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A Vacation Destination for Rail Enthusiasts and their Families

by Ted and Sylvia Blishak   April 1, 2011

  Stained glass in the Depot Inn   Stained glass in the Depot Inn  
Stained glass artwork hangs in window in the lobby of the Depot Inn in La Plata, Missouri.

How can a resident of Southern California turn a tiny hamlet in Missouri into a magnet for rail fans?

The man who accomplished this has built his career around his passion for trains. And in so doing, he has created jobs and businesses in La Plata, Missouri. The town (population about 1,500) is on Amtrak's Southwest Chief route between Chicago and Los Angeles.

La Plata Station
One of many Burllington Northern Santa Fe fast freights is rushing past the La Plata Station.

His name is Steve Grande, who admits, "I've traveled almost every Amtrak route in the nation since 1995, including a few routes that no longer exist. These rail journeys covered over 200,000 miles."

Between train trips, Grande created before most people had even heard about The Worldwide Web. is a huge site brimming with photos and information about every aspect of train travel, model railroading, rail fan events, and the industry itself.

  Depot Inn front desk   Depot Inn Lobby  
The front desk of the Depot Inn resembles an old-fashion train ticket counter.
The lobby at the Depot Inn features a fireplace, a massive lobby, and a picture showing the driving of the Golden Spike where the two trans-continental railroads met.

"Trainweb's sister company,, was created to fill an unmet need," says Grande. " was queried many times by rail fans who wanted to know where they could find items for train-themed parties. Since there was no source, we decided to fill the gap.

"A La Plata, Missouri, hotel owner ordered 1,000 plastic train whistles from, and we asked, 'What are you going to do with them?' He explained they'd be handed out at the grand opening of his new hotel, The Depot Inn & Suites, an unusual train-themed resort. One thing led to another and we eventually found ourselves moving our operations to La Plata and getting involved in the community."'s headquarters gives one a "kid-in-a-candy-store" high. It holds hundreds of train-themed balloons, paper plates, cups, favors and trinkets with various themes such as Amtrak, Thomas the Tank Engine, The Little Engine that Could, etc. You may order at, or call 1 800 761 4294. The Inn, not far from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks, is a shrine to trains. Guest rooms have closed-circuit TV action from a webcam overlooking the tracks and frequent high-speed freight trains appear to blast right through.

  Depot Inn Lobby Library   Depot Inn Pullman Display  
The Lobby at the Depot Inn contains books that cover many interests.
Back to the days when Pullman meant traveling overnight in comfort with excellent porters to take care of you.

The Inn is a treasure trove of signal lamps, signs, posters, etc. A vintage Amtrak conductor’s uniform, midnight blue with scarlet trim, hangs in a glass case.

For live action, the heated and air conditioned Chris Guenzler Millionth Mile Train Watching Lookout Cabin is a short walk away and overlooks the tracks. A loudspeaker, tuned to BNSF scanner frequencies, broadcasts crew chatter as freights roar past.

The Inn is a popular venue for families with children. It has an indoor swimming pool and a large lobby with a fireplace. The extensive library, which covers all kinds of subjects, can keep the non-rail fans in the family quite entertained. A collection of memorabilia from the Pullman Car era is also on display.

Depot Inn Pullman Suite entrance
Depot Inn sign and an antique "speeder" car
A railroad-themed suite is called the Pullman Suite.
Depot Inn sign and an antique "speeder" car
  If you arrive by Amtrak, arrange a rental car to visit nearby attractions which include Hannibal, MO, home of Tom Sawyer. Sylvia was impressed with the very same legendary whitewashed fence, still standing, that was in the book. Mark Twain's characters were based on real, live residents. Signs posted in front of the old houses identify with their real names which characters lived therein. There's a Mark Twain museum with the Norman Rockwell paintings used in the Tom Sawyer book, and a display of a model railroad. And the cave where Tom and Becky got lost is available for tourists to visit.  
  Hannibal from Lovers Leap   Hannibal, Lionel Display  
Mark Twain's home town, Hannibal, MO, is a short drive from La Plata.
Hannibal's Hobby Shop holds a lavish model train display.
  Hannibal, MO   Mark Twain Museum, Hannibal, MO  
These Hannibal homes date from Mark Twain's day. Note the famous whitewashed fence to the left.
The ghosts of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain, and Huckleberry museum in Hannibal, Mo.
  Marceline, where Walt Disney grew up, is worth a drive. He lived on a farm here, and became attached to the barnyard creatures, a fact that inspired his later creative energies. In a building next to the train tracks, which used to be the train station when passenger trains stopped here, is the Walt Disney Museum. We were surprised at how much of a rail fan Disney was. Courtesy of his uncle, who was a railroad employee, Walt actually occupied the engineer's seat in the old steam engines that once stopped here. We watched a movie about Disney's professional life there that made us realize how very much of the American scene, even today, was a result of this amazing man.  
  We saw black Amish horse-drawn buggies going through La Plata. Their farms are nearby, and we visited a bakery and a general store in their neighborhood.   Amish horse &  buggy  
  Marceline Museum   Marceline Park Locomotive  
Sylvia visits with Minnie and Mickey outside the Walt Disney Museum in Marceline. (Her tee-shirt is from Truman State University near La Plata. The school library features a life-size bronze statue of the late President)
Walt Disney's uncle drove steam engines like this, and would allow little Walt into the cab.
Marceline Museum, Mickey Mouse
  Marceline Museum, Mickey Mouse  
Walt Disney was a rail enthusiast, as Mickey, dressed in a engineer's uniform, remembers
The tiny hamlet of Marcelene is where Walt Disney grew up. The former train depot now houses a Disney Museum.

Back to the Depot Inn and Suites: This is an appropriate destination for year-round visits, and is located at 1245 North Brown Street, La Plata, Missouri 63549; phone 1 888-814-3669, or visit

Rail fan energy began enlivening the community as Grande placed retired Amtrak mail cars next to the Inn. One became The Exhibition of Amtrak History with vintage menus, timetables, maps, mugs, wineglasses, stationery and buttons from the Amtrak Historical Society and Trainweb. (Amtrak will celebrate its 40th anniversary this May).

The other railcar car holds an interactive Model Railroad Display and Exhibition of Railroad Telegraphy.

Call The Inn at 1 888 814 3669 for information.

La Plata's latest venture is the unique Silver Rails Gallery. Railroading throughout American history comes alive here.

Artist Jackie Hadnot's large wooden carving
  Depot Inn Wall Hanging  
Artist Jackie Hadnot displays large wooden carvings of trains he remembers from his childhood.
Wall Hanging in Depot Inn lobby with a step (lower right) used to climb into a waiting train.

At the grand opening, in March, 2010, rail-related displays showcased attending artists, including Carl Morrison, TrainWeb's most prolific photographer who has won numerous awards for his work. Jackie Hadnot was there with his large, detailed wood carvings, as well as Nick Smith (railroad photography), Will Anderson (CAD train renderings), Ken Barrett (paintings), Sotere Torregian (Amtrak travel poetry), and Bob and Amy Cox (railroad photographers), and various other talented people.

Visit for photos and details. The Gallery is located at 109 South Gex Street, La Plata, MO 63549. For information, call Bob Cox, Curator, at 1-660-956-4157.

Within The Gallery, The Silver Rails Memorial Library preserves memorabilia of some late rail enthusiasts.

Learn more about Steve Grande at

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