• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun News Staff

Bluegrass Railroad Museum cancels Halloween train ride,Other excursions gaining popularity

JOHN PENFIELD, executive director of the Bluegrass Railroad Museum, said a lack of volunteers to help with putting on Haunted Halloween Train rides led to a decision to cancel that excursion. He said Pumpkin Patch Trains, other special events and weekend passenger train rides to the Kentucky River are gaining popularity. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

The Bluegrass Railroad Museum’s board of directors has voted to cancel its popular Haunted Halloween Train rides this year. A lack of volunteers willing to help do everything associated with putting on those popular excursions led to the decision, according to John Penfield, executive director of the nonprofit organization.

Volunteers have traditionally decorated eight different locations along the Bluegrass Scenic Railroad and Museum’s rails to create a cemetery and other Halloween-themed scenes for the special event, Penfield explained.

He said costumed volunteers are also needed to populate the scenes and the train’s passenger cars during the event. “So it takes a lot of people to put it on and make it exciting for the visitors,” he said.

For example, he said volunteers hung ghosts, which appear to move (with the use of strobe lights), just outside passenger car windows of the moving train.

“The Halloween train was one of our most popular trains,” said Penfield.

Penfield said he would welcome a community partner willing to step-up so those excursions could return to the Bluegrass Railroad Museum’s rails. A number of people have telephoned wondering why tickets for the Haunted Halloween train rides are not available online, he said.

Recalling past Haunted Halloween train rides, Penfield remembers a husband chasing his wife with a chainsaw – without the chain – in the passenger cars one year. “It was one of the most popular things,” he said.

“You’d think it would be scary,” but after hearing one young passenger ask, “Are they coming back?” – Penfield knew that wasn’t the case.

Haunted Halloween train rides have been offered since Penfield started volunteering with the Bluegrass Railroad Museum 14 years ago, he said. However, he said the family-friendly tradition likely began in the late-1980s when the tourist attraction opened.

The cost of purchasing generators and displays for outdoor scenes along the rails made the Halloween train rides less-profitable than other special events. Pumpkin Patch train rides (offered every weekend in October) have been much more profitable and popular than the Halloween rides in recent years, Penfield said.

“Last year, we had eight Pumpkin Patch trains and they all sold out,” he said citing a partnership with Life Adventure Center of the Bluegrass for making the event possible and successful.

“They set up the pumpkin patch. They plant the pumpkins and grow them. They … have cider and hot chocolate and they have a little fire going so the kids can make smores,” said Penfield.

He said none of last year’s four Haunted Halloween train rides sold out, with a total of about 500 passengers on those nights. “That’s not a lot of people considering we carried 14,000 people last year,” he said.

“Five-hundred out of 14,000, you can see why the board chose to not do (the Halloween rides) this year.”

He said the museum’s scenic train rides remain popular with passenger counts growing each of the past five years, which have paid for improvements to locomotives, passenger cars (including two first class air-conditioned cars) and the museum itself.

“I’m not sure that people realize that we’re all volunteers,” said Penfield. “I’m not sure that people realize that every dollar we take in (from ticket sales), we spend back on the railroad.”

One example was the 40 trees blown down across its tracks during the recent windstorm. A Saturday excursion was cancelled, but nine volunteers worked almost 10 hours to clear the track so a train ride was offered on the Sunday after the storm, Penfield said.

Upcoming special events include a Civil War Train weekend Sept. 1 and 2, a Grandparents’ Day excursion Sept. 9, a Home for the Holidays train ride – the Saturday after Thanksgiving – and Santa Claus trains in December.

In addition to the special excursions, a volunteer conductor onboard every Bluegrass Scenic Railroad and Museum ride shares the history of rail travel in this country.

“A lot of people just don’t understand how important the railroads were to the expansion of the United States,” said Penfield. “Particularly in Kentucky, the coal industry and horse industry all used railroads to transport (their goods across the country), as did bourbon.”

The museum offers visual and hands-on experiences about the history of trains and rail travel in this country before passengers embark on their scenic train ride past Trackside Farm to the Kentucky River and Young’s High Bridge.

“…We do have a scenic train ride and that’s one of the attractions. Probably for most people that’s the biggest attraction, but we still have a lot of train buffs who come in and spend a lot of time in the museum,” said Penfield.

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