Seeing the fall colors is an essential experience whether you live in or visit Michigan. The vibrant shades of yellow and red are a beautiful backdrop for hikes and scenic road trips. However, these aren’t the only ways to observe the changing leaves. You can go on a relaxing Michigan fall color train tour on the Pere Marquette 1225 with the Steam Railroading Institute. In fact, it’s one of the top unique ways to see the fall foliage.
Everything There Is to Know About SRI
Along with a commitment to educating people about steam trains in Michigan and around the Great Lakes, the Steam Railroading Institute preserves and operates steam locomotives and other equipment. Also, it offers many opportunities to see the steam trains operate throughout the Lower Peninsula.
Located in Owosso, the SRI was originally formed as the Michigan State University Railroad Club in 1969 when some engineering students took interest in the retired Pere Marquette 1225, which was donated to the university in 1957. In 1979, the club became the Michigan State Trust for Railway Preservation Incorporated.
The nonprofit educational corporation adopted the name Steam Railroading Institute in 2000. Six years later, the organization started offering Michigan train tours to West Owosso.
The SRI headquarters and Welcome Center occupy the former Ann Arbor Railroad roundhouse and steam shops. Including the Pere Marquette 1225, it has two steam locomotives, a fleet of passenger cars, two diesel locomotives, and a variety of historic structures. Its fall train rides Michigan excursions are popular in September.
More About the Pere Marquette 1225
Built in 1941, the Pere Marquette 1225 measures 16 feet tall and 101 feet long and weighs 440 tons. With this size, it takes 150 gallons of water per mile and 1 ton of coal per 12 miles to operate.
The Pere Marquette 1225 cost $245,000 to build at the time, which is the equivalent of $2.5 million in modern-day. For 10 years, it was used to haul freight between several cities in Michigan and Ohio. The locomotive was retired in 1951 and replaced with a diesel locomotive.
Forest Akers, a Michigan State University Trustee and the vice president of Dodge Motors, saved the Pere Marquette 1225 in 1957 and donated it to the university. Since then, the SRI has restored and continues to maintain the locomotive.
It’s the largest and most impressive steam equipment in the organization’s collection and one of the largest steam locomotives that operates in Michigan. The blueprints and sounds of the Pere Marquette 1225 were used to bring to life the train in the 2004 animated film “The Polar Express.”
Visiting the SRI Welcome Center
Opened in 2004, the SRI Welcome Center resides in a renovated freight warehouse, the foundation for which was established in the late 1880s. It’s believed that the previous structure burned down and was replaced with the current structure in the 1920s. The floor is capable of withstanding heavy loads, while king posts and solid wood trusses support the ceiling.
Now, the Welcome Center contains a model railroad layout and exhibits. There’s a gift shop with Pere Marquette 1225 and SRI souvenirs, specialty gifts, and fun railroad toys too.
Additionally, it houses the SRI library on the ground level, which consists of a collection of archival materials and preserved artifacts. Some of these items are books, magazines, and other literature that date back to the steam era. The most prized pieces are historic artifacts and documents from the early days of the Michigan State University Railroad Club and the initial Pere Marquette 1225 restoration.
Behind the Scenes on the SRI Grounds
Volunteer tour guides are available to show you behind the scenes on the SRI grounds. You’ll get to look at the rarely accessible collection and equipment. The highlight is a firsthand look at the restoration and maintenance of the Pere Marquette 1225 in the Backshop, where it stays when it’s not operating train rides in Michigan.
Riding the 7.25-Inch-Gauge Miniature Railroad
Also on the SRI grounds is the 7.25-inch-gauge miniature railroad, which the organization started running in 2009. Throughout September, guests of all ages can ride the nearly 0.25-mile track, which stretches along the Shiawassee River Trail. You can even bring your own 7.25-inch-gauge equipment to run on the track.
SRI Scenic Train Rides in Michigan
SRI fall excursions depart from and connect to several depots in cities throughout the Lower Peninsula. Some of these include the SRI headquarters in Owosso, the Howell Depot Museum in Howell, and the Great Lakes Railway Depot in Cadillac.
The departure locations reach as far north as Petoskey and as far south as Whitmore Lake. No matter where you depart, you’ll have a wonderful view of the fall foliage as the train passes through the countryside and quaint downtown areas for an hour or entire day.
The week before your train tour, you’ll receive an email with all of the details that you need, including whether there will be shuttles during your excursion. So that you have time to get settled on board, the SRI requests that you board the train one hour before the scheduled departure.
Seating Options for SRI Excursions
On SRI Michigan train tours, several types of seating are available in the passenger cars. The layout is similar to that of a bus or airplane with padded seats on each side of a center aisle.
In the bi-level car, the first-floor seats are arranged side by side, while the second-floor seats are arranged in a single row. Seven steps lead to the second floor, and then the seats are up another step.
In the historic 1940s and ’50s vintage cars, there are seats for 70 people. Two seats sit next to each other on both sides of the central aisle. They’re arranged in groups of four so that one pair of seats faces another pair. In some of the vintage cars, there are small tables in between.
Additionally, there are 12 seats in the caboose. The caboose is the only car that you can’t leave until the train stops. Otherwise, you can walk between the other cars.
Keep in mind that every passenger has to climb four or five stairs to board the train because SRI doesn’t have loading platforms. Even though the cars have a limited number of handicap-accessible seats, handicap passengers must be able to board. Also, only collapsible wheelchairs are permitted on the trains.
Details About Food and Restrooms
If you get hungry or thirsty during your fall train rides Michigan trip, you can visit the gift shop on the train for snacks and drinks. Since you can’t leave the caboose while it’s in motion, complimentary snacks and beverages are available.
If you have any food allergies, though, you can take your own food as long as it doesn’t take up a lot of space. For instance, you can’t take a large cooler for security and space purposes.
Across all of the vintage and coach deluxe passenger cars, there are eight restrooms that you can use during the train ride. Not all of the bi-level and coach cars have restrooms, though. Furthermore, most of the cabooses only have outhouse-style restrooms available in case of an emergency.
Consider These Other Railways for a Michigan Fall Color Train Tour
Tahquamenon Falls Riverboat Tours & the Famous Toonerville Trolley
In Soo Junction, Tahquamenon Falls Riverboat Tours & the Famous Toonerville Trolley offers 5.5-mile train rides in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The train follows the longest 24-inch-gauge railroad in the country and travels through the wilderness, so you’re likely to see wildlife and plenty of fall colors.
You get the chance to disembark and see the Tahquamenon River from the riverside park before returning to Soo Junction. Restrooms and concessions are available at the park, and the whole train ride takes less than two hours.
Michigan Train Tours With Coopersville & Marne Railway
Along with fall foliage tours, the Coopersville & Marne Railway has EnterTRAINment Excursions and The Famous Pumpkin Train tours. The historic railway is operated by volunteers and has vintage locomotives with passenger cars from the 1920s. The fall train rides run from Coopersville to Marne, which is about 7 miles, crosses over a road bridge and four creeks, and passes through fields and farms.
The 90-minute EnterTRAINment Excursions run through September and include a Singing Trainman who plays railroad and other songs. You’ll learn about railroad history and equipment from the friendly conductor, too, as you watch the passing fall colors. The Famous Pumpkin Train features singing and dancing by the Scarecrow, Little Crow, and Grand Pumpkin characters. At the end of the ride, kids get to pick pumpkins out of the pumpkin patch.
Southern Michigan Railroad Society Fall Train Rides
The Southern Michigan Railroad Society operates two-hour scenic train rides in Michigan during October. The Fall Color Tour starts in historic downtown Tecumseh and ends in Clinton where you can explore the railroad museum. The train crosses the River Raisin near the Red Millpond, which features excellent views of the changing leaves.
You get the best view from the open-air gondola car, but a fully enclosed caboose is available as well. If the weather keeps you from riding in the open-air gondola, exploring the antique shops and stores in Tecumseh are a lovely alternative.
Dinner Train Experiences With Adrian & Blissfield Rail Road Company
For truly special fall train rides Michigan offers, travel the Adrian & Blissfield Rail Road Company’s short-line railroad. The Old Road Dinner Train allows you to dine while enjoying entertainment as you ride through the countryside of either Charlotte or Blissfield, Michigan.
The company operates The Old Road: The Murder Mystery Dinner Train from both locations too. The three-hour ride includes a murder mystery and five-course meal. You can get souvenirs from the gift shop to commemorate your excursion.
Other Ways to Enjoy Michigan Fall Foliage
Aside from taking a Michigan fall color train tour, there are numerous ways to enjoy the fall colors and fall activities. For example, you could check out some of the state’s delightful apple orchards and one-of-a-kind corn mazes. Moreover, there are several must-visit places in Michigan for fall foliage.