Gotta Love a Locomotive

When the conductor called “All Aboard!” on the Fourth of July, even Colorado’s Loveland Lions were surprised. More than 880 riders of all ages set a record with tickets to board their replica train in the park that day.

loveland lions trainThe Buckhorn Northern Railroad in Loveland’s North Lake Park is an authentic replica of a steam train that once served the area. It takes passengers on a quarter mile, seven-minute ride for US$1.

The train was built in 1977 and purchased by the City of Loveland in 1988. Loveland Lions took over operating it, donating their time and effort to run it six days a week, from Memorial Day through Labor Day. They split the proceeds with the city, and Lions use their 70 percent to support community vision projects.

“It’s been a great partnership,” says Parks Manager Dan Willadsen.

Girl jumps for joy after train rideThe club’s millionth train rider received a lifetime pass in 2020. Last summer the Lions welcomed more than 25,000 passengers, says Lion Lyle Gilroy who was happily working as the engineer on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Gilroy is one of 43 Lions and 12 volunteers who work 4.5-hour shifts either as a station agent in the depot selling tickets, snacks, and souvenirs, or as the conductor or engineer.

He likes to be on the job about three days a week. “I make a lot of friends here,” he says. Many families want to take his picture with the kids.

The train harks back to the days when the Buckhorn Northern steam train hauled clay from Devil’s Backbone to Wild’s Brick Yard west of town. Devil’s Backbone is a scenic, geologically diverse Open Space with two miles of Dakota sandstone rising 200 feet over the surrounding plains. Just west of Loveland, it is popular with bikers, joggers, and hikers for being home to native wildlife and wildflowers.

The train in North Lake Park doesn’t haul clay, of course, but it can carry 45-50 people at 3.2 mph, says a smiling Lion Gary Sampson, past district governor in District 6 E.  “Hold onto your hats! Oh, people love it.”

Sampson says their passengers have ranged from three days old to 102.

The train runs from noon to 8 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday through Sunday. On Wednesday, when all the help is at their noon Lions meeting, it is delayed until 2 p.m.

Besides the engine traveling on 1,588 feet of track, there are two open passenger cars, a cattle car, a caboose, the depot, a windmill, and a tunnel that the club funded and erected as a centennial gift to the community in 2019, says Sampson. By opening day in 2023 they will have replaced the original engine and added a handicapped-accessible car that can accommodate wheelchairs and walkers.

COVID derailed the train for a good part of one summer. Problems on the track and with the old engine stopped things another time. But the city and the Lions expect next summer to be as good as this one.

“Back in the ‘70s it was something new and different. A lot of residents came to North Lake Park,” says Willadsen. “Now we have the second-generation of riders. People who rode the train as kids are bringing their own children. It’s nostalgia more than anything else. It’s a staple. Lions expect this upcoming summer to be as good as the last one.

“It’s a treasure.”