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All Aboard For Father's Day

TrainTopia Immerses Visitors Into Miniature World Of Railways, US Scenery

Article by Julie Brown Patton

Photography by Provided by TrainTopia and Museum of American Railroad

Originally published in Frisco City Lifestyle

Trains truly transcend all ages. Want to take grandfathers, fathers, stepfathers, uncles, pet dads and other father-figures on a quick, multistate trip for Father's Day? TrainTopia in Frisco provides visitors with a tour of the American Southwest, via a 2,500-square-feet layout that showcases destinations from Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, all at 1:24 scale/“G” Gauge model. 

This year, TrainTopia staffers indicate they are offering $2 off the walk-up admission price to dads on Father's Day, June 18, between 1-5 p.m. Ticket prices are $10 each for adults, aged 13 years and older; and $5 each for children, ages 3 to 12 years old. (The Father's Day discount is not valid for online sales.)

TrainTopia reflects one man’s lifetime travel experiences and love of trains: the late Stephen Sanders. Steve invested more than $1 million (estimated value) and 20,000 man-hours into creating this extraordinary, one-of-a-kind tour of the American Southwest, woven together by seven operating rail lines. The exhibit is a gift of Steve's wife, Jane Sanders, and her daughters, and was made possible by Amanda and Brint Ryan, of Dallas.

Jane says her husband had been fascinated by trains ever since he boarded one as a boy at Dallas' Union Station to travel to camp in Colorado. His personal train collection began when the couple ran a hobby shop. It eventually grew to include more than 200 locomotives and cars made by Lehmann Gross Bahn of Germany.

TrainTopia is located at the Museum of the American Railroad. Founded in 1962, this nonprofit Texas corporation is dedicated to celebrating the heritage and exploring the future of railroads through historic preservation, research and educational programming. The museum collects artifacts and archival material from the railroad industry to exhibit and interpret their significance in American life and culture. 

Kellie Murphy, the museum's COO, says the layout features scenic highlights and miniature populated areas, soaring through the Rocky Mountains, logging camps and once-popular tourist destinations. Also included are scenic oil fields of West Texas, the spectacular Palo Duro Canyon with its dramatic hues and colors, and the famous Palo Duro Drive-In with its operating movie screen and 1950s cars. This visual journey concludes in a 1960s downtown Dallas, complete with an animated Main Street, spotlighting a bustling union station.

"The layout also includes a horse ranch and replica of the Hotel Settles in Big Spring, Texas.  TrainTopia’s lighting show transitions from sunrise to sunset several times during a visit, which brings new elements of the layout to life," she adds. 

She says they also host field trips for local students.

Proceeds from TrainTopia benefit the museum, Kellie says, with the exhibit's air-conditioned space provided by the City of Frisco's Community Development Corporation.

TrainTopia is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 1-5 p.m. 

Outside the museum, guided walking tours can be scheduled at select times, says Bob LaPrelle,  the museum's executive director/CEO since 1988. He's a 30-year veteran in the field of historic railway preservation and museums.

Bob is president of the HeritageRail Alliance, and chairs the Museums Advocacy and Recommended Practices Committees, making annual trips to Washington, D.C. He also serves on the board of the London-based World Association of Tourist Trams & Trains (WATTRAIN).

Volunteer Opportunities

Interested in joining the museum’s volunteer team? Then email John Garbutt, director of programs and services at 

John says all museum supporters are proud to be stewards of one of the premier railroad collections in the United States.

"The evolution from State Fair exhibit to world class repository of rolling stock, buildings and ephemera was made possible in large part by a devoted fellowship of volunteers," he adds. "These individuals possessed the vision and determination to ensure the survival of these monumental and irreplaceable treasures. Our volunteers are an active part of the museum and we depend on their services to help us educate and reach out to all generations."

Volunteer services include being a docent, helping during special events and giving tours. John says museum volunteers range from model railroading fans to retired railroad workers and everything in-between.


Three different financial levels to support the museum are available:

  1. Frisco Firefly: $45 annually; up to four complimentary scheduled walking tour admissions per visit to the museum.
  2. Royal Limited: $70 annually; one complimentary copy of the book Images of Modern America: Museum of the American Railroad, plus up to four complimentary scheduled walking tour admissions per visit to the museum.
  3. Santa Fe de Luxe: $100 annually; one year subscription to Classic Trains magazine, plus up to four complimentary scheduled walking tour admissions per visit to the museum.

Additionally, the museum participates in the Kroger Community Rewards Program through Kroger matches a portion of eligible grocery purchases with a quarterly check to the museum. Simply enroll for Kroger Plus Shopper’s Card and create an online account at Within one's personal account, enroll under the Community tab on the left side of the screen and find Organization Name: MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN RAILROAD with Organization Number KD519

TrainTopia is a year-round, indoor destination presented by Frisco-based Museum of the American Railroad at 8004 N. Dallas Parkway. It’s a permanent exhibit at the Frisco Discovery Center, which also is home to Black Box Theater, Frisco Art Gallery, Sci-Tech Discovery Center and National Videogame Museum. 

"Highlights include scavenger hunts for mini hidden 'treasures' on the layout, and a spectacular light show that transitions from sunrise to sunset several times during visits."

"The TrainTopia setup is nearly identical to the way it was displayed by the Sanders family in their home until the entire set was donated to the museum."