When Milton Councilman John Collier talks about the Clipper Express train in Memorial Park, it can sound like he's talking about a close friend. Collier fondly remembers the days when the train rolled through Cedar Park in Woodside, the time he spent setting up the track for the Transportation Festival and the moment he rediscovered the locomotive in Milton.
“I lost touch with it after [the Department of Transportation] sold it for surplus property,” he said. “I moved to Milton in 2001, and I found the train again. I really didn't know where it went when they sold it. I moved to Milton, and here it was. I knew it right away, as soon as I saw it.”
The train is operated and maintained by the Milton Lions Club, of which Collier is a member. He is in charge of booking the train for children's birthday parties and making sure it's ready for each Wednesday night concert in the park. He can often be found navigating up to 22 children around the small loop in the north end of the park.
But in order to ensure the train keeps rolling through Memorial Park for many more years, the Lions Club is seeking the assistance of the public. The Milton Lions Foundation, the charitable arm of the Lions Club, recently kicked off a fundraising campaign to pay for an estimated $50,000 improvement project that will pay for repairs to the train and replacement of the track. The group is hoping to raise the money over the next two years.
“We don't want to raise rates,” Collier said. “We're not out to try to earn money with the train; we're out to make children smile.”
During concerts and festivals in the park, it costs a child 25 cents for a ride. To rent the train for a birthday party, the fee is $30 per hour. Collier said there are no plans to raise rates. The money must come from somewhere else, he said.
So far the fundraising campaign has been received well by the community, Collier said, with many residents and businesses offering to help. At some point, he said, the Lions will make an appeal to more businesses in town, but he won't be selling advertising space on the train.
Since the town bought the train from DelDOT 20 years ago, Collier said, the train has provided a unique service to area residents. He said it helps Milton stand out from the rest of the communities in Delaware.
“There isn't a community in the entire state that has a train or anything like this available to their residents,” he said. “We're kind of one of a kind. We don't advertise it a whole lot, but I'm almost booked solid throughout the summer with children's birthday parties and stuff like that.”
The train is about 50 years old. It was originally part of a small amusement park called Cedar Park in Woodside in Kent County. After DelDOT acquired it and used it for a number of years in its Transportation Festival, it sold the train to Milton.
The town owns the train, but leases it for $1 a year to the Lions Club, which is responsible for the train's upkeep.
“It's been in town for 20 years,” Collier said. “If we don't do something soon, it's not going to last much longer.”
For those who wish to help the Lions' fundraising effort, donations may be sent to Milton Lions Foundation, P.O. Box 256, Milton, DE 19968. A local company has offered to build a website at no cost for the Lions, and it will provide additional information about fundraising events that will be held in the future.