Train getting back on track at CHDC

The advent of spring will hail the coming of the “CHDC Flyer, ”the mini-train of the Conway Human Development Center. To say the event will be greeted with enthusiasm is putting it mildly.

For the people at the center — some 500 0r more — it has been a long time in coming. Climbing aboard for excursions around the campus is a grand exercise.

The little train that totes 20 people in three cars and a coach for non-ambulatory individuals has undergone considerable refinements, to the cars and engine.

Thanks to the accommodations of the CHDC Volunteer Council, the little train’s “choo-choo” will sing its happy sounds after a long hiatus, Excitement will emanate from the clients at the residential treatment center serving the needs of individuals with developmental disabilities.

The renewal of the mini-train is but one of the several projects of the CHDC Volunteer Council, an amalgam of local citizens who feel compelled to provide good works for the population of the center, projects that are not funded by state appropriations.

Over the past 30 years, the Volunteer Council has undertaken projects on the CHDC campus — a therapeutic pool and fitness center, a family visitation complex, installed an rod iron fence across the front of the campus along Siebemorgen Road, metal awning covers around the campus that provide shelter for the many residents, many of whom use wheelchairs. New playground equipment has been installed at the center’s park, and other improvements made all designed many ways to improve the life of these individuals.

The funds generated for these projects have come from the extraordinary generosity of citizens of Faulkner County. Every fund producing project, walkathons, bowling events, used clothing sales and others occasions have been met with marvelous response by the public.

The CHDC train has lain in “dry dock” since about 1990 when the track became damaged, making it unsafe, and the train was shut down because of water infiltrating from nearby retail properties.

The demise of the train was bitter news, especially to Martha Hogan of Conway who was a secretary in the Jenks Union Pacific shops. She was a member of the National Association of Railway Business Women, the organization that initially conceived the idea for the train at CHDC. The year was 1959.

She approached the railroad’s paint shop manager Jack Wright, another Conway resident who said Union Pacific would donate the materials to refurbish the train only if volunteer labor would do the job

Here Mike Mason, another Conway citizen and a painter for the railroad, enlisted a dozen or so Conway volunteers s to make over the interior of the CHDC train. The cars were trucked to North Little Rock shops, where sheet metal workers fabricated a new hood for the engine and made other refinements. They added a new coat of paint — the same colors of Union Pacific cars, and installed emblems front and rear. It was a splendid addition to the campus and gave clients happy times.

Now in 2014 the train has been reborn, a new coat of paint installed on is engine and cars refurbished. It awaits only word from Robert Huber, a member of the Volunteer Council, to give the “all-aboard” signal. Huber has worked for 42 years for the Missouri Pacific Lines and for the Union Pacific in the engineering department. He is being assisted by Jim Smith of Conway, a vehicle body repair specialist.

CHDC colors are being affixed and new trappings added to the cars. The engine is a 1957 Ford gas truck engine with four cylinders and in good shape.

It promises to be a spiffy vehicle, says Liz Litton, the Volunteer Council coordinator.

The recreation staff is primed to arrange for the train schedules of rides that await the happy throngs of riders.

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