News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 1, 2013

SPIRIT RISING: Plans unveiled for redesigned train attraction in Deming Park

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Sarina Shaw, 4, of Terre Haute, was visibly preparing herself as the Spirit of Terre Haute, the miniature train in Deming Park, prepared to enter its well-known “tunnel,” where kids often scream amid temporary darkness.

As the Spirit’s high-pitched whistle tooted, conductor Paula Orndorff drove the small train into the tunnel, which is really a storage building. Brave Sarina, despite the dark, didn’t scream.

“I’m big enough to handle it,” she confidently assured those who watched her closely in her seat at the back of the little train.

By the time Sarina turns 6, there will be a lot more to be excited about on the Deming Park train ride than just the tunnel. The ride, which now takes about 4 minutes to complete a half-mile trip, will double in length, include a brand new train “depot” and much more.

A team of Rose-Hulman civil engineering students presented plans Tuesday for greatly extending the length of the Spirit’s rail line, which now runs in a sort of double loop in the center of the park. Their plans call for extending the line to the west, adding another four or five minutes to a typical ride.

The plans also would add a railroad crossing to the park’s central roadway, complete with a crossing arm and lights, where the train would enter a new section of the park. The plans also include adding a small wooden trestle to a short section of the line and a 400 square-foot “depot,” modeled after the former Big Four station in Terre Haute, where train tickets could be purchased and passengers could wait for their next trip.

“They have done a professional job,” said Bruce Rosselli, director of recreation for the Terre Haute Parks and Recreation Department. It is hoped construction could begin this year and the extension could be open by fall of 2014, he said.

The entire project is estimated to cost about $195,000, students on the design team said.

There is no funding for the project in the Terre Haute Parks Department budget, said Eddie Bird, parks superintendent. However, Indiana Rail Road, an Indianapolis-based railroad company, has stepped forward to support the project, Rosselli said.

“It’s going to be a tourist draw for Terre Haute,” said Tom Hoback, president and CEO of Indiana Rail Road, who spoke at the unveiling of the plans Tuesday in the Torner Center in Deming Park. “There’s just a kind of magic about trains.”

Indiana Rail Road, which operates 500 miles of rail line in Indiana and Illinois, is seeking very little in return for its financial help with the project, Rosselli said. The company may have a subtle sign along the tracks or its name painted somewhere in small letters on the train, but that is all, he said.

A ride on the Spirit now costs $1.25. If that increases at all with the extension, it will be by a small amount, Rosselli added.

The City of Terre Haute has cut the parks department budget by about 33 percent in the past several years, said Mayor Duke Bennett, who was also at the public announcement Tuesday. Nevertheless, the parks continue to innovate and find ways to get projects completed, he said.

“It’s hard to fund things without a partner,” Bennett said. The extension of the Spirit’s rail line will “just make this park even more a destination,” he said.

In addition to Indiana Rail Road, Clabber Girl has shown an interest in the project, Rosselli said. It is hoped, as the project moves along, other sponsors will get involved, added Bird.

The civil engineering students, who did the project as part of a Rose requirement for graduation, included Nate Wallen of the town of Knox, Kyle Kovach of Munster, Austin Weatherford of Cicero and Greg Piekos of Chicago. The project has taken the students between six months and a year to complete, Piekos said.

Anyone wishing to make a tax-deductible contribution to the Spirit of Terre Haute project is encouraged bring a donation to the Torner Center at Deming Park, Rosselli said.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or