The new train that was briefly taken out of service at Waco Lions Park is back in business, as Lions Club officials move forward with a capital campaign for the aging amusement park.
The 55-foot train, which was dedicated in June, went back to the factory in late August to upgrade the hydraulic system that propelled the train.
The park brought its 40-year-old train out of retirement for a couple of weeks until the new train was returned around Labor Day weekend. The train will be open along with the park on weekends through the end of October.
“Our train is so popular, we had to bite the bullet to take it offline,” said C.C. Sirkel, operations manager for the park at 1715 N. 42nd St.
But he said the new train is longer than the old one, and when it was crowded with adults and children, the weight strained the locomotive on the uphill grade along North 41st Street.
“When you get 36 people of varying weights on there, that was giving us some problems,” he said.
The train was still under warranty from Lufkin-based, Swanee River Railroad Co., which custom-built it for about $70,000.
Sirkel said the company hauled the train back to Lufkin and spent about $7,000 upgrading the hydraulic system.
“We’re like the seventh train he’s built, and he’s building more,” Sirkel said. “I don’t think he had built a train that had to be used as much as ours.”
Sirkel said the train carries up to 300 ticketed riders each weekend, not counting toddlers, who ride for free. The train circumnavigates the two-block park twice on each run.
Sirkel said upgrading the train’s hydraulic system should reduce wear over the long term and help it last for several decades.
He said the new train has boosted attendance at the 60-year-old park, and he hopes a forthcoming capital campaign from the Waco Founders Lions Club will keep it on an upward trajectory.
The Founders Lions Club started the park in 1955, and a board made up of Lions Club members continues to oversee the park.
The club is celebrating its centennial next year and is planning to roll out a fundraising campaign in coming months, club President Buck Rogers said.
“We’re on a two-year program to raise funds to improve the park,” he said. “As funds come in, we’ll be able to secure new rides and improvements that make financial sense. We want to keep serving the community and adding to the value of the park.”
Rogers said he could not yet provide a list of improvements or expected costs.
The park has had a few improvements in recent years, including a new $142,000 carousel donated by the Junior League in 2011 and a “monkey barrel” ride installed last year. But the rest of the rides are decades old, and the popular “Super Slide” closed three years ago because of maintenance and liability issues.
Sirkel said the slide had been the cause of 17 lawsuits for minor injuries within a few years of closing, putting the park’s insurance in jeopardy.
“Everybody loves the Super Slide, but it’s one of those things that if you spent money to fix it, you don’t know if you’re going to get sued,” he said. “It’s like playing Russian roulette.”
He said the park’s board has discussed replacing the Super Slide with a new Ferris wheel, 50 to 60 feet tall.
Rogers said no plans for removing or adding rides have been firmed up yet.