Forest Park Miniature Train: The Little Engine That Could

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.

miniature hames 59

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:

fp train fwp 14Fort Worth Press, June 14, 1959.

fp train st 13

Star-Telegram, June 13, 1959.

jack gordon

Jack Gordon‘s June 15, 1959 column in the Fort Worth Press.

miniature 63In 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.

miniature-train-67Even 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.

miniature-train-bridge-concreteOn the south bank of the river next to the University Drive bridge, a concrete footing for the original rail bridge can still be seen.

miniature-train-68By 1968 the train was traveling its new route.

miniature-train-collision-79In 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.

hames ticketsTwelve amusement rides for a buck at Forest Park in 1961. (Ticket books courtesy of Gloria and Bill Ayars.)

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16 Responses to Forest Park Miniature Train: The Little Engine That Could

  1. Phil Strawn says:

    Any information on the old baseball fields at Forest Park? I played on them as a kid for years, then they were demolished and made into a parking area for the zoo.

    • hometown says:

      Phil, all I can tell you is that the diamonds were there in the early 1950s, parking began to encroach from the south in the 1980s, and the last diamond in the north was paved in the 1990s

  2. Tim Harper says:

    As a kid, I always rode the train before going to the zoo. I can still remember standing in line waiting my turn.

  3. Tommy Dowden says:

    My grandmother used to take me and the neighbor kid or my cousins to the zoo and as a bonus we got to ride the train

  4. Barbara Fredricks says:

    My grandparents, Joe and Daisy Scheumack, often took me to Forest Park to the zoo and to ride the little train. They were friends with the Hames family as well. I was as excited about ringing the bell on the little car ride as kids today are over a new iPhone. Happy times.

  5. ROY ROGERS says:

    My stepfather was the Forest Park Miniature Train Engineer in 1978, I was lucky enough to operate this Train about 10 to 12 trips around the Forest Park and Trinity Park.

  6. Robert Tigner says:

    Do you have any record of the miniature train that operated in Forest Park prior to the 5-mile system? It was pulled by a genuine steam locomotive, but on a much shorter route. Surely the locomotive and its cars are still in existence.

    • hometown says:

      According to a Star-Telegram feature of several years ago, the engine at that time was in a back yard of the Yarborough family in Acton. The tender and several cars had been destroyed by fire when the train operated in Hico.

  7. David says:

    I grew up riding this train with my grandfather, Bob Nation, Sr. It’s nice to see it still running.

  8. Leo Palitti says:

    I’ve had some fun times with my kids and now my grand kids on this train. Thanks Mike!

  9. Keith Robinson says:

    Spent many Sunday afternoons riding the park train with my father back in the 60’s. Thanks Mike for bringing back a fond memory.

  10. John Olthoff says:

    Having ridden it, watched faces of kids as they waved from it. Heard that familiar whistle many a time, it always brings a smile to your face and a happy memory

    • hometown says:

      I bike along the train’s route a lot, and every time I cross the tracks I look left, right, and back in time.

  11. Dave says:

    What did they do to the poor CPH? Looks “very strange” to put it nicely!

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