PITTSBURG — One of Pittsburg’s historic icons, the train at Kiddieland, has been refurbished and is ready to hit the tracks.
Over six decades, children have climbed aboard the train at Kiddieland. The formerly-rusty train now has a shiny top coat and the logo of the Kansas City Southern Railroad.
“The train has really been the history of Kiddieland,” Director of Parks and Recreation Kim Vogel said. “The original builders of Kiddieland, 65 years ago, were train enthusiasts and that has not changed in Pittsburg today. The train has really been a staple for Kiddieland and Pittsburg.”
On Friday, the City of Pittsburg Parks and Recreation Department hosted a ribbon cutting for the renovations in conjunction with a “May the Fourth be with you” Star Wars-themed opening celebration for its fourth season operating the park.
Grant Hicks of Nevada, Missouri, opened Kiddieland in 1953. He and his wife ran the facility until around 1961. Many of the original rides are still in the park.
“He made most of the rides at his shop in Nevada,” Vogel said. “It was reported he built small trains in his shop and took kids on rides with them.
“I think Mr. Hicks would be proud that this is still in operation and what we have accomplished this year with the train.”
During the celebration Vogel, on behalf of PPRD, thanked the many people which made the refurbishments possible, from the mechanics who have kept it running all these years, the painters which made everything look like-new again and the sponsors who helped bear the cost.
“Like Mr. Hicks, many members in community have passion for trains,” Vogel said. “Jim Van Becelaere has been keeping the train moving for the last 15 years.
“When parts needed custom made, fitted or drafted … we would call Jim, he would be our first call and he would always answer. Literally, without him we wouldn’t still have this train in operation.”
Van Becelaere, who remembers Kiddieland being built, said he was honored to help and praised Steve Vanderpool who also helped keep the rides going and the city for taking care of the park.
“I feel like my contribution to the project is minimal in comparison of what the City of Pittsburg has done … they have put so much emphasis on this thing to make sure it was right.
“They made my job much easier and I’m proud to be a small part of this.”
Vietti Auto owner Jeff Wood and his team — which includes paint preppers Bob Ward and Rambo Ascanio — painted the train.
Three years ago, Wood’s team started to paint two other rides at the park, the airplanes and automobile mixed-ride with fire trucks, motorcycles and police cars.
“Some of the rides were going downhill,” Wood said. “We started with the planes that were a lot of work ... we had to strip them all down and refurbish them and then we had to paint them.”
Wood praised Ascanio and Ward’s airbrush painting.
Wood said the shop usually works on automobiles and although it was a challenge they figured out ways to hold up the amusement park rides for repair and refurbishing.
“It was a lot of fun, we put a lot of hours in it,” Wood said. “In the end, it was all for the kids it will be a lot of fun for them … after lots of weekends of getting it ready to go, it's a good feeling [to complete the refurbishing].
“The day it left, the whole shop was waving at it goodbye because it was nice to see it come through the body shop … it’s a really good feeling.”
The train’s paint and repair, Vogel said, was not necessarily in the budget and she said Watco helped make the refurb possible.
“We are blessed, in this community someone is willing to step up and help,” Vogel said. “Luckily there is another set of family in town who are also pretty enthusiastic about trains.
“The Webb family and great folks at Watco Company … without their backing of this project today would not have been possible.”
The design of the railroad cars holds significance for many, Vogel said.
On behalf of Watco Fallyne Deo shared how the logos on the train came to be.
“We have a rich history, not just with Watco but the Webb family and with the Kansas City Southern Railroad,” Deo said. “Watco’s matriarch Kaye Lynne Webb’s father started his career at the Kansas City Southern and he worked his way up and retired as a mechanical officer there and inspired Watco’s founder, Dick Webb to get into the railroad industry and he also started his railroad career at the Kansas City Southern.
“The Kansas City Southern along with all of our rich history and relationships we’ve built with them we were able to come into agreement and start operating these five railroads.”
These railroads’ logos — the Alabama Southern, Arkansas Southern, Louisiana Southern, Mississipi Southern and the Vicksburg Southern — were painted on the railroad cars at Kiddieland, by Wood’s paint team.
“We hope this train is going to be something everyone will enjoy and many generations to come will enjoy,” Deo said.
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.