It has been rambling over the river and through the woods—and into the childhood memories of its passengers—for sixty-three years. The Forest Park miniature train—the little engine that could—first chugged, “I think I can, I think I can” on June 12, 1959.
The miniature train was the creation of Forest Park amusement rides concessionaire Bill Hames (1885-1960). The train, which traveled a five-mile route, replaced a train that had traveled a quarter-mile route at the amusements area. For a brief time The Guinness Book of Records declared the second train to be the biggest of the little—the longest miniature train in the world.
Hames was a lifelong showman, having acquired his first carousel—its wooden horses were turned by a steam engine—before World War I. In the 1920s city parks superintendent George C. Clarke had hired Hames to take over the Forest Park concessions. Later, while Hames managed the original train and the other concessions at Forest Park, he also operated a traveling carnival with rides, traveling a circuit of Texas towns in forty trucks. When he was not on the road, Hames was very involved in his miniature train, sometimes manning a ticket booth at one of the depots in the park, sometimes driving the train himself.
In fact, the miniature railroad’s original passenger cars were named for members of Hames’s family. (Western swing footnote: The “Mary Helen Special” car was named for Hames’s daughter, who was married to Milton Brown, Brown pianist Fred “Papa” Calhoun, and Bob Wills.)
A one-minute YouTube video clip:
Fort Worth Press, June 14, 1959.
Star-Telegram, June 13, 1959.
In 1963 twenty-three BB gun-packin’ desperadoes, nine of them on horses, held up the miniature train, collecting $26 in donations for United Fund. The bandits were members of a TCU fraternity. They handed out bubble gum to the young passengers while the adults dug deep for charity.
Today’s Forest Park miniature train is not yesterday’s Forest Park miniature train, of course. The engines and cars have been replaced.
Even the track layout has changed. The track originally crossed the river on a bridge beside the University Drive bridge. But widening of the river for flood control in the 1960s after the flood of 1949 rendered that bridge a bridge too short, so a new bridge over the new channel was installed downstream. The original rail bridge was relocated and today carries the train over the mouth of the old channel near the new bridge.
On the south bank of the river next to the University Drive bridge, a concrete footing for the original rail bridge can still be seen.
By 1968 the train was traveling its new route.
In 1979 three passengers were slightly injured when one miniature train rear-ended another, which had stopped because vandals had blocked the track with a log.
Today a new generation of passengers rides the Forest Park miniature train as it rambles over the river and through the woods—and into their childhood memories.
Twelve amusement rides for a buck at Forest Park in 1961. (Ticket books courtesy of Gloria and Bill Ayars.)