NINIVE – A grassroots organization is celebrating 65 years of bringing the love of locomotion to the public.
In a quiet Johnson County park next to Camp Atterbury, the rumble and rolling of wheels on metal tracks is an unexpected surprise to park visitors. But steam-blowing vehicles are even more unique.
Here on this land, the non-profit organization, Indiana Live Steamers, has called home for 22 years.
The club is made up of amateurs and train enthusiasts. Together, the members are dedicated to preserving the history of steam locomotive transportation.
“Now my mom will tell you, if she was still here, that the first word I said was probably train,” said Dan Goins, president of Indiana Live Steamers. “As far back as I can remember, I’ve been interested, so a long time ago.”
Goins said club members all volunteer their time to maintain the park trail and provide rides for the public.
“And for $4, it’s better than any ride at Walt Disney or anywhere else,” Goins said. “You’re in the woods, over bridges, under bridges, in the prairie region. So it’s a really good ride.”
They focus on this 7.5 inch gauge railroad. Goins said the whole operation is 1/8 scale of a real locomotive and railroad.
Some of the tracks you see at the park are steel and some are aluminum, but they’re all hand-laid like a real railroad. The volunteers level the ground, lay stones, lay the rails, then more stones.
“It’s real rocks, real dirt and real hard work,” Goins said. “An engine here can weigh 700 pounds, easy enough.”
Some of the trains here are battery-operated, others are gas-powered, but perhaps the most interesting are the steam-powered ones.
“I remember steam locomotives, because I’m quite old, but they’re big and they move. And so a steam locomotive looks like it’s alive,” Goins said. “It spits smoke and steam comes out of it and so you’re mesmerized.”
And train enthusiast and ILS member Joe Hudson agrees.
“Yeah, it’s hard to define,” Hudson said. “Some people are interested in boats. Some people are interested in planes. It turns out that there are a lot of people who like trains.”
Hudson says running is peaceful. He’s even seen deer on the rides back into the park’s woods.
“We have a lot of regular visitors,” Hudson said of the public races they hold on the third Saturday of the month, weather permitting.
Public races and rides can last 18-25 minutes depending on the route you take.
Anyone two years and older can ride and preaches safety. These rides cost $4 per passenger.
The organization also organizes private birthday parties for children.
“I mean, I’ve seen families come for a ride and end up getting on every train we have running, which can be up to five,” ILD secretary Don Fulk said. .
And he built his train, which is battery operated and also uses a remote control.
It’s a fascination, turned hobby, and now he travels over an hour to Johnson County Park to be part of this legendary organization.
“Being on the track, I can just relax,” Fulk said.
The public trails are unique to the area. Goins explains that there are other tracks across the country, but many of them are private and not open to the public.
Their next public race is set for September 10 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information about ILS, visit their website https://www.indianalivesteamers.org/