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
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
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