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Kid Power to Help Propel Historic Locomotive Project

MASON CITY, IA—Got a kid with some extra steam? There’s a new place to get rid of it in Mason City and to help propel a unique locomotive project.
Story by Dave Hansen|MASON CITY, IA—Got a kid with some extra steam? There’s a new place to get rid of it in Mason City and to help propel a unique locomotive project.

On Saturday the people behind the Iowa Trolley Park Museum in Clear Lake plan to open an attraction for children like no other in the area.

Beginning this weekend, kids will be able to use their own power to hand crank special mini train cars around a track at the Southbridge Mall in Mason City.

The KidSteam cars are located in the former video arcade section in the food court area of the mall.

“When you come in here and you watch the children hand crank them around and pick the color of their car, and some go fast and some go slow, it’s really an exciting thing,” said Mason City & Clear Lake Electric Railroad Historical Society President Stanley Gentry. “

Volunteers will staff the attraction, which also features train tables, a sandbox, souvenirs and plenty of information about a steam locomotive project.

The V&T Lyon as it’s called, is an effort that Gentry began nearly 20 years ago.

He got interested in the idea of creating a full sized, working replica of the wood-burning steam locomotive after he realized a Nevada railroad’s original engines had been scrapped long ago.

The Lyon and two other engines were originally built in 1869 in San Francisco, California.

The V and T in its name stood for the Virginia and Truckee Railroad, which ran in the state of Nevada.

The Lyon was named to honor a county it ran through as it went from Virginia to Carson City hauling silver ore mined from the famed Comstock Lode.

It was a brightly colored locomotive said Gentry. “Back in the day it had seven wipers when it pulled into a station, they would actually clean and polish this locomotive and we want to share that with everybody and let them be a part of history and also let them know what life was like in the 19-century where our forefathers built this fine nation.”

Gentry said that the Lyon project is attracting interest from train enthusiasts all over the country.

He figures that at least three dozen people have either donated money, adopted a specific part or agreed to build a part for the Lyon.

For example, last year a donor in Illinois built the metal tender tank for wood and water that will be used to fuel the Lyon.

Gentry said his organization is seeking to raise another $100,000 to build the engine’s boiler. After that the locomotive will be about a year away from completion.

A family from Illinois donated the money to buy the KidSteam cars and all the money raised will go to help the Museum and the locomotive project.

The Museum is open on weekends from Labor Day through Memorial Day. It features a handcar that kids power on actual rails. Volunteers also offer visitors rides on a diesel-switching engine.

Part of Gentry and the Museum’s mission is to teach children about train safety like whistles at crossings and to stay off of railroad tracks.

Gentry said that Iowa summers are far too short and he needed to find an attraction for the Museum in the off-season.

He got the idea for KidSteam and the other activities while making a presentation about the V&T Lyon project in Ohio last year.

Gentry said that the Mall’s manager has been very helpful and his organization will use the location on a trial basis at least until May.

By then it will be warm enough to move the track and the KidSteam cars to the Iowa Trolley Park Museum in Clear Lake.

Gentry is searching for a sponsor to help him take the KidSteam cars on the road to Thursday’s on Main in Clear Lake this summer. He also plans to make the cars available for birthday parties or other events.

Gentry said the Southbridge Mall attraction will be mainly open on the weekends, but due to the interest he’s experienced over the past few days, he envisions they will probably also be open on some week-day evenings as well.

For more information about the steam locomotive project, go to www.vtlyon.org

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