It was millions of years in the making, but Hays sculptor Pete Felten Jr.’s limestone locomotive has made its way to the Downtown Pavilion in Union Pacific Park at 10th and Main.
Donated to the city of Hays by Hays attorney John T. Bird, the train on Thursday morning was welcomed to its new home during a brief celebration in the Pavilion.
A crowd of well-wishers gathered to watch the unveiling and applauded as a white sheet, held down with rocks against the morning’s cool, gusty breeze, was pulled away by Bird and others to reveal the sculpture and its dedication stone.
Modeled after the historic decommissioned Union Pacific Locomotive 6072, the 300-pound Felten sculpture is now on permanent display at the Pavilion.
Bird, admitting a love of trains since having watched them as a boy growing up in Hays, said he couldn’t keep the sculpture to himself but wanted everyone to enjoy it as a piece of the town’s history.
"This piece of art belongs to all of you," Bird said in remarks to the crowd. "Hays, the railroad, the people who live here, are all part of one big family ... and Pete Felten is like the knitting needle that has brought us all together."
Thursday’s reveal, hosted by the Downtown Hays Development Corp., and emceed by DHDC executive director Sara Bloom, marked the official installation of the sculpture.
"You’ll see that the engine isn’t quite perfect, there’s a few fossils sticking out, it’s not symmetric," Bloom said. "But Pete Felten, being the artist that he is, took an irregular piece of rock, worked around the defects, saw past the limitations and made something truly beautiful that we can all enjoy. I hope in 2020 that each of us can say that we did the same. May we all work around the inconveniences, see past the disagreements and shape something beautiful."
Bird said he bought the sculpture after seeing it as a work in progress at Felten’s workshop west of 6th and Main streets. Not wanting to hide it away at his law office or his farm, he hoped to have it on public display as another Felten sculpture on the streets of Hays telling the city’s frontier history.
While working with Bloom and Melissa Dixon at the Hays Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Pavilion seemed like the perfect spot, as it has become a gathering place with downtown’s rejuvenation.
"I beg to disagree with Sara," Bird said of the sculpture. "I thought it was perfect. It had all the pieces and parts that the old steam-fired locomotives had, and it does have the fossils that he worked around in the stone, 200 million-year-old stone formed by the bodies of tiny little sea creatures that fell to the bottom of the Kansas sea and became stone, the same stone you look around us, that you see buildings built out of. He took a piece of fencepost limestone and he made a train out of it, a locomotive out of it."
Bird encouraged people to touch the train.
"It’s intended to last for another 100 million years," he said. "It’s not fragile, and so when you come up to look at it, feel free to pet it and stroke it and feel how soft it is, even though it’s hard, and look at the little fossils in it."
Hays artist Bruce Burkholder, speaking on behalf of the 87-year-old Felten, said Felten avoids the spotlight but still creates and carves every day at his shop.
Felten, Burkholder said, has been his longtime mentor and inspired him years ago to pursue his painting as a successful career. Felten’s many sculptures teach new generations about the area’s history, he said.
"With Pete, he’s graced me, and he’s graced this city," Burkholder said. "We’re very, very graced to have him."