Herald JournalHerald Journal, Dec. 13, 2004

Kiddie train to be part of next year's summer festival

By Jane Otto
Staff Writer

Inspiration can come anytime or anywhere.

For Mike Mahoney, it came while wintering in Yuma, Ariz., the past year. Walking through its downtown, a kiddie train pulled by a lawn tractor with a train-engine facade rolled past.

“I thought ‘Darn, that’s cute,’” Mahoney recalled.

He grabbed his camera, took some pictures and when he returned to Winsted, talked to the Winsted Summer Festival committee.

Mahoney plans to make a similar train using 90-gallon plastic barrels, a few used chairs, wheels, and welded steel frames to make the cars. Dubbed the “Luce Line Express,” it will be used as a kiddie ride during the town’s summer festival.

Once completed, the summer festival will own the train and any money raised from the ride will benefit future summer festivals.

A past Mahoney inspiration resulted in another money-maker for the festival, the ice sling shot, with which people can fling softball-sized chunks of ice into the lake.

Mahoney also organized the canoe races three years ago, which attracts more canoeists each year. “Anything we can do to help people focus on the lake,” Mahoney said. “The lake’s important to this community.”

The train ride, he said, will be geared toward kids age 6 and younger. “There’s not much for little kids to do during the summer festival,” Mahoney said.

A Minneapolis native who moved to the Winsted area five years ago, Mahoney has become involved in the lake association and the town’s summer festival. “I can’t get over how friendly the people are here,” he said. “They’re so friendly.”

Mahoney hopes some of that friendliness will translate into sponsors to build the Luce Line Express. Each sponsor will have a plaque on a car’s side along with pamphlets providing information about the sponsoring business in a small box attached to the engine. People will be able to help themselves to the information. “I’m all about promoting,” he said.

The Yuma train had about 20 cars, but Mahoney is aiming for seven. “I happen to have seven chairs that I bought at a garage sale that will fit in the barrels,” he said.

Though he’s had to buy the plastic barrels and wheels in the metro area, he’s buying the cut steel at Crown Industrial Doors in Plato, where it’s cut to his specifications. Gene Hausladen of Winsted volunteered to work on the welding.

It’s hard to know what the size limit will be until they start putting kids in the seats, he said. The seats will also feature seat belts.

A lawn tractor, which will look like an engine, will pull the cars. “The engine facade will hopefully pull any lawn tractor,” he said.

He’ll get a temporary permit to drive a non-licensed vehicle in town and work with the police chief on a train route.

The Yuma train ran right along the sidewalk, he recalled. “The interaction between the crowd and the kids on the train was great.”

If the train’s a success, Mahoney said it could be rented to neighboring towns for their festivals. “We’ll see how many communities are interested in it and play it by ear.”

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