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Still chugging after all these years …

Keva Hoffmann Boardman –

A research request regarding an old stage at the Landa Park dance slab led me to ferreting out what the Works Projects Administration (WPA) projects were in Comal County in the 1930s. I wasn’t at all surprised when I found myself looking into the Landa Park Miniature Train. And yes, it has nothing to do with the WPA.

A quick peak into Landa Park: Its Springs and Its People, and some investigating in old issues of the NB Herald-Zeitung provided some neat information. David Schoenvogel, the train’s current owner/operator, is really the only engineer I remember — – but then, he’s had the train since 1982! I don’t remember riding the train as a kid, I probably did though. My real memories of the Landa Park train began when I had my own children. My dad and brother used to send out birthday cards that were train passes to their clients. Since my four children all had their birthdays within six weeks of each other, I’d save all the passes and we’d ride the train together. The excitement would really build up as each card came in the mail and train ride day got closer.

As far as I can figure out, Landa Park first got a miniature train when Park manager Harley Schulz and Mayor Joe Faust leased a train concession to Samuel Helm of Victoria, in 1959. It was a true steam-powered engine that pulled three cars and ran on 1,700 feet of track. The attraction was located in the “picnic and concessions area adjoining Fredericksburg Road” and made “a circle through the southwest section” of the park according to the NB Herald-Zeitung. Helm was the owner/engineer and operated the train from 10am till dark throughout the summers for the next four years.

In 1963, the train concession was given to Lippman “Larry” Miller, a retired oil exec from Odessa, who also had financial interests in the miniature trains in Midland and at Zilker Park in Austin. Miller bought a new gas-powered engine, “Casey Jones, Jr.”, and three new passenger cars; he also laid ¾ mile of new 16” gauge track. The new line ran from the No. 1 Drink Stand (the pool parking lot), along the shoreline of Landa Lake, around the Penninsula Playhouse (the dance slab) and back home. The new “Wild West” Landa Park Railroad would include a depot building.

That depot was built by Carl Montague and included old beveled glass for the doors, an ornate steel grill on the ridgeline and transom windows — – all salvaged from the recent demolition of the Henry Silver home on S. Seguin St. (The windows were later damaged by vandalism in the 70s). Edgar Pehl, Jack Robinson and Bill McCrary were the engineers. Robinson and McCrary worked for MOPAC so they knew what they were about. Robinson also built the wooden trestle bridge across the millrace and helped lay the new track.

In 1969, Bill McCrary picked up the train concession and decided to expand the route, change the track gauge to 24” and purchase a new engine and cars. Park Manager Harley Schulz put an ad in the local paper, “FOR SALE…Miniature Train and Trailer on rubber tires will haul 27 people”; the Landa Park book says the old train was bought by the folks at Brackenridge Park in San Antonio. The new Landa Park Railroad opened in July.

David Schoenvogel got the train concession in 1982. Since then, the Landa Park Railroad has expanded its route to about a mile and a half and travels around more of the park. The little engine pulls up to five coaches and can carry up to 35 people. You can even purchase a season pass! Just FYI: Mr. Schoenvogel is retiring soon so go ride NOW!

Of course I want everyone to ride OUR little train…all the time. But if you, your kids or grandkids are enamored with the whole train thing, then here’s a list of other Texas miniature railroads you might want to experience. ALL ABOARD!

  • San Antonio Zoo “Eagle”, Brakenridge Park
  • Zilker Park “Zephyr”, Austin
  • Cedar Park Railroad “Sophie”, Leander
  • Forest Park Train, Ft. Worth
  • Houston Area Live Steamers, Zube Park
  • Hermann Park Train, Houston
  • Aquarium Shark Train, Houston
  • Old MacDonald’s Farm Train, Humble
  • Boardwalk Train, Kemah

Sources:

  • NB Herald-Zeitung, 1959-1976
  • Landa Park: Its Springs and Its People
1970s-vintage post cards of the Landa Park train

1970s-vintage post cards of the Landa Park train