Beilue: Sad Monkey Railroad has a happy homecoming

Maybe the reason for all the work, determination and focus for Barbara Logan could be captured in one sentence — 11 words she told a gathering of about 60 people Thursday at Canyon’s new Neblett Park:

 

“She needed to retire here,” Logan said, “and not die in a field.”

The ceremony culminated 16 months since she and her husband David were driving past some pasture land near Palo Duro Canyon when Logan spotted her youth. It was rotting in a field, nestled in some knee-high grass and weeds.

It was three cars of the iconic Sad Monkey Railroad, looking about as forlorn and sad as could be. What once was a summertime staple chugging along with passengers for two miles near the Palo Duro Canyon amphitheater was decaying along Highway 217.

“I said, ‘David, I want the train,’” Logan said.

At the time, she didn’t know what she wanted to do with it, where it was going to go, what was going to be done, but she was going to rescue the Sad Monkey. In a way, the Sad Monkey years ago had rescued her.

“I said that’s great you want it,” David said, “but there’s got to be an end purpose to this.”

The end, not before some fits and starts and unexpected help along the way, came Thursday. That’s when Logan officially presented the completely remodeled locomotive car, tender car and seven-row passenger car on a new set of track to the City of Canyon and its new park just south of the square.

“I can’t thank her enough for bringing something back from our childhood,” Canyon mayor Quinn Alexander said.

It takes someone of a certain vintage to remember the Sad Monkey. The four passenger car train was named after the side of a nearby cliff that looked like the face of a grumpy primate. It was located less than a half-mile from the amphitheater.

“I could probably recite the entire tour speech, or at least 80 percent of it,” said chiropractor Russell Kershen, who was an engineer on the Sad Monkey from 1983-1990, and at the ceremony.

Owned by the Burtz family — first Earl, then son Clifford — it took a maximum of 53 passengers on a two-mile guided trip on the rim of the Canyon from 1955 to 1996. But overzealous government bureaucracy ended her run.

State officials said the train was not up to code, that the 5 mph train could be liable under the Americans With Disabilities Act. It needed increased insurance coverage. Burtz knew he would have to hike prices, which would price many families out.

So, in November 1996, he closed the Sad Monkey. A few months later, perhaps not coincidentally, he died.

Logan bought the train from a collector who had previously purchased it. He had moved from the area but struck a deal with her to basically get his money back. Rotted wood filled up two pickups when they moved the train.

Logan knew she wanted to have the train restored, and place it somewhere visible. The City of Canyon made the most sense.

“There were times I wished she would have stayed in the field,” Logan said, “but every time I thought that, I was blessed one way or another.

“There were times I wished I should have just climbed the fence, stood on the engine and said goodbye. I would be at the break point and then something incredible would happen.”

Randall County Sheriff Joel Richardson quickly told her the county’s works program could refurbish the Sad Monkey if she could provide the materials. Logan went to Chris Gleason with Public Steel to see what kind of financial arrangement could be made.

He asked what she needed, and told her it would all be provided — at no cost.

“Before she got through with her pitch, I was on board,” Gleason said. “Part of it was nostalgic. I grew up in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and enjoyed riding that train. It just struck a chord with me. I can’t tell you how many times I drove by that train and wished someone would do what Barbara is doing.”

Amarillo National Bank’s Canyon branch provided what financing was needed. Texas Lone Star Truck and Body provided free bedliners, and Canyon Towing towed and stored the Sad Monkey.

Projects last summer with the musical “Texas” put Randall County workers behind projected schedule. But this winter, they tackled the refurbishing with gusto.

“I didn’t want anyone involved with this project that didn’t have the same passion I did,” Logan said.

For Logan, it’s personal. She began working there at age 13 in 1981 and worked there for the next eight summers. It was a refuge from a less than ideal home life.

The old gal looked great — 44 feet of three cars, all gleaming in steel, like it was 1967 all over again. Plans are to raise funds for a depot above it. Jason Miller was an engineer on the Sad Monkey from 1985 to 1993. Now living in Beaufort, S.C., he was back in Canyon for his mother’s 70th birthday.

Logan asked him to ring the original bell on the engine just before the tarp was removed. At another time, it might have been a bit cheesy, but not now.

“It was a great idea and she was the right person to do it,” Miller said. “She was always going forward — sometimes faster than the others. She’s an amazing person.”

Jon Mark Beilue is an AGN Media columnist. He can be reached at jon.beilue@amarillo.com or 806-345-3318. TWitter: @jonmarkbeilue.

More