WICHITA, Kan. It's been a long time since the train at O.J. Watson Park looked as good as it does now.
"I'm excited about it," said Bruce Wilson, a volunteer train engineer. Don't call him a conductor.
"A conductor takes care of the passengers and the freight. The engineer takes care of the engine, and that's what I am," said Wilson with a smile.
The old train started running the tracks around the park in 1984.
Retired for 16 years now, Wilson offers his Friday's and some Saturday's to sit in the engineer's chair.
He likes all the bells and whistles this new train has.
"For instance, it's got a gas gauge on it, that the old one didn't have. That's a big deal, yeah it is, particularly when you're half way around the track and you run out of gas," said Wilson.
A Wichita company, Chance Manufacturing, built the engine that the city says will carry close to 40,000 people every year.
In addition to the brand new engine, the city also bought an extra passenger car, which will make it so about 20 more people can ride the train, each time it goes around.
At a cost of $3.00 a ticket, the city says it will be able to recoup the $306,000 it took to buy the train in about three years. The city council approved the purchase in September 2015.
As one of the park's main attractions, the city is happy to have this little red train running again, even if it's a little slow.
"Through right here, it's two miles an hour, and then out the rest of the track it's five miles an hour, and I've gotten it up to six," said Wilson under the promise and smile not to tell his boss.
Fast enough to feel the wind, but slow enough to enjoy the 15 minutes around the park.
"I just enjoy it," said Wilson. "I just enjoy the engine and appreciate the opportunity."
The city will unveil the new train to the public, Saturday at 12:00 pm.
Before that, is OK Kids Day, a chance for kids 5 to 12 to not only ride the train for free, but also learn how to do several outdoor activities
Here's the city's press release on Saturday's events.
City of Wichita and Park & Recreation officials will unveil the new O.J. Watson train during the annual O.K. Kids Day event scheduled from 9:00 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Watson Park, 3022 S. McLean Blvd.
O.K. Kids Day is free, for youth five to 12 years old.
Youth will receive instruction regarding fishing, water safety, miniature golf, moon walk, kayaks, archery, disc golf, and the new train. Fishing poles and bait will be provided for the fishing clinics, so those interested should arrive early to register.
Home Depot volunteers will be available to help youth assemble kits. A limited number of free T-shirts and hot dogs are also available. Children can participate in a prize drawing at 11:30 a.m.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place at 12 p.m. in front of the train depot. Council member Bryan Frye, District V, will kick off the ceremony. Frye, a Board of Park Commissioner from 2007 to 2015, was instrumental in supporting the purchase of the new train.
"Through multiple listening opportunities with Wichitans, we found the train was a beloved and iconic feature in the City,” said Frye of District V. “The new train, built by Wichitans, will deliver as a favorite memory for this and future generations."
Residents weighed in on improvements in the Watson Park Master Plan, which included 11 modules of amenities, totaling between $300,000 and $500,000 of capital investment projects.
Train improvements, updating mini golf, and improving pedestrian connections were ranked #1 in community surveys. Last summer, the train was taken out of commission due to 30 years’ use and repairs.
For more information about O.K. Kids Day, please contact Watson Park at (316) 529-9940.