By TIM HORAN
The general manager of the Smoky Valley Railroad was ready to answer any questions during a public hearing at the regularly scheduled meeting of the Dickinson County Commission Thursday.
But Mary Jane Oard didn’t have to answer any questions as there were no comments from the public and the commissioners quickly adopted a resolution which could help the railroad.
At issue is a bridge over the Smoky Hill River that needs $400,000 in repair, money the railroad doesn’t have.
The Smoky Valley excursion train must cross the river on its trip to Enterprise and back.
Grant money through the Kansas Department of Transportation for use for transportation enhancements set forth by the Transportation Equity Act is available but only government agencies can apply for the federal grant money. The commissioners voted to apply for that grant on behalf of the Smoky Valley Railroad.
If awarded, the Railroad and not the county, would split the cost 80-20: the 80 percent with grant money and 20 percent railroad money. Oard said that the association will have fundraisers to come up with its share.
While the commissioners were taking care of the grant application details, Oard was asked for an update on the excursion train.
“We are always working on equipment,” said Oard, adding they are in the process of getting ready for a five year inspection of the antique steam engine.
“They had to tear it down,” she said of the antique steam engine. “They had to take all of the insulation and the legging out of the cab and off the outside of the engine and recheck the 620 stay bolts that are there and check for leakage.
“They hope the FRA inspector comes in March because once it is inspected they have to put it all back together and our first day to operate the steam engine is Memorial Day weekend,” she said. “Our opening day weekend for the excursion is the first weekend in May which will, of course, be the diesel (engine).
“We have some school trips scheduled for April and May. We try to run the steam engine once a month on special occasions. Partly because of costs and partly because it takes a specially trained crew and most of the crew happens to be full-time employees,” Oard told the commissioners. “We have to run it on weekends and holidays when they are off work.
“We have a couple vintage coach cars, 1940 vintage that a fellow in Troy donated to us. One of those we completely refurbished and the last two years have been using as our dining car. It seats 56 people and is air conditioned.” she said.
She said the association operates with volunteers from several states.
“I had a fellow call from Branson, Mo. that was involved in some railroads down there that wanted to get involved up here. He called our crew training personnel and said he was coming up to our crew training.
“They come from everywhere. We have a lot of people that come from Hutchinson and we have some from Topeka, McPherson, ones that mainly work the train crew. The fellow from Joplin does mechanical work, laying tile or electrical work or whatever we can find for him to do,” Oard said.
“We wouldn’t be operating if we didn’t have those volunteers,” she added. “The dream was someday that we would have enough funds to pay a crew and it hasn’t happened. It takes all of our funds for maintenance.”
“We sure hope we get this grant approved,” said Commission Chairman LaVerne Myers.
Commissioner Craig Chamberlin asked about having a joint meeting with other county commissioners that surround the county.
“Not that I am aware of one,” said County Administrator Brad Homman. “Unless there happened to be an issue that dealt with both jurisdictions.”
Dickinson County and Marion County met to agree on EMS services recently.
The commission is looking into setting up a meeting with all seven county commissioners.
The commissioners will tour the facilities owned by the county after next week’s meeting on Feb. 14.
“I think we can hit them all,” Homman said. “It looks like a lot but some will probably be just a few minutes. I think it is important to see all those. It is amazing all of the things we have out there that make up the county operations.”
Oct. 14 is inservice day for the county at Sterl Hall, Homman said in his report..
“For Lynn’s (Peterson) and Craig’s benefit, that is a holiday we don’t take as a holiday but we close the courthouse and we go out to the Sterl Hall with all the county employees and have an inservice day. We provide training and some different instruction. We do a lot of different things. We did fire extinguisher operations in the past. A lot of people have never discharged a fire extinguisher. We have a session outside where we have a burn and they have to put it out. Last year we incorporated that with the flu shots. We had all the county employees there and gave flu shots.
“One year we had a training of meth labs,” he added. “So if they come across something strange they know when to back out.”
In other action the commission voted to appoint Todd McCulley as Rich Township Trustee, replacing Russell Walker and approved the purchase of an 18 inch auger to be used on bridge repair.