The History of Kiwanis Park in Ada, OK
As Remembered by Gene Evans
The Kiwanis Club of Greater Ada was formed in January 1958. There were about forty charter members who met for the evening meal each Thursday. The member composition was varied but mostly business owners or managers and area school superintendents.
After a meal and business session in February 1958, the question was “now that we are formed, what can we do?” A group of fifteen or twenty members was passing around ideas to consider.
Someone suggested that maybe we could do something at Wintersmith Park. It sure could be made more useful. After kicking it around for several minutes, someone suggested a miniature train might be a good attraction.
One of the members, Troy Tipton, had a few years earlier owned and operated a coal-fired miniature train near Glenwood Park in Ada. He stated that it could be a viable and attractive project. However, he cautioned that it would require a lot of work to build and operate. He added that the coal-fired engine was too much trouble to operate and maintain. His advice was to use a gasoline engine as the power source.
Now admitting that this group of men was not too bright, it was decided that this matter required further study. Members familiar with the various aspects of the project volunteered to check it out. The findings slowly came back in with a lot of “probablies”.
Yes, the Park Board would listen to any ideas we submitted. Yes, the membership would support and work on the project. Yes, a train can be purchased that would be appropriate for our use. No, we don’t have twenty thousand dollars with which to buy such a train. Well, can one be built at a price we can afford? If so who, how, where, when and how long?
The next four months were a whirl of activity, problems, solutions, and eventually a roaring success. Several aspects of this project were developing at the same time, in various locations and by different members. Taking each part separately, the project progressed as follows.
The Train Engine and Coaches
James Denny Odell, a partner in the Hulme and Odell ready-mix concrete company took on the actual building of the engine at his plant garage. No plans for such an engine could be located. Denny and his head mechanic, Bob Markley, formed a mental picture of the powertrain, bought some angle iron and started cutting and welding. Each dimension was determined “probably about so long” and then modified as necessary.
The shape and proportions for the engine design were taken from a model train engine supplied by Clyde Alletag. The power source of a 50 HP, V 4 Wisconsin gasoline engine would be adequate. Such engine could be obtained off an old hay bailer. An engine was located, but the local Haliburton Oil Well Cement Company manager informed the club that he could get one, almost new and with a hydraulic coupler, from their equipment yard in Duncan, Oklahoma. Denny Odell went to Duncan and brought it to Ada without cost.
The factory built train had 18-inch track gauge width. Building the engine wheel trucks would require two differential units. The smallest differential units found were from an old Willis automobile at a local salvage yard. They could be shortened to 20 inches. That became the track gauge for the Kiwanis train.
Wood patterns for the wheels were turned in two sizes. Bob Kerr of Kerr Machine Shop knew of a foundry in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The patterns were sent there to be made of cast steel. After they were cast, he machined them to exact size.
The axles were made of one inch cold rolled steel and turned for the bearings and wheels at Ideal Cement Plant by Grant Breeden, their machinist, with the knowledge of Dave Howe, the plant manager. Wallace Miller at Ada Auto Supply arranged with the bearing salesman to furnish the pillar block bearings as an original equipment manufacture at a fraction of the regular price. The wheel trucks were cut and welded by club members in the machine shop classroom at East Central College under the supervision of Harold Breholts, who was the college machine shop instructor.
The brake system was to be air from the compressor with pads on each wheel. Time was running short, so for the first season, it was decided to use purchased compressed air in cylinders as the air source. Used air brake cylinders from a truck were obtained from the mechanic at Ada Milling Company. The cylinders would activate rub bars on the rails. This system worked fine but somewhat expensive for the air. The air compressor and brake shoes were installed after the first season.
The coach chassis was made of angle iron. The walls and seats were made of wood. There were three such coaches. The canvas canopies were added several years later.
Originally it was thought that the rail could be obtained from around Coalgate, Oklahoma as remnants from the old coal mines. It was soon discovered that no rail remained in the Coalgate area. Most had been sold as scrap iron during the War. Now there was a real problem. No rail. Someone heard that Phillips Petroleum Co. was abandoning their carbon black plant in Borger, Texas. Some small rail was being removed from the plant yard. Contact was made with Phillips and a deal was made. Some members took a truck to Borger and brought the rail to Ada.
The rail spikes were purchased from Colorado Fuel and Iron Works in Pueblo, Colorado. These spikes were ~ inch square and four inches long. Four hundred pounds of the spikes were used.
The O.C.A. & A. Railroad had ceased service from Ada, to Atoka, Oklahoma. The abandoned rail was being removed and salvaged. The local rail agent, Clifford Wyatt, obtained permission from the company for the Greater Ada Kiwanis Club to use some of the old ties. The club members used pickup trucks to bring the ties from near Tupelo, Oklahoma. The ties were to be cut into thirds for use as ties on the Kiwanis railroad. This proved to be a bigger chore than originally thought. Gravel embedded in the old ties dulled a chainsaw blade in just a few cuts and hundreds of cuts were to be made. One member located a large buck saw owned by Quinton Blake. This saw was thirty-six inches in diameter and powered from a tractor take-off by a large flat belt. This proved to be a very successful method of cutting the ties.
Many members were working laying the track and road bed. It was decided to start here (at the depot site) and go this way (south). The exact path was not determined and no survey was made. Turn when you come to the water and make it as long as the rail will reach. This is the way it was done.
Neil Gressett described it best. When asked where the plans were, he replied: We drew them here in the dirt and someone stepped in them before we were finished.
About three months from the start and about halfway through, it was noticed that the club did not have any money and our credit was being pushed to the limit. The club board decided to ask the members to lend the club one hundred dollars, to be paid back after the train was in operation. Some fifteen members were able to do so. (remember that in 1950 $100 was about a weeks pay for many people.) Later several said that they thought this was a donation because they did not expect to be reimbursed.
With the train and track progressing, the next question was what else is needed for this operation. We needed a ticket office and maybe a concession stand. S. J. Buckner was a member and the local distributor of Morton Foods. Among other things, they sold snow cone equipment and supplies. He knew that Mr. Al Tribby, owner of the Kit Kat Drive-in had a snow cone machine and small portable building that served as the stand. The club purchased this equipment, on the credit of course, and was then in business.
The project came together, to many peoples surprise, and was opened for business July 14, 1958. The train tickets were fifteen cents for two laps. A card of eight rides was sold for one dollar. Incidentally, some cards were sold before the project opened as a source of funds. The snow cones were fifteen cents each. The train ran that Sunday afternoon with capacity riders till close at six o’clock. There were 1,054 passengers that first day. Three hundred pounds of block ice was made into snow cones. Needless to say, there were many happy people in Ada that day.
The first season was short but very successful. The project was well received by the people and enough funds were received to pay off all debt.
Before starting the second season it was decided that some changes were in order. The plywood concession stand was way too small. A concrete block building was constructed in early spring of 1959. The concrete blocks were furnished by Thomas Concrete Pipe Company here in Ada. Under the supervision of Jim Thomas, they had started a pre-stressed concrete manufacturing plant. The concession stand roof was (and is) made of these pre-stressed panels, thanks to Jim Thomas. Years later the wood gable roof was put in place.
One member heard of a Merry-go-round that was for sale. This unit was in Dennison, Texas. It was a small portable ride that had been used around the area at various shopping centers and celebration events. The original diesel engine had been replaced with an electric motor. This unit had cast aluminum horses and a canvas tent covering. Only a concrete slab was needed to mount it on. Two or three years later the permanent roof was put in place.
At the suggestion of member John Oxford, the miniature golf course was constructed in the early 1960’s. Teams of two or three members volunteered to build the different holes. The configuration of each hole was selected by the team building that hole. Additional features such as lighting, fence and hard surface of the course area were added in following years.
For many years most of the money derived from the amusement park was spent on Wintersmith Park improvements. The covered pavilions were built over the next few years.
In the early 1970’s a group of students at Ada High School formed an organization known as “Proud Young Americans for Truth” or “PYAT”. This organization was led by a then student named David Nimmo. Mr. Nimmo continued to lead this group for many years. The purpose of the organization was to instill patriotism back in the young peoples’ minds.
The PYAT major project was to instigate a Fourth of July Celebration event at Wintersmith Park. This event proved to be very popular and has received wide support throughout the community. With waning interest and low membership of the PYAT group, The Kiwanis Club of Greater Ada assumed a leadership role in this event. The Fourth of July Celebration is still widely supported and continues to present time.