The Lehnis Railroad Museum’s popular mini-train is about to get back on track — literally.
The narrow gauge train, which carries a handful of passengers in open-air cars pulled by a small battery-powered locomotive, has been sidelined by track issues since Saturday. The train travels around an oval-shaped circuit laid out on property near the museum’s main building, carrying riders who pay a small fee.
The worn-out track — which was causing numerous derailments — is being replaced by new track and ties thanks to a $4,500 donation from the Lower Colorado River Authority and another $4,000 from the City of Brownwood.
And, thanks to the efforts of 72-year-old railroad enthusiast Ken Smith of Zephyr. Smith is coordinating the time-consuming work that’s been needed to take up the old track and lay down the new.
The mini-railroad is expected to be back in operation by March 7 not only with new track but an expanded circuit. Plans are to add additional features later that include a figure-8 as part of the circuit.
Smith, who started out as a volunteer for the railroad museum, is now a part-time temporary museum employee. Smith’s wife, Betty, also works part time at the museum.
Last Saturday, Smith and a group of volunteers from the Comanche and Indian Gap Railroad — a privately owned narrow gauge railroad near Comanche — and the Texas Rock Crusher had a work day at the mini-train to prepare the site for the new track. This week, Smith has worked alone in the chilly weather on the project, prepping the site for another workday this Saturday.
Smith, who is from Boerne and grew up in San Antonio, is a retired auto hauler and long-time railroad enthusiast. The Smiths have lived in Zephyr for about three years.
“Riding the railroad is fun, but my whole goal is to build the track and make it right,” Smith said. “I’ve always been a train enthusiast. I’ve actually operated full sized engines, not on the main, just on a stub-track.”
Smith said he learned how to work on track from a friend.
He said he’s working on the Lehnis Railroad Museum’s mini-train track “because I love doing it. It’s a love for the railroad.
“My greatest gratification is to see people get on the train and ride, and the smiles on their faces. That is priceless. You can’t buy that. That just does me in. We haul as many adults as we do children. I think a lot of the adults bring their children up here just so they can ride.”
Museum curator Crystal Stanley said she saw the need to replace the track at last year’s Wheels That Move the World event.
“We unveiled our new locomotive and we couldn’t get it to stay on the tracks,” Stanley said. “We ended up having to shut the train down for that day and from then on, we basically were doing nothing but track maintenance and trying to figure out where all the issues were.
“We couldn’t keep the Bluebonnet Express on the rails at all and it was all because of our track.”
Stanley was referring to the second mini-locomotive the museum obtained about a year ago. The locomotive is painted light blue and gray to match the city colors and the train museum’s logo, and has been named the Bluebonnet Express.
A man named Danny Click, who a narrow gauge train, looked at the Lehnis Train Museum’s mini-train.
“It was a track issue,” Stanley said. “After 10 years of basically taking the same loop over and over again, we’d worn the rail down so much that the new locomotive couldn’t stay on it.
“So I started looking at how much it would cost to update the rail, what were some things we do to make it last longer.”
In April, Stanley attended a meet of the Comanche and Indian Gap Railroad.
“I got to talk to guys who are passionate about that and figure out what we could do to fix the problems,” Stanley said. “From there then I was able to get in touch with (Smith) and he came out and looked at our track.
“He has been helping us kind of get things back on the rails.”
The Lehnis Train Museum was able to keep its original black mini-locomotive on the tracks — to a point.
“We could sometimes keep that one on the tracks because it had some play to it,” Stanley said. “It had been used so much so it could move with the track, but just couldn’t keep the new one on there because it was so stiff and new.
“Eventually we started having trouble keeping the black one on as well.”
Stanley said Smith is “a track guy. Everybody has their own passion. Some guys are into it for the locomotive and some guys are into it for track, building the equipment.”
While plans are to have the mini-train running on its new tracks, the museum is planning a more extensive unveiling at the Wheels That Move the World event on March 14.
More than 25 vehicles including trucks, tractors and military vehicles will be on display at the event, which will be from 10 am. to 6 p.m. Admission $5 for ages 12 and up, $2 for ages 5-11 and free for ages 4 and under.