Columbia Park train team seeks new home, volunteers

The colorful train that delights kids and adults on weekends in Columbia Park during the summer is in need of volunteers and a new home.

Dick Nordness, chairman for the J&S Dreamland Express Committee, oversees the mighty but modest volunteer team which collects the tickets, drives the train and mans the caboose.

“It’s perfect for retired people that are looking for something to do. We’re always looking for volunteers. When we operate the train during boat races, it’s the mode of transportation to the nearest gate. During that boat race weekend, we’re running 12 hours a day. We get a lot of people,” he said.

The Kiwanis Club of the Horse Heaven Hills operates the 90-foot J&S Dreamland Express. Nordness is a Kiwanian, along with about 40 others in the Horse Heaven Hills club.

The train’s been operating since 2001 in the park. The Kiwanis club took it over in 2007.

The $1 tickets sold to ride the train have added up over the years to raise $28,250 for scholarships for local students.

Last year, the club collected more than $11,000 and recorded 935 volunteer hours for club members. It also reported 311 hours of volunteer service from those outside the club.

In 2014, the club’s biggest year to date, more than $14,000 was raised toward the scholarship fund.

The Kiwanians want to be able to continue to run and operate the train to seed the scholarship fund, but the train is in need of a home.

The city condemned a building near Edison Street where it had been stored for about 10 years, Nordness said.

“We had been reaching out to different organizations and the Port of Kennewick was kind enough to let us use an old airport building to store it during the winter,” he said.

However, driving the train to the old Vista Field facility isn’t an ideal option because it’s too far away.

“That train is rather difficult to drive any real long distance. It’s almost impossible,” Nordness said, explaining it’s a slow process because the train’s top speed is 9 mph. It takes about an hour to get it there.

“Because of the way the train was originally built, it wasn’t built for comfort. There’s no shock absorbers and it’s rough on the train,” Nordness said.

The ideal storage would feature doors wide enough so the train can be driven inside.

“Our long-range plans are we want to build at the park,” Nordness said.

But for now, the train will be parked in the Edison Street maintenance yard. The club’s temporary solution is to figure out a way to use three storage containers by cutting them so the train can drive through.

The idea is one of about five possibilities the club has been considering during the past three months.

“The thing with storage containers is they are not cheap. Even with volunteer labor, it’s nearly $8,000 for all three of them,” Nordness said. He said if a business has a warehouse near the park, “we’d love to use that.”

“We’re actually looking at any possibility,” he said.

Old airport baggage carts were transformed to make the train cars, with Lampson International of Kennewick helping to weld and put them together.

The J&S Dreamland Express’ namesake is James Saunders, a Washington State Patrol trooper killed in the line of duty in 1999.

The train begins its regular weekend schedule the first weekend in May, though it ferried passengers during the annual kids fishing event on April 21. The season ends the last weekend in September.

Train hours are from 1 to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

For more information, call 509-948-2433 or email rnordness@hotmail.com.

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