THE STORY OF 'LITTLE PAT'

 

What would you get if you put together a 1941 Ford two-ton truck chassis, a 1938 Dodge passenger car axle, old wagon tires, scrap metal, empty carbide cans, the top from an oxygen bottle, a lid from a trash can and a five gallon bucket, along with a bell and a whistle and a lot of other stuff?

Ray West and members of the American Legion's 40 and 8 made a locomotive of sorts more than 55 years ago in Ray's backyard on Waterloo Avenue in Denison. Ray, who will be 87 on June 14, was a little younger in those days, and was an active member of the American Legion Post 62's 40 and 8 when he and R.F. “Packy” McFarland got the idea to build the miniature engine with wheels. The 40 and 8 was the American Legion's “fun and games group,” something like the Shriners and their miniature cars and motor scooters in parades, the 40 & 8's parade gimmick was miniature locomotives. The name goes back to World War I when doughboys over in France traveled in boxcars that would hold either 40 men or eight horses, but not at the same time.

The locomotives were driven in parades or any other worthy cause to benefit orphaned or underprivileged children.

At a meeting one night in 1951 the Denison group discussed having a train. Ray, who was the 40 and 8 commander at the time, asked, “Do we have any money?” Others replied “No”, so Ray said, “Then we'll have to go another way.”

So they built the locomotive from junk parts in a garage next to West's home, along with the above mentioned items and many more. The chassis came from somewhere and the axle came from somewhere else. They scrounged most of the other stuff. A blacksmith shop donated old wagon tires to form the boiler and scrap metal left over from the Denison Dam covered the bands. Empty carbide cans became wheel cylinders. A train bell came from Bonham and a man named Redmon donated a whistle. They rigged a smoke making devise of kerosene poured into a hot exhaust pipe and built four dummy wheels that rolled along in parades, but could be pulled up out of the way for highway travel. Three crews alternated nights working for six months. Since the machine was in Ray's backyard, he worked every night. Ray's father-in-law, Ed James, an expert cabinet maker, pitched in and built the cab and other wooden pieces.

Jaques Power Saw fabricated the cow catcher and retractable driver wheels and Sanders Motors did the welding and supplied a Ford flathead V8 for the power plant. Esler's Hardware and Paint store supplied the enamel to finish coat the wood and steel panels. A few of those working on the engine were Homer McClung, Oscar Brown, Mike Killorean, W.K. Sampson, Ralph Dunbar and W.C. Allison.

Ray and Alice allowed the group to name the locomotive after their three year old daughter, Pat, so the engine became known as “Little Pat.” When it was finished everyone was standing around feeling proud of their work when they ran into the only hitch. They couldn't get it out of Ray's garage because the smoke stack was so tall that it wouldn't clear the garage door. Thank goodness the floor was dirt so the guys just dug trenches for the tires so the stack would clear and out the door it went. First real trip for the miniature locomotive was to San Antonio to an American Legion Convention. With Ray and McFarland on board and Alice driving behind them, they got as far as McKinney when the engine suddenly blew up. They had been cruising at about 65 miles an hour and everything had been fine until then.

They didn't want to turn around and go home and miss the convention and riding in the big parade, so they got another engine from a wrecking yard that just happened to be nearby. They drove on a motel parking lot and replaced the engine with one that worked but drank 10 gallons of oil to each gallon of gas it burned. But they made the round trip to San Antonio.

The little engine appeared in hundreds of parades, especially at Christmastime. Little Pat was decorated up and Ray dressed as Santa for many years to ride in Denison's parade.

The longest trip for Little Pat was in 1952 when Ray took it to a convention in St. Louis. Alice followed in the car. Ray said, “That was one long drive and I told Alice I'd never do that again.” The parade there was an all-day affair with more than 65,000 marchers and about 100 similar locomotives. Ray said that Little Pat was the most authentic looking train in the group. The return trip went smoothly until they crossed the Oklahoma border and Ray was pulled over by a state trooper who wanted to know where his license plate was. Ray told him you didn't need a license plate on a train. But the trooper didn't laugh. He showed him a certificate that Austin had sent him. The trooper asked where he had been and where he was headed. When Ray told him, he looked amazed and let him go on his way.

By the mid 1980s Little Pat was showing her age. All the miles being driven in parades were showing on her. Ray and Alice's daughter, Beth Niemi, who wasn't born yet when Little Pat was put together, worried about its condition. A couple of the younger members of Post 63, Ed Richardson and Michael Griffith, volunteer their time to restore it with a new paint job and a modern power train. It was stored under a locomotive port beside the downtown Denison American Legion building for many years. Today it has been put out to pasture to the American Legion Lakesite, north of Pottsboro.

For 20 years Ray and Alice went to Colorado for 30 days to visit Pat and her husband while he worked on Pat's house there. The couple also helped every year with the Billy Moss Masonic Lodge 1152 barbecue. Now that Alice is gone Beth and Pat, when she can come down, try to take their mother's place. Beth said it takes both of them to do what their mother did.

Ray's fascination with calliope music at the circus when he was a kid, prompted him to build one. D. Fay Watkins and Joy Buzbee played it at events and in parades for a number of years. Ray still has it, but it's rarely played these days.

He also has refinished a number of player pianos, including one in his “play room” that he purchased from a church and refinished. He's installed mirrors and glass so that the works can be seen as the piano played tunes from music rolls.

Ray still is active in the Masonic Lodge and is proud of being a 50-year member of the First Christian Church.

By Donna Hunt
Herald Democrat

 

 

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