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New toy train unloaded on the tracks at Gage Park in Topeka

The Gage Park toy train has given Colleen Horn many fond memories. She was also part of her daughter’s marriage.

So Horn couldn’t help but stop on Monday when, driving past the park, he noticed a new toy train being unloaded.

“I had to see it,” he said.

The Little Train begins with spring break

Horn was among those watching the workers use heavy equipment to lift the gleaming new locomotive off a trailer and place it on the 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 removed the five cars that 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 offering toy train rides during spring break, said Mike McLaughlin, a spokesperson for that department.

The old train engine had been running since 1967

Shouting in a tunnel, riding across a railway bridge, and passing a pond are common experiences for passengers on the toy train.

That train takes passengers on a roughly mile-long journey through the park using virtually the same route it has done since it began operating in August of 1967.

Shawnee County Parks and Recreation has operated the train since the City of Topeka and Shawnee County Parks and Recreation Departments were merged under county control in 2012.

Old toy train engine to stay at the park

The Shawnee County Commission entered into an agreement last May in which the county used American Rescue Plan Act money to purchase the new toy train for $650,000 from Chance Rides Manufacturing Inc. of Wichita.

Chance Rides previously acquired Allan Herschel Co., the company that built the park’s original toy train.

Shawnee County plans to keep the old toy train locomotive on display at the park, though it hasn’t worked out the details yet, McLaughlin said.

The Topekans feel “a strong connection” to the old locomotive, County Commissioner Aaron Mays said at a 2021 commission meeting.

A wedding keepsake

Horn recalled the day some 19 years ago when her daughter, Amanda Meyer, rode the old train wearing her wedding dress accompanied by her father and Colleen Horn’s husband, the late Ed Horn.

Father and daughter took the train to a site near a pond in the park, where he then cheated on her at her wedding, Colleen Horn recalled.

She said she takes her grandkids to the park every summer and looks forward to making new memories with the new toy train.

‘Your knees won’t be in your chin’

The new locomotive is a replica of the CP Huntington steam locomotive, which is on static display at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, Calif., McLaughlin said.

That locomotive weighs 6,800 pounds and is about the same size as the old one but is slightly shorter, he said.

The seats in the new train’s passenger cars will be much more comfortable for adults than they were in the old train’s cars, McLaughlin said.

“Your knees won’t be on your chin,” she said.

Like ‘driving a car for 55 years’

The new train has an electric motor. The train it replaces has a diesel engine.

The county purchased 900 gallons of diesel fuel for the old train last year, but will no longer have to pay 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 spare parts for the old locomotive was particularly challenging, McLaughlin said.

Dan Dodds, the mechanic in charge of the train, told The Capital-Journal in 2021 that his old locomotive’s alternator failed that year at a time when no other toy train alternators were available.

“So I took one off my Chevy truck at home, bolted it in there and it ran for a week with my alternator running,” he said.

Contact Tim Hrenchir at [email protected] or 785-213-5934.

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