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Train Club Will Refurbish CHDC Train

A 1950s vintage “park train” will continue to travel the familiar tracks along the front acreage of the grounds of the Conway Human Development Center (CHDC) in Conway thanks to a proposal by members of the Central Arkansas Model Railroad Club (CAMRC). Members of the club proposed to “adopt” and refurnbish the train and to operate it as volunteers for the enjoyment of the residents residing at the Center. “It’s a relatively rare train with an interesting history. There are only a few of these 1950-era trains left in existence, and this is one of them,” said Daniel Gladstone, CAMRC President, an Acxiom employee and train hobbyist.

The club presented the idea of refurbishing the 24-inch-gauge train to CHDC Superintendent, Calvin Price, who welcomed the proposal and approve a program of work. Club members performed some routine maintenance, changed the oil, replaced the spark plugs, and started the engine. Like the “Little Engine That Could,” the train fired right up and took a short test trip to the trestle and back. Will McFadden, CAMRC club member and designated engineer, was at the controls, and Mr. Price was aboard as the sole “test passenger.”

Links to its History

This “amusement park train” was manufactured in the early 1950s by National Amusement Devices (NAD) in Ohio (formerly Dayton Fun House and Amusement Device Manufacturing Company). Based on research to date, NAD manufactured around a hundred units of this train. NAD was better known as a manufacturer of roller coaster cars. The company closed in 1978.

The train was purchased from NAD by Jess Woods (a.k.a Woody) for the Amusement Park in Burns Park called “Funland” in April, 1957. A few years later (1959), he was approached by a group called the Little Rock Chapter of “The Railway Business Women’s Association” who wanted to buy it and its track. They raised the money from contributions from the nearly 30 railroads that where operating in the state at that time. The Train and the track was sold to them for around $ 20,000 and presented to CHDC in November, 1959. A group of Missouri Pacific employees donated their time to lay close to a 1/3-mile of track for the train as well as construct two trestles so the train could traverse the terrain.

CAMRC recently learned that the father of Conway resident/Attorney Tom Mickel was among a group of Missouri Pacific employees who originally installed the track and roadbed and placed the train in operation at CHDC many years ago. A photo of that inaugural event was published in the MP employee magazine and included the elder Mickel.

A Manageable List of Projects

The trackbed and the right of way need attention. According to Gladstone, the tracks should be improved, several wood crossties should be replaced, various areas of track should be re-ballasted and one piece of rail should be replaced. The train was repainted in 1992 in the Union Pacific colors - yellow, red, and grey - but the train now needs to be repainted to deal with the effects of weathering and to fix several cars that have been scratched.

The two crossing signals along the track will soon be restored to operation for compliance with safety standards. Fortunately, one of the CAMRC club members, Bobby Huber, is a Signal Maintenance Technician with a real railroad in the neighborhood – the Union Pacific. “The signals need to be internally rewired and automatic activation circuitry installed," Huber said. “That’s not a big problem. We can fix it.”

Supt. Price requested a wheelchair-accessible car be developed if possible to accommodate residents who ambulate by the use of wheelchairs. "We are looking for some assistance in designing and building one that meets the United States Access Board suggested standards," he said.

In collaboration with the Maintenance and Grounds Department at CHDC, club members will donate time and effort to the restoration project. The refurbished train would be operated for the enjoyment of CHDC residents but could possibly be opened to community on special occasions/special events. The CAMRC as well as the staff at CHDC will seek grants for equipment acquisitions, invite in-kind donations of services, and raise funds to cover necessary supplies, parts, and maintenance items.

If you or your organization is interested in assisting with this project or need more information, Please contact: Daniel Gladstone 501-269-3030 or send e-mail to []