They wore engineer’s caps, blew the train whistle and yelled “All aboard!”
And those were just the volunteers of the Kansas City Northern Miniature Railroad, who observed National Train Day on Saturday by inviting kids and their parents to ride their three restored trains for free at Frank Vaydik Park in Kansas City, North.
The nonprofit group, with the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department, welcomed visitors for its third annual Train Day celebration.
“To me, it’s the start of the summer season,” said Mark McHenry, parks department director. “It’s the time of the year to start being outside.”
Children lined up for face painting, bounced through large train-shaped inflatables and accepted cardboard engineer’s hats before climbing aboard the restored trains and riding the half-mile oval loop of 16-inch-gauge track.
One of three trains used Saturday, the Southern Belle, operated at the Kansas City Zoo between 1953 and 1972. After storing the train for eight years, the parks department asked for volunteers to help restore it. In response, a group of railroad industry enthusiasts organized their nonprofit group in 1984 and then put the restored train back into service in 1992.
“A lot of our older riders tell us they first rode this train back when it was at the zoo,” said John Sulzer, a railroad volunteer folding cardboard engineer’s hats on Saturday.
The group also has restored two other trains, the Line Creek Limited and the Eagle. The former, a gift to the Pittsburgh zoo in 1955 from the Mellon banking family, later operated in Manhattan, Kan., before being retired. The latter train began operating in a Binghamton, N.Y., zoo in 1963 before being taken out of service.
Today the three miniature railroad trains are among only about 25 still in service across the country, Sulzer said. Kansas City area visitors can ride them on weekends May through September at the miniature railroad facility at 5940 N.W. Waukomis Drive, just north of the Line Creek Community Center and Ice Arena.
Also on Saturday, as part of National Train Day, visitors admired the model railroad assembled by the Greater Kansas City Model Railroad Club.
The annual National Train Day observes the legacy of rail travel in America. Enthusiasts schedule the celebration on the Saturday closest to May 10, which is the anniversary of the 1869 joining of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory, representing the completion of the country’s first transcontinental railroad.