PHOTO COURTESY DRY GULCH USA
Here's the old Lakeland train as it looks today.
Most readers of this column probably remember Lakeland, the "fun for the whole family" amusement park that operated in the 1960s and '70s just east of Memphis, along Canada Road. Developed by Louis Garner, it featured a large lake (obviously), amusement park, the Brussels World's Fair Skyride, dance pavilion, race track, and lots of other attractions. It finally closed in the early 1980s, and most of its bits and pieces auctioned off or tossed on the scrap heap. Lakeland is now a decidedly upscale community, with nice houses overlooking the lake — the only part of the old park that has survived.
One of its biggest (literally) attractions was the Huff-n-Puff Railroad, an old-timey steam locomotive that pulled passenger cars on a journey around the lake. "Bandits" would rush out of the woods and pretend to rob passengers along the way — an amusing part of the journey until one of the trigger-happy Lauderdale bodyguards shot one of the rascals. Luckily, he just winged him, but they made us leave the park anyway. Rules are rules.
When Lakeland closed, one of the mysteries was: what happened to the Huff-n-Puff locomotive? Rumor had it that the thing had been sold to an amusement park, but nobody seemed to know just where it ended up.
Well, my pal Bill Cunningham, who will be mentioned a lot on these pages in the future since he has a vast knowledge of local history (and an amazing collection of artifacts from the past), discovered that the train apparently sat for years, neglected and abandoned, somewhere in Mississippi, before it was purchased and gussied up as "The Christmas Train," the star attraction of an amusement park called Dry Gulch USA, which is outside Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Begun by a minister back in 1985, Dry Gulch operates a summer camp for children, offering them fun and activities of all kinds. But during the holiday season, Dry Gulch operates the Christmas Train, which takes families on a journey "back through time," where they can experience an old-fashioned Western town, and lots of family-oriented amusements. You don't have to worry about train robbers here. The train has proven so popular — drawing some 50,000 visitors every year — that every single seat is already sold out for the 2011 holiday season.
Thanks, Bill, for providing this information.