Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Von Kessinger's Express at the Florida Rail Road Museum

A member of the General's staff.
The Florida Rail Road Museum has several special events each year. We were lucky enough to be near Parrish Florida for Veterans Day Weekend when the Von Kessinger's Express came to town.
Dozens of re-enactors moved into the train depot late that week to set up camp in 1944 occupied France.
There were two camps actually. One for the German forces under the command of General Von Kessinger was in the train yard. In the woods beyond the station was the camp of the Allied Forces.
"Let me see your papers" screamed the German soldiers
We got to the train station just in time to be issued travel papers from the German Army. They hurried us to board the train with the general, his entourage and a cadre of French citizens traveling to Paris.
The General is in possession of important information that must not fall into Allied hands. Allied troops have parachuted behind enemy lines have cut off his normal lines of communication. The German soldiers are in control of the train but they are running for their lives.

The General's wife and his secretary were seated in our car.
The train left the station as the conductor warned us to keep our papers in order and not to argue with the German soldiers.
The Generals wife and his "secretary" were seated in our car. Their weepy friend accompanied them. She had recently lost her husband and was searching among the passengers for a new one.  Their banter kept us laughing as we traveled through the "French" countryside. It was necessary to use the imagination as we passed orange groves, palm trees and moss draped oaks.
The German soldiers patrolled our car frequently demanding that we hold our papers in the air.  They questioned us about our destination. Those that did not answer to the soldiers satisfaction were arrested as spies and taken away. One gentleman in our car was taken into custody because the General's secretary admired his muscles.

The Gestapo?
  A tall thin man in a black leather coat walked through the car several times. He stared fiercely at us but didn't say a word. We could only imagine that he was part of the dreaded Gestapo looking for spies.
Their were several German aviators on board. They were having a wonderful party as we traveled but would not share their wine. One of them held a lovely brown dachshund. He enjoyed allowing people to pet the dog with the line "Would you like to touch my wiener?"

The train stopped suddenly. There was debris on the track. Allied troops arrived in authentic WWII vehicles to capture the train. A battle ensued but the allied troops were beaten back at the ride continued.
A roughed up American soldier was paraded though the car at gunpoint having been captured.  He taunted the German soldiers, telling them that the Allies were closing in but they laughed at his suggestion to surrender.

A captured American soldier
The General and his officers walked through our car gloating about their victory.
The trip continued, more battles were fought and we enjoyed every minute of being participants.

Allied forces fight to capture the German train
The train traveled about 13 miles and the entire trip took about 2 hours. We reversed course at a train yard in Willow where the museums vintage engines and cars are stored. It was interesting to see what else the museum had to offer.
General Von Kessinger 
We learned that the car we were riding in was a former Jim Crow car. It had a divided wall and separate bathrooms where riders were once segregated by skin color. The conductor was very knowledgeable about the museum and the cars that were part of its rolling exhibit. It would have been interesting to talk with him longer but this event was not the place for that conversation.
The Florida Rail Road Museum is a unique experience in that the cars are the exhibits.
Rides are available twice a day on weekends. The museum gift shop and static exhibits are open Wednesday- Sunday from 10-4.

Florida Rail Road Museum
12210 83rd St East
Parrish, Florida
(941) 776-0906

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