Mills Park train shut down due to much-needed repairs

CARSON CITY, Nev. (KOLO) - At Mills Park in Carson City, the sound of a train horn has been a familiar sound for generations of families.

“We’ve had people who come here as kids now bringing their kids,” says Andreas Direnga, president of the Carson City Railroad Association (CCRA). “Or we’ve had adults now who are grandparents who brought their children; now they’re bringing their grandchildren."

Opened July 4, 1981, the train has been a summertime staple, running faithfully every season and providing affordable family fun for nearly 40 years. But this year, the train will be silent.

“It will not be open,” Direnga said. “Unfortunately we’ve had a situation where the ties that hold the track together have deteriorated to the point where it’s not safe anymore.”

Walking along the track, Direnga and other members of the CCRA point out areas where the train has moved too far apart, or where the wooden ties are nothing more than splinters. It’s a problem the association saw coming, in fact they’ve been working to repair what they can.

“We started replacing the ties already,” Dierenga said. “We have both loops out here on the other side of the park that are almost complete. We’ve done probably 500 ties already.”

But the repairs aren’t cheap. Each tie costs about $14. The damage had already begun with the winter floods of 2016-2017. That damage pushed things over the edge. The train barely opened last year.

Dierenga says without help, there’s a chance the train could stop running for good.

“If we don’t get repaired this year, there’s a good chance [Carson City] would ask us to leave.”

It’s not something anyone really wants to happen; in fact the city is doing what it can to help.

“They’re going to forego the rent this year for us, but they would like to have it up and running by next year,” Dierenga said. “It really is an institution in Carson City. It’s been around so long. When it was first built, the whole city came out to help out.”

To keep the train around for another 40 years, the CCRA is once again reaching out to the community.

“We need about 300 to 500 railroad ties,...and then we need all the bolts and washers to tie them down,” Dierenga said. “So we figure somewhere around 7,000 to 7500 dollars will get us covered for the year.”

The association has been trying to do repairs when it can. The train usually starts running on Memorial Day, and the State Fair that just happened usually helps the association meet its budget for the year. Any other money raised helps pay for repair and maintenance.

The work is all done by members of the CCRA.

“It’s tough,” Dierenga said. “We’re all volunteers. We actually pay to be here. There’s a yearly fee we have to pay for the insurance and the upkeep.”

To help pay for the needed repairs, the association is offering a ‘Buy a Tie’ program where donations can range from $20-$500.

Dierenga says they have been in contact with people in the community, including a young man working to become an Eagle Scout, and hope to make this the only year the train does not bring joy to families.

“It’s about the kids,” he said. “They come here and they have huge smiles on their faces. We let them ring the bell. It’s just an amazing- amazing to watch them.”

To donate to the Carson and Mills Park Railroad, click here.