A pavillion used for birthday parties was among the structures damaged at the WF&P Railway.Photo courtesy Wabash, Frisco & Pacific Railway Association.
Mud in trains, mud in buildings, mud on the tracks...that’s how Mike Lorance describes the grounds of the Wabash, Frisco and Pacific Railroad Association’s 12-inch gauge steam railway after widespread flooding hit St. Louis in December 2015.
The Wabash, Frisco and Pacific Railroad was formed in 1939 at Brown Ridge and Natural Road. In 1961 the railway was moved to its current home in Glencoe, and has since become a popular destination for train-loving families. Lorance, who serves as treasurer of the association, says that, depending on the weather, the train averages between 14,000 and 15,000 passengers each year on its quiet, wooded, one-mile track along the Meramec River — a whopping number, to be sure, given that the train is only open to the public 26 days a year and is operated entirely by volunteers. Lorance estimates that the train has attracted between 130,000 and 150,000 passengers in the past decade, which he attributes to the fact that it is a unique 12-inch gauge compared to the more common 15-inch.
“I believe it’s just that, you know, we’re something that is unique in the United States, a little train ride that is a little bit more than just a little train ride,” Lorance said. “Our basic premise is preserving these trains that were built for different purposes, whether it was for amusement parks or for private use by train enthusiasts.”
December 2015 wasn’t the first time floodwaters have attempted to consume the railroad, but experience has taught the crew how to prepare. The National Weather Service initially called for floodwaters to hit 40 feet, as they did in 2008, so volunteers worked quickly on a Tuesday night to prepare the grounds.
“Between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, the forecast was raised to 46 feet,” Lorance said. “Things that should have been safe at 40 feet, ended up flooding.”
The machine house and the roundhouse where the engines were stored both went underwater; debris was left behind on the tracks.
“Basically everything was under mud,” Lorance said.
The little engines that could, however, survived the flood, and were quickly cleaned up to prevent damage. With the help of volunteers and the City of Wildwood, other repairs and cleanup soon followed, as well. Lorance expects to be ready to reopen the first Sunday in May.
“The force of the water was just amazing,” Lorance said. “But we’re ready to go—we’ve got a good bunch of volunteers that believe in our organization.”
Some work remains to be done: The crew shack needs repairs, communications systems must be replaced, electrical work is still needed, and the pavilion that had become a popular spot for birthday parties was damaged. Fans of the Wabash, Frisco & Pacific Railroad who would like to help the train get back on track may donate to the association’s GoFundMe site, but according to Lorance, the best way to support the train is to simply stop by for a 30-minute ride when it reopens.
“We’ve been around since ’39,” Lorance said. “We want to keep it going and keep people involved. Come and patronize us when we open in the spring — that’s the best thing they can do to help us.”