|I had a fascination with trains since I was a child. Maybe that's one of the things I loved about roller coasters and dark rides: they rode on tracks. My uncle had a wonderful model railroad set up in his basement, and I marvelled at the magical locomotives and scale model buildings with tiny lights. So maybe that's why I was so excited when my boss, Roger, scheduled me to run the train in my second year at the park.
The Mountain Park train was a 7.5" guage G.E. Streamliner originally installed at the park in the early 1950s. It ran in a large oval from the midway near the Dodgem cars to the Stardust Ballroom and back. In 1958 it was reconfigured around a new miniature golf course that the park constructed. A long dark curving tunnel topped by a waterfall was created next to the Ballroom, and another small tunnel with waterfalls on either side (which served as a way for the golfers to safely cross the tracks) was built just behind the station, east of the Mountain Flyer entrance. The train was named the Mountain Park Zephyr, and the station was labeled "Grand Central Station." The train usually rain in a counter-clockwise loop, but occasionally the train's direction was reversed. The operator sat at the back of the engine. Four small passenger cars trailed the engine. They were the right size for kids; adults usually ended up with their knees near their chin.
Romeo Henault was the original operator of the train. He was still at the park when I worked there, but by then he was usually running the golf course ("The Mountain Park Country Club"). My dad ran the train for several years, and really enjoyed it. He wore an engineer's cap and scarf. He and another employee, Peter Morin, began making cosmetic repairs to the old engine, adding rear view mirrors and a new windshield. The windshield was a necessity by that point. The old gas-powered engine suffered from vapor lock and would occasionally choke on its own fumes. So as a quick fix, the engine was run with the hood propped open. Unfortunately, this would send the exhaust fumes right into the face of the operator. So the windshield helped deflect most of the exhaust.
My dad was eventually relieved of his train duties. Some patrons ran to the office saying that the guy running the train had died. Roger hurried over to find my father slumped over at the controls as the train flew through the station. The passengers were screaming for help. The train apparently had been making the rounds for several minutes. It wasn't moving very fast, and Roger was able to catch up to the engine and shut it down -- at which point my dad woke up. He had fallen sound asleep sitting behind the controls. Roger reassigned him to the Dinosaur Den.
On busy days there were two operators assigned to the train. One would sit at the engine and the other would ride at the very back. Rambunctious older kids knew that there was a blind spot for the operator in the tunnel's curve. The kids would stand up in the train and attempt to rock the car off the track. Yeah, I know -- what a completely stupid thing to do. But we ride operators used to have an expression: guests entering the park left their brains at the gate. So two operators were usually able to squelch any hanky-panky before it got out of hand.
The operation of the train was pretty straightforward. There was a key to start the engine. The throttle was a small horizontal handle that moved left and right, controlling the speed. There were lots of curves along the course, so the speed of the train was usually from 3 to 7 mph. With the thick hedges lining the course and tight tunnels, it felt a lot faster. It was a really picturesque ride and integrating it with the nicely landscaped mini golf course was a great concept. The turnaround surrounded tall pine trees aside of the Mountain Flyer station. Occasionally, the Zephyr would get to that point just as the coaster left the station and the two trains would pass by within a few feet of each other.
Except for the exhaust, running the ride was really enjoyable. The rowdy kids were usually few and far between. For the most part the riders were small children and parents who appreciated the relaxing three-minute excursion. It was fun watching the golfers. Children on the course would always stop and stare in fascination at the train as it passed by. There were no fences or barriers to keep people away from the tracks. The only thing needed was common sense. Occasionally the tracks of the train were rubbed down with a block of wax to quiet the typical squealing that most train wheels make. Since the entire course was level, it rarely affected the train's traction. After the park closed the train was sold to Sandspit Amusement Park at Cavendish, Prince Edward Island (as were the Ferris wheel, Scrambler and the kiddie auto cars). One of Roger's assistants, Daniel Pomales, and I were given the job of pulling up the track with crowbars. It was tough work, made all the more difficult because of all the pleasant memories I had dating back to when I was just a few years old. It was as if I were dismantling my childhood. I think the buyer was named Larry Dunhill. He and his crew did a great job completely restoring the train. Roger went to visit Sandspit and said the train looked brand new. I'm glad it was given a new lease on life. I hope it continues to create pleasant memories for more generations of children.