Since 1995, Lowell Eggert, 91, and his wife, Valerie, 88, have given hundreds of train rides to children and adults on his Bluebird Southern Railroad.
“I have a big time when the kids are here,” says Eggert, who built a one-eighth-scale train that clacks around nearly a mile of track on his two-acre property in Grove, Okla. (pop. 6,623).
Each round-trip ride is absolutely free.
In April, a busload of 70 pre-kindergartners from Grove Early Childhood Center climbed aboard the Bluebird Southern.
“It’s awesome,” says Jade Hull, 5, her blonde curls bouncing as she waves enthusiastically from one of three gondola railcars.
Lowell, looking spiffy in blue-and-white striped overalls and a train engineer’s cap, honks the horn as the miniature train travels at 2 mph beneath a canopy of evergreen trees, through a metal tunnel and across Dry Gulch Covered Bridge.
Although Lowell built the train to entertain young children—and himself—older passengers enjoy the ride, too.
“It’s an amazing place. Every time I go, I see something new,” says teacher Linda Adams, 54, about the choo-choo attraction. “The adults chuckle all the way through the ride.”
Lowell posted a “No Diving” sign beside the dry gulch and a series of humorous Burma-Shave advertising signs along the track that read: “He saw the train/And tried to duck it/Kicked first the gas/And then the bucket.”
The Bluebird, so named by Valerie because of the many bluebirds on the property, crisscrosses and loops the yard on aluminum rails with wooden ties that are spaced 7½ inches apart. Lowell bought the blue locomotive engine, powered by a 16-horsepower Briggs & Stratton gasoline engine, for $6,000 from another train enthusiast, then built the rolling stock: a flat car outfitted with boat seats for adult passengers, grain and coal hoppers, a tanker, a red caboose and the Eggert Cattle Co. boxcar with cows standing in the open doorway.
When he sees young passengers admiring the boxcar, Lowell quickly activates a hand-held remote that triggers a boisterous “moo.” The kids laugh and so does he.
The Eggerts, who have been married 67 years, never had children of their own and delight in seeing youngsters enjoy the Bluebird. Every morning in fair weather, Lowell drives the train from a storage barn and parks it in his front yard.
“Sometimes people will drive by real slow and then stop and ask, ‘Can I ride?’ and I say, ‘Sure, anytime, and if you don’t see me in the yard, then come up to the door and knock,’” he says. Valerie schedules group rides for birthday parties and school field trips.
Although Lowell has been retired from Mountain States Bell Telephone Co. in Casper, Wyo., since 1975, he shrugs off his advancing years and keeps chugging along with new railway projects. In his workshop, he has a second kiddie-size Stutz Bearcat sports car under construction. It will join a fleet of other home-built vehicles, including two Krank Kars that kids can hand-crank around the track.
“I try to keep it like a little park,” Lowell says.
Molly Sanders, 44, has been bringing her prekindergarten class to the Eggerts’ park for 14 years. She looks forward to the spring outings as much as her pupils.
“He keeps the place manicured and just keeps adding attractions,” Sanders says. “Mr. Eggert has such a love for trains and wants to share it.”