TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – A childhood favorite for many in the Topeka area celebrated a major milestone on Monday.
This year marks the 50th Anniversary that the Gage Park Mini-Train has been giving rides to families of all ages.
In October of 1966, the City of Topeka entered into a written agreement with A.C. and Leora McCall granting them the right to construct and operate a miniature train in Gage Park. The train route was to be located across the street west of the Topeka Zoo parking lot and circle throughout the park, covering approximately one mile in length.
This miniature train venture opened to the public in 1967. More than 1,000 children and adults rode the train that day and since then has been a classic for the city and Shawnee County.
In April of 1977, the City of Topeka purchased the miniature train operation for the price of $60,000 from McCall Amusements, Inc.
The locomotive, a 3-cylinder New Holland/Ford diesel engine, is a miniature replica of an 1881 Santa Fe Alan Herschell Iron Horse “Cyrus K. Holliday” model.
The four passenger cars are each approximately 18 feet in length, seven seats per car and the average capacity per car is 14 passengers. A fifth passenger car, handicapped accessible, was added in 1997.
The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Co. (A.T. & S.F.) caboose was donated to the city in 1985. It housed the ticket window on the east side of the train tracks until 1988, when the ticket operation was shifted back across the train tracks to the present location. The original 1967 train depot was demolished in 2002 and was replaced in 2003 with the current historic depot.
The train was originally built to last 20 years, but today it’s still holding on strong.
“I can’t imagine Gage Park without this train. It’s been here for 50 years. The park itself is about 117 years old, so it’s been here almost half the life of the park. So it’s just…it’s an icon here,” said Park Historian Bill Riphahn.
Five years ago, Shawnee County Parks and Recreation began a major overhaul of the vehicle to improve its performance and reduce downtime for repairs. With great attention and a good maintenance crew, the Gage Park mini-train has only been down for repairs only 15 days in the past five years.
“I have a love-hate relationship with this train. You get out here, you’re hot you’re sweaty and working on it to fix it. Then some three year old kid walks up and says thanks for fixing the train. Ok, it’s ok what you do. You get back to working on it again,” said Train Mechanic Dan Dodds.
The Gage Park Mini-Train is available for it’s a mile-long scenic course everyday from 10:30 a.m. through 6 p.m. now through Mid-August.