The Gage Park Mini Train has given Colleen Horn many fond memories. It was even part of her daughter’s wedding.
So Horn couldn’t help but stop Monday when, while driving past the park, she noticed that a new mini train was being unloaded.
“I had to see this,” she said.
Mini train rides to start with spring break
Horn was among those who watched as workers used heavy equipment to lift the shiny new locomotive off a trailer and set it on tracks that cross Blaisdell Drive just northwest of Animaland, the park’s free children’s play area.
Skies were sunny and temperatures in the lower 60s as workers then removed the five coaches the engine will pull, and also placed them on the tracks.
Shawnee County Parks and Recreation plans to store the train in a tunnel in the park, where it will begin giving mini train rides at spring break, said Mike McLaughlin, spokesman for that department.
Old mini train engine had operated since 1967
Screaming in a tunnel, riding over a railroad bridge and going past a pond are among experiences common to riders of the mini train.
That train takes riders on a roughly mile-long trip through the park using basically the same route it has since it began running in August 1967.
Shawnee County Parks and Recreation has operated the train since city of Topeka and Shawnee County parks and recreation departments were merged under county control in 2012.
Old mini train engine to remain at park
The Shawnee County Commission last May entered into a contract through which the county used American Rescue Plan Act money to buy the new mini train for $650,000 from Wichita-based Chance Rides Manufacturing Inc.
Chance Rides previously acquired Allan Herschel Co., the company that made the park’s original mini train.
Shawnee County plans to keep the old mini train locomotive on display at the park, though it hasn’t yet worked out the details, McLaughlin said.
Topekans feel “a strong connection” with the old locomotive, County Commissioner Aaron Mays said at a 2021 commission meeting.
A matrimonial memory
Horn recalled the day about 19 years ago when her daughter, Amanda Meyer, got on the old mini train wearing her wedding dress accompanied by her father and Colleen Horn’s husband, the late Ed Horn.
Father and daughter rode the train to a site near a pond in the park, where he then gave her away at her wedding, Colleen Horn recalled.
She said she brings her grandchildren to the park every summer, and looks forward to making new memories with the new mini train.
‘Your knees won’t be up in your chin’
The new locomotive is a replica of the C.P. Huntington steam locomotive, which is on static display at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, California, McLaughlin said.
That locomotive weighs 6,800 pounds and is roughly the same size as the old one, but is slightly shorter, he said.
Seats in the new mini train’s passenger cars will be much more comfortable for adults than they were in the old one’s cars, McLaughlin said.
“Your knees won’t be up in your chin,” he said.
Like ‘driving your car for 55 years’
The new mini train has an electric motor. The train it replaces has a diesel engine.
The county last year bought 900 gallons of diesel fuel for the old train but will no longer incur that expense, McLaughlin said.
The old locomotive was used for 55 years, which McLaughlin likened to “driving your car for 55 years.”
Maintenance costs were considerable, and finding replacement parts for the aging locomotive was particularly challenging, McLaughlin said.
Dan Dodds, the mechanic responsible for the train, told The Capital-Journal in 2021 that the alternator on its old locomotive failed that year at a time when no other mini train alternators were available.
“So I took one off of my Chevy truck at home, bolted it on there and it ran for a week with my alternator on it,” he said.
Contact Tim Hrenchir at email@example.com or 785-213-5934.