform in Plant City.
In a groundbreaking ceremony that was five years in the making, the dream of building a train-viewing platform in downtown Plant City is coming true. The well-attended event, held June 19 at Arden Mays Boulevard and Palmer Street, represented the best of life in Plant City: people unselfishly coming together for a common cause.
For 129 years, the people of Plant City have been watching trains go by. Haven't we had enough of watching trains and listening to that railroad crossing gate that drops slowly toward the ground and cuts us off from where we want to go?
Is a train viewing platform really necessary when we already have one in the seat of our vehicle when we drive through town?
I think, yes.
It's impossible to run from Plant City's history; in the still of a late summer afternoon, this town's ghosts from the past rise from the tracks to reenact railroad history. A train rumbles through the heart of town, its whistle blowing; it comes every couple of hours, chugging along Arden Mays Boulevard just as it did in 1884.
Our town grew up with the railroad. Historic cemeteries are located here, rich with stories about the people who farmed the land and settled the community.
Bringing a train view platform to the historic downtown area is an endeavour by townspeople who want to hold onto that sense of history and community.
And that's a good thing.
For organizers and advocates, the train viewing platform and adjacent train museum also will be a public education source as well as an economic stimulus for downtown. The call to undertake this enterprising project is simple: "Build it and they will come."
Though long trumped by the automobile as a primary means of transportation, the train still holds a great fascination for kids and adult alike. Plant City is betting on that fascination to draw tourists to the downtown historic depot and the nearby train-viewing platform.
Most people know the important things about their community: the neighbourhood, ball fields, local parks, the grocery store and church.
But how much do they know about Plant City's history?
Imagine a vast interactive railroad museum, across the tracks from the viewing platform that reminds town folks and educates new visitors of Plant City's rich railroad heritage.
Top that off with an authentic railroad caboose and R.R. locomotive on display, drawing thousands of visitors.
Train's Magazine estimates there are 175,000 rail fans in the U.S. Folkston, Ga., according to its chamber of commerce, has about 13,500 visitors travel to Folkston to watch trains from the viewing platform.
They're called "train spotters" - train buffs who have a passion for watching trains. They stand alone or in groups, many times literally on the train track or beside the track, stirred by speculation of what type of train will soon be rumbling into town.
The L-shaped viewing platform will allow train fans a safe place to photograph and watch trains, eat at restaurants, shop at gift stores, stay at motels and contribute to the economic vitality of our community.
Now that's a good thing.
Note: No taxpayer funding will be used for this project. The viewing platform will be funded solely through the private sector from people like you. To contribute to this worthy effort, call the Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce at (813) 754-3707 or go to Plant City Train Viewing Platform on Facebook.