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Rail Days celebration goes digital with virtual tours, videos
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Rail Days celebration goes digital with virtual tours, videos

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Bailey Yard

Union Pacific's Bailey Yard in North Platte, the largest railroad switching station in the world.

The Rail Days celebration has attracted crowds from a number of states — and countries — to the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center in past years. Those individuals might take an interest in the event again this weekend, but they will have to do so from a distance.

The three-day festival that begins Friday will be a virtual event due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is also tied in with a model train show that will be at the D&N Event Center.

“I’m not going to lie — doing a virtual event is way harder than doing an in-person event,” said Kirsten Parker, Golden Spike’s executive director. “It’s the unknown — just the question of if we are providing something that is going to be engaging. It’s nerve-wracking. I’m probably more nervous this year than I’ve been for one before.”

The event, which celebrates North Platte’s railroad history, will consist of a series of virtual tours. Those include the Golden Spike Tower and Bailey Yard areas, and the Lincoln County Historical Museum, as well as the inside of a locomotive for a 10-minute trip.

There will also be videos that highlights history of Bailey Yard and the North Platte Canteen as well as the foods and beverages that are Nebraska-based.

The schedule for the virtual tours Friday through Sunday will be posted on Golden Spike’s website and Facebook page.

The Golden Spike will be open throughout the weekend as well. No more than 30 people are allowed in the tower at one time due to social distancing guidelines.

“With COVID-19 going on and the reduction in tourism ... we evaluated (Rail Days) and if we were going to have it and what it was going to look like,” Parker said. “(The virtual tour) wasn’t a quick decision by any means, and we looked to see what would be the best for our community and guests.”

The model train show is a combination of two events. The Nebraska West-Central Division of the National Model Railroad Association has traditionally had a larger show in April in North Platte, but the event was canceled this year due to the pandemic.

It was moved to this weekend and combined with an event the group runs in conjunction with Rail Days. Gene Tacey, the area director for the Nebraska West-Central Division, said there will be five layouts in two different scales — the “O” and “HO.” He added the setup fills the D&N Center’s concrete area.

The “O” is the second-largest in the model train scale, while the “HO” is about half the size of that.

The show will be held from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets are $4 for adults and $1 for children under 12 years old. Kids 5 and under are admitted free with a paid adult.

Tacey’s grandfather was a hostler for Burlington Northern Railroad and he gained a love of trains from that.

It led him into the model versions and the setup in the basement of his house in Sutherland.

“I just like operating them. I run my layout all the time,” Tacey said. “I like switching and that kind of stuff. It’s problem-solving essentially — just like the real railroads, only on a smaller scale.”

Like-minded people are drawn to the model show, which is in its 26th year.

“There is just people who like to watch trains,” Tacey said.

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