In April, Fort Worth resident Joshua Youngblood planned to take his 4-year-old daughter to ride the Forest Park miniature train

On the first Saturday of May, after a month of anticipation, they put on sunscreen, packed their bags and headed down to the tracks for a father-daughter excursion. But all they saw was a boarded-up sign at the ticket station, he said. And when Joshua Youngblood called the number listed on the company’s site, nobody answered. 

The train ride would have to wait for another day.

“She is just heartbroken. This little 4-year-old girl is just heartbroken because she can’t take a train,” he said. 

The 64-year-old train has been transporting generations of Fort Worth residents between Forest Park and Trinity Park. The private, family-owned train operates on a contract with the city. In recent years, the train faced roadblocks to keep it running. Now, the president of the company is dealing with medical issues, which may cause him to put the business up for sale soon.    

Raymond Hames, the 83-year-old president of the company, has been dealing with health issues since March, he said. Because of his health, Hames closed the train. He will undergo surgery in a few weeks. After a few weeks of recovering, he may put the train back in operation, he told the Report.  

A metal bin rests on the Forest Park train behind a gated fence on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, in Fort Worth. (Chongyang Zhang | Fort Worth Report)

Ties between the city and train

Hames operates the train and track under his private company, Forest Park Rides, Inc. The city of Fort Worth renewed the contract with the company in February. The contract ends on Oct. 31, 2026.

The company must keep the train running every weekend when the weather conditions permit, according to the agreement. But the train sat dormant in recent months because of the bridge construction over the Trinity River, a worker shortage to operate the train and Hames’ health.

“God bless the person that is going to have an operation,” Joshua Youngblood said. 

If the train operator can’t continue, Joshua Youngblood wants the city to take over the train. It’s important to make sure that residents and children have access to the train to create memories, he said. 

Fort Worth resident Nina Holland, who takes her children to visit the train regularly, echoed Joshua Youngblood. The train went from operating full time to running only on weekends. And even on those days, it wasn’t always open, she said. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the train used to make stops at a snack station in Trinity Park, Holland said. 

Holland suggested other members from the Hames’ family should help with the business and keep the train running. Hames explained that other family members are partial owners, but they live outside of Texas and don’t take part in the business. 

Either the city or Hames may end the contract with a six-month written notice, according to the agreement. However, the city has no current plans to end its contract with Hames, said Sandra Youngblood, assistant director of the city’s Park and Recreation Department. City officials do not want to speculate on what might happen, she said. 

Joshua Youngblood, who is not related to the city employee, said the city could revitalize the train and make it a consistent, bigger business of Fort Worth. He sees the Forest Park miniature train becoming one of Fort Worth’s tourist attractions, if the city operated it. 

“It’s like having Disneyland right in your backyard,” he said.

Nina Holland, front right, with her family on the Forest Park train in May 2019. (Courtesy photo | Nina Holland)

Starting a Fort Worth tradition

Bill Hames, Raymond’s grandfather, was a carnival owner who set up rides across the city’s parks. Bill Hames launched the train in Forest Park in the late 1950s as an addition to the other amusement rides in the park. Over 1,500 people rode the train on its opening day, and more than 4,000 people showed up on the second day. 

The current owner has been running the family business for about 50 years now.  

The train soon became one of the city’s landmarks and a popular destination for people. Riding the train is a tradition for some families. They take their children to ride the locomotive around the park. Sometimes, older residents go on their own, too.  

Holland, 36, grew up with the train. She rode the train as a child. She and her husband went on train dates before they had children. As a mother, she and her son, Ash, frequented the train every week, sometimes twice a week, when he was younger. 

The train had the same driver for years, she said, and her son loved talking to the driver. He also would imitate how the driver sat on the train with his foot up. 

Now, Holland’s 4-year-old daughter, Adair, attends a preschool that’s close to the train. They drive by the train frequently and she often asked when they could go ride it, Holland said. So finally on April 30, Holland took her daughter to ride the train. But like other residents, she wasn’t aware of the outdated website and its operating hours. 

They, too, came upon a locked gate. Adair was disappointed and had teary eyes. Adair didn’t have the chance to ride the train as often as her brother, Ash.

“You talk something up to a child like, ‘Hey, we get to do this today. We’re so excited to do it.’ And then, when you show up, it doesn’t happen. That’s disappointing,” Holland said. 

Hames is hopeful that he’ll get back on his feet soon. He even hired landscapers to mow the grass around the property on June 13. He expects to regain his health in about a month, he said. Then he’ll crank the train back to life again.

“And if I can’t, then I’ll probably entertain and talk to the (other) owners about somebody buying it,” he said.  

Chongyang Zhang is a summer fellow reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at chongyang.zhang@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter

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Chongyang Zhang

Chongyang Zhang graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington in 2021. Previously, he worked for his school newspaper, The Shorthorn, for a year and a half.