The World’s Longest Miniature Train Ride

I want to take a quick second to tell you about the longest 10-minute train ride anyone has ever taken.

The ride started on Sunday when the Wolvertons found themselves in the Great White North of Harrison, Michigan with my in-laws looking for something to do on a sunny afternoon.

So when you’re with the Wallings, this means there’s a 95% chance of a road trip.

Now let me preface this by saying that I’ve never met a family as absolutely in love with the idea of driving like my wife’s. Amanda’s childhood stories are filled with multi-day car trips and every tale begins with some reference to transportation:

“Remember that time when we were driving to….”

“That reminds me of the time when I was 12 and we were on our way to….”

“That noise coming from under the hood sounds like what I heard in 1998 when we took a road trip to Colorado and there was a family of raccoons under there that got chewed up by the fan belt.”

See, my dad drives for a living and the idea of driving somewhere on vacation disgusted him. I swear to you that the longest trips we ever took were to Merrill to visit my uncle and aunt or to Deer Acres in Pinconning.

Amanda’s family, meanwhile, never met a drive they didn’t like. Hell, Sunday afternoon I asked my father-in-law to get me a Diet Coke and he hopped in his truck and drove six feet to the cooler to get it for me. That’s the kind of driving obsession we’re talking about here.

So needless to say when my mother-in-law asked us if we wanted to take the kids to ride the miniature train I knew we were in for a haul.

“Where’s it at?” I ask.

“Oh, it’s a little ways,” she replies.

Now let me tell you a little bit about up north distances. Several years back when I first started going up there with my in-laws I devised an easy-to-follow scale that estimates road trip distances. It looks something like this:

Right around the corner — This means wherever you’re headed is at least 15 minutes away. The “right around the corner” is perhaps a little misleading, but I suppose when you’re up in Harrison and there’s only a road every 12 miles that corners are few and far between.

A few minutes away — Take a bathroom break first. There’s a good chance you’re going to be in the car more than 30 minutes.

It’s a little ways — Easily the toughest distance to judge. Expect a drive anywhere between 45 minutes and four hours. You’ll stop for gas once and directions three times.

It’s a long drive — Pack your sunscreen, you’re driving to Florida.

So when she dropped the “it’s a little ways” on us I knew we were in trouble.

The other thing that makes up north road trips daunting is the lack of Point A to Point B travel. You’ve heard of “as the crow flies,” well up there everything is “as the bear moseys.” Everywhere you go you’re at least 45 minutes from the expressway and most of the roads you travel are either made of gravel or have ridiculous names like, “County Road 7.”

An example of the roads we traveled. Don’t think Google’s little map car has been down here.

I asked my father-in-law why it’s called County Road 7 and he told me it’s because there are only seven roads in the whole county. Roscommon County, ladies and gentlemen.

No surprise, then, that we were less than five minutes out of the driveway when we found ourselves on a one-lane gravel road with no signs anywhere to be seen. We’ve got nothing but acres of woods on either side of us and I look down at my phone to pull up Google maps and in the corner where it usually says 4G it simply says “LOL.”

That’s what kind of trip we were in for.

Also, someone explain to me how when you’re up north you can drive a mile, take a right, drive another mile, take a right, drive another mile, take a right and somehow be 35 miles or 90 minutes from where you started. Time and space do not follow their universal laws when you’re north of Midland. At one point we’re going down this dirt road and my father-in-law insists we’re driving East. That’s all well and good, except for the fact that the little built-in compass in my dashboard showed a rock-solid ‘S.’ I’m no brainatologist, but I think those are conflicting directions. Unless, of course, the ‘S’ stood for “screwed.”

I suppose it’s likely.

Right out the gate, then, we’re 45 minutes into this drive when we come across pavement again and pull out at the intersection we usually pass when we’re five minutes from the campground.


As this journey continues, I’m starting to grow amazed at just how clueless I am to where we are. You know that scene in Taken when he’s kidnapped and taking mental notes of how long they travel before each turn? Well, if Liam Neeson was on this trip with us about 12 minutes into it he would have just said, “Oh the hell with it, I’ll just let them kill me.”

Turns out we were heading for Fairview, Michigan, which is home to the Michigan Ausable Valley Railroad. I had never heard of this place before, and was not reassured when my mother-in-law says aloud, “Boy I sure hope they’re open today.”

Welcome to Michigan Ausable Valley Railroad, where the name is longer than the railroad.

This is the part where you’d expect I would have been angry, except I wasn’t. I actually said, “Well, if it is closed then I’ll probably have the best blog post ever.”

Sadly, it was open and now I’ll just have to settle for a regular blog post.

When we pulled in I saw this amazing mock train station set up in some dude’s backyard with all the family members out front dressed as train station personnel and just waiting for someone to show up.

We were the only ones in the parking lot. It was like 4 p.m. on the Sunday of Memorial Weekend and all I’m thinking is, 10 minutes ago these guys could have said, “Screw it, no one is coming today, let’s drive 40 miles to the nearest store and buy booze.”

And it would have been 40 miles. I don’t understand how places like this exist. We were in the middle of nowhere, Michigan on County Road 21.3 and you just randomly stumble across some half million dollar train station some old dude built in his back yard. It’s sort of like Field of Dreams with less Kevin Costner and more Amish.

So we get on this train — did I mention it’s miniature? — and my legs are comfortably resting against my chest. There are bigger seats on it, but when you’re with your kids and they insist you sit by them lest they fall out of the train to their gory deaths you abide by the rules. When the toothless man smoking cigarettes and dressed like a train conductor speaks, you listen, ya know?

“All aboard!” The train lady on the platform yells!

The train moves.

“Ok, welcome back everyone! Please step safely to your left and back onto the platform.”

Wait. Did I miss something? We’re back already? I must’ve blinked. I know the ride didn’t last long because only one of my feet are asleep. Had it been any longer than five minutes I think they would have had to amputate my lower half given the way I was sitting. Hell, my one foot falls asleep randomly in the middle of a work day. This was nothing.

The good part was, my kids loved it. They were smiling and laughing and joking around. This is the opposite, of course, to my feelings when my mother-in-law proclaimed it was time to hop back in the van to head home.

Yep, that’s right. Just about 92 miles and 105 minutes of driving for a fifty second train ride.

Disclaimer: Actually, the Michigan Ausable Valley Railroad was pretty sweet. The family obviously spent a lot of time building it and everything seemed very safe and first class. We went around the track twice and it was a very reasonable $6 per person. However, saying that in a blog just isn’t that funny. Plus, maybe if I write this someone will stumble across it and they’ll sponsor an ad on my blog. So for all you readers out there, be sure to head over to the Michigan Ausable Valley Railroad! Tell ‘em you heard about it on and receive a free replica train whistle!

And then we were back in the car.

It’s ok, though, because we weren’t in the car long. About 15 minutes down the road and Jace yells from the back “I have to pee!”

Excellent, I think. We end up stopping at a gas station where I honestly believe it would have been more sanitary to wash my hands in the toilet water than touch anything else that was in there. Instead of “Employees must wash hands before exiting” there should have been an “Employees should know better than to come in here,” sign.

We get back in the car and another 15 minutes down the road and Emma yells, “I have to pee!”

You’ve got to be shitting me.

She screams it again with a little more urgency this time. She can’t possibly hold it any longer or she’s going to explode.

And we’re eight miles from Luzerne, Michigan.

Any other place on Earth and eight miles flies by in a matter of a couple of minutes. On County Road 38.92 just outside of Luzerne, you end up getting stuck behind a horse and buggy and it takes you 25 minutes.

No caption needed.

Oh, and in case you haven’t been to Luzerne, let me tell you a bit about it. As a young kid, I actually spent a lot of time in Luzerne at my grandpa’s cabin. I don’t remember much about it.

As a 31-year-old man I’m here to tell you that I was in Luzerne yesterday and I don’t remember much about it. That is, other than the fact that my wife said it was the most disgusting bathroom she’s every been in, the place sold a lot of beef jerky, and when my urine-filled-about-to-pop-like-a-balloon daughter went in there she got a case of the shy bladder and couldn’t go.

Yep, that’s right. Couldn’t go. And you want to know the crazy part? She proceeded to hold it for another 90 minutes until we got back to the camp site. Hell, to be honest with you I still don’t know if she’s gone.

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