A ride for kids repaired by kids: Meridian Tech Center students restore an old amusement park relic

STILLWATER, Okla. -- It might be an old Ford tractor engine, but it comes from a very unique piece of history.

"This one has a production date of 1952 on it," says Rick Carlisle, a Meridian Technology Center instructor.

This hunk of metal and gears is a lot like the other engines that come through the votech's Auto Repair Center.

But this one came off a train; a 24 gauge amusement park ride on its last legs before Carlisle's students started cleaning it up.

"Had a lot of leaks on it. We've taken it apart, resealed everything, and, now, we're in the process of putting it back together," explains Carlisle.

To follow the track of history for this locomotive is to go back 75 years to the heyday of the original Craterville Amusement Park near Lawton.

"This train hauled lots of kids at Old Craterville," says Frank Rush.

Rush's dad bought the little train and ran it even after the old park closed.

Near as anyone can tell, Hydro Free Fair organizers took it home and ran it every summer since about 1960.

Free Fair President Charlie Wieland brought it here last fall for its first comprehensive maintenance.

"It's going to look brand new again," he gushes. "We're really excited."

Automotive and collision repair students had never repaired a train before, but they cleaned up the engine and stripped down the body.

There were also many hours of sanding, stripping, and soon-to-be painting.

"We took it apart. We're going to put it back together. We're going to paint it. We've done all the body work on it," said Racheal Sappington, a collision repair student.

Another student Garrett Leal-McBride says, "It's mostly the same stuff, but it's a train."

Frank Rush, who grew up with this train, riding and driving it, had to travel up from Texas a couple of times to see his old friend get a new lease on life.

"I'm just tickled to death," he smiles.

When the Hydro Free Fair comes around again in August, this train will run again just like always, a cherished memory for another generation of kids. This time, repaired by kids happy to have the experience of touching a piece of history.

Meridian Technology Center faculty are hoping to have the train project completed by the end of the spring term in May.

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