ELLIS — Ellis is busy working on its railroad.
In fact, there are so many projects in the works for the Ellis Railroad Museum and its scale replica train that museum director Glen Keller has concerns about them.
“We’re going to get too many carts ahead of the horse here,” he said of about 10 projects the museum and the Ellis Community Foundation have lined up.
“You could take this thing to a scale that you don’t want to take it to right now,” Keller said.
Three of those projects are underway or will begin soon — continuing the refurbishing of the replica Aerotrain, constructing a storage building for the train and repainting the Union Pacific caboose displayed outside the museum.
Rick Rupp of Rupp’s Arts and Signs, Victoria, started power grinding the paint on the caboose this week. He hopes to get a coat of primer on by the end of the week to help protect if from further rust, and he said it will take about six weeks — weather permitting — to repaint the sides of the caboose visible from Washington Street. He will finish the other side of the caboose in the spring.
Last week, Matt Carrol’s applied technology students from Ellis High School replaced some of the wood on the gazebo on the grounds. A wedding is planned there soon, and Keller said it would be nice to spruce it up a little.
“It’s in pretty good shape. There’s just a few boards that were missing on it. I think the big storms that came through a few weeks ago did a number on it, so we’re just helping out a little,” Carrol said.
Those storms this summer were actually kind of a “blessing in disguise,” Keller said, as they took down two large cottonwoods that needed to be removed for construction of a new storage building for the train.
The engine of the Aerotrain, a 1/3 scale replica of GM’s 1950s experimental train built by Ottaway Amusement Co., Wichita, was refurbished last year by D&B Body Shop of Ellis. Owner Dustin Vine and his crew took it apart, rebuilt parts of it and gave it a shiny silver coat of paint.
“He is now working on the cars, and I think he should be close to having two of the cars done,” Keller said.
Part of the track had to be removed to transport the cars to the body shop, so the train has not been running this summer.
“My goal is to have the train operational for Polar Express,” Keller said of the annual December event.
Last year’s Polar Express — the debut of the refurbished engine — attracted about 1,100 people to ride the train around the 1-mile track and Christmas lights display.
Keller is also hopeful that work can at least get started for the new storage building. Designed to resemble the depot, it will be built over the miniature train’s tracks south of the depot so the train can be driven into or through it. It will offer a sheltered area for people to board the train.
“The biggest thing is giving protection from the elements and protection from vandalism,” Keller said.
That need became evident when the train and a portion of the tracks was vandalized in July 2017.
“There’s a pretty good monetary investment in that train right now,” Keller said. “I think our object now would be to get all the concrete work, get the track laid back in place so we can run the train.
“If we get the building built, great. If we don’t, it’s not the end of the world, but we will be able to run the train."
Future projects include replacing railroad ties and possibly some seating and lighting along the track.
The museum building, owned by the city, is slated for roof repair, and Keller said grant applications are being written to improve displays and cataloging of artifacts, as well as purchasing a camera to record visitors who have railroad history to share.