The Miniature Railroad is a ride often confused with the Miniature Train, but in fact, these rides are not one in the same. Miniature Train operated in Hersheypark from 1952-1971, 1983-1996 (only during Christmas Candylane), and 1997-2014, while Miniature Railroad operated in Hersheypark from 1910-1971.
The Miniature Railroad (at times also called Miniature Trolley) was Hersheypark’s first railroad, which existed in the park from 1910 until 1971. The ride had two stations and several stops, including one at the Hershey Park Ballroom. The Miniature Railroad was closed after the 1971 season – during which part of the ride was outside the park’s fence. The intention was to reinstall the ride in the future Rhineland theme region in 1973, but the reinstallation was postponed to 1974, and later cancelled.
After the cancelled reinstallation, the train ended up sitting in storage, eventually ending up in an outdoor location at Hersheypark’s maintenance service center next to Hersheypark Stadium. The train sat for many years rusting and slowly decaying in the elements. As time passed, fewer people knew what it was, as it appeared less like a ride and more like something that should have been scrapped.
Fortunately, the train was finally recognized for what it was, and the train ended up being restored by Friends of the Hershey Trolley. After being restored, the train was put on display several times between 2007 and present day.
This is the history of the Miniature Railroad.
How a Miniature Railroad came to Hershey
In 1908, Hersheypark acquired its first amusement park ride, a used Herschell-Spillman carousel. After the Hershey Improvement Company purchased the ride, the decision on where it was to be reconstructed was left to Milton S. Hershey. His chief advisor, Harry “Lebbie” Lebkicher was also involved in the decision-making process, as he often was, almost as an equal to Mr. Hershey.
According to J.R. Snavely, the general manager of the park, Lebkicher and Mr. Hershey disagreed on where the carousel should be placed. Mr. Hershey was in favor of placing the ride in the western end of the park, across Spring Creek, near Hershey Park Ball Field. Lebkicher was in favor of placing the ride near the entrance of the park (located where Kissing Tower is today); he thought placing the carousel in the western end of the park was too far away from other attractions.
As their discussion – more of an argument, given Lebkicher’s well known demeanor – went on for some time, Mr. Hershey eventually admitted that his motive for placing the carousel in the western end of the park was to give reason to have a miniature railroad in Hershey Park. The ride would create easier access to the western end of the park, with a station near the park entrance, and the other station near the carousel.
Lebkicher conceded the argument and the carousel was constructed. It was then up to the Hershey Improvement Company to purchase a miniature railroad and install it. This process took much longer than anyone anticipated.
Acquisition and construction
On December 1, 1908, it was reported in the Lebanon Courier and Semi-Weekly Report that Mr. Hershey intended to make Hershey Park one of the finest parks in the state. The report said that Mr. Hershey had purchased more land to improve Hershey Park Zoo, that new attractions would be added, and that a new amphitheater (replacing the original amphitheater) – Hershey Park Theatre – was to be constructed in the park.
On January 26, 1909, a report appeared in the Harrisburg Telegraph saying, “one of the new amusement features in Hershey Park the coming summer will be a scenic railway.” In May, Hersheypark (through Milton S. Hershey) purchased a miniature railroad from Empire Track Brake Company for $3150 ($81,639 in 2017 US dollars).
Empire Track Brake Company had incorporated several months earlier, operating in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with their main office in New York City. Ernest H. Miller was a founding member of the board of directors, and was foreman of the shop in Lancaster.
Miller designed the Miniature Railroad, but he could not begin to do surveying for the train route until the following month. He was waiting for another construction project to get underway – the construction of Park Boulevard. Once it did (in June), Miller and civil engineer Harry Herr began surveying. The ride was expected to be opened by Memorial Day 1910, but the terrain would prove too difficult for that.
“Famous Gorge Route”
This is what the Hershey Press labeled the path of the Miniature Railroad, in their August 19, 1910 issue. In a somewhat tongue-in-cheek article comparing the terrain of the miniature railroad with the Great West, the article goes on to say:
The construction of this miniature railroad represents a vast amount of effort and skill. The route selected for it, too, is a most beautiful one. Steel is now being laid and it will not be long until the work is finished. The power will be electricity, and the three-rail system will be used, thus eliminating the overhead trolley.
The terrain turned out to be quite difficult to work with, because the area alongside the new Park Boulevard contained very hard limestone. These rocks were not easy to remove – they had to use dynamite to clear a path in some spots. The route was not a circuit, but a line to get from the entrance of the park to an area near the Carousel. The toughest part to construct was the area above Spring Creek, near where the Hershey Model Dairy was (which wouldn’t be constructed for another approximately 20 years).
The train for the Miniature Railroad was delivered to Hershey on April 27, 1910. This included one power car and four passenger coaches. This made for a seating capacity of 50 to 60 people. The motor was a 50-horsepower engine.
Construction on the main station of the Miniature Railroad began in late August 1910, with ground being broken near the park entrance. The station was built over the following months, while the station at the northern end wasn’t constructed until the following spring.
On Labor Day, September 5, 1910, one segment of the railroad was used for the ceremonial christening of the Miniature Railroad. Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Miller, Harry Herr, Hershey Improvement Company civil engineer, the editor of the Hershey Press, and several others took the first ride. This was the first test of the ride, and by all accounts, it was a success.
A second test of the Miniature Railroad occurred at the end of the week, on September 9 at 5:00pm. This time, the entire train was loaded, so a full load could be tested on the ride. This test went rather well, though with a minor issue, and two sets of photographs were taken along the train route. A Hershey Press article said:
A little difficulty was experienced in making the grade on the other side of the concrete bridge. This was not due to a lack of power but to slippery rails. As soon as sand was used on the rails, the train was easily taken up the hill. A little “sand” will help most anybody up a hill. The return trip was most successful.
–“Another Test of the Miniature Railroad,” The Hershey Press, September 16, 1910, page 13
Unfortunately, the original train for the Miniature Railroad was destroyed before the ride could open to the general public.
On January 24, 1911, Mr. Hershey’s garage and stable caught fire and burned to the ground in the early morning hours of the day. The fire cost between $30,000 and $40,000 in damages. Stored along with other vehicles were a “half dozen or so” cars for the Miniature Railroad that constituted the train for the ride. Fortunately, almost everything that was destroyed by the fire was insured.
A new train was sent to Hershey, and Miniature Railroad was able to open on Memorial Day, May 30, 1911. The ride sold 2100 tickets on the first day of operation.
Miniature Railroad was not a complete circuit. The train would go from one end of the rail line to the other. The train was designed with benches that could be swapped so seats never faced backward.
The Miniature Railroad line began at a station near the main entrance of Hersheypark. The line then followed Park Boulevard down to and across Spring Creek, where it curved just beyond the bridge. The line then skirted by Hershey Park Ballfield, with the end being an open-air station near the first carousel.
Two stops were added after major additions to the park debuted. First was in 1913, when Hersheypark Ballroom opened. Another stop was added was near Hershey Park Pool, when that opened in 1929. (Eventually these two stops were discontinued, except for times when park management needed to go to the pool.)
In 1929, the station at the west end of the line, along with some of the track, was relocated. The route was redirected into the hollow along Spring Lake and Spring Creek, with a station constructed next to the brand new Mill Chute.
Miniature Railroad was shortened when the Twin Ferris Wheels were installed in the Hollow, in 1950. A new station was built next to the new Ferris wheels, the first time the western end of the Miniature Railroad had an enclosed station like the eastern end. The old western end was converted into a picnic pavilion.
When Hersheypark was gated in 1971, part of the Miniature Railroad was outside of the park’s fence. An electric gate near the turn at Spring Creek would open up when the train would pass through. The engineer on the train had a remote control – like a garage door opener – to control the electric gate.
In the latter part of the 1971 season, some individual(s) placed some rocks on the Miniature Railroad, trying to cause trouble. As the train approached, the engineer was not able see the rocks that were on the track. When the train collided with the rocks, it caused some of the cars to derail. Fortunately, nobody was significantly hurt.
Unfortunately, the cars were badly damaged. Since it was so late in the season, park management decided to place the ride into storage, with the intention of fixing the train and eventually getting it running again. However, the Miniature Railroad train was not repaired, and the track and both stations were torn down in 1972.
The Miniature Railroad had very few engineers over the years as the ride engineer was a long held position. The first engineer was Harry Beistline, from 1911 until 1924, followed by William B. Brandt from 1925 to 1953, Clement W. Miller from 1954 to 1969, and John Mandes and Dennis Hollinger from 1969 to 1971.
Brandt and Miller both worked for the Hershey Transit Company, and Miller operated The Bug for two seasons before taking over the Miniature Railroad. It is estimated that during Brandt’s time as engineer, he carried nearly 8 million people, making 168,000 round trips.
[Brandt] recalled that the train has always been one of the park’s most popular riding devices. Even when it is raining…many patrons disregard the shows to ride the train. He smiled as he recalled a Saturday night last season when it began to “pour” while ballroom patrons were spending the intermission riding the amusements in the “hollow.”
The dancers jammed the “hollow” station and, despite the downpour, insisted on riding back to the ballroom. [Brandt] was ready to take the train back to the main station and call it a night, but the dancers insisted that he haul them during the storm. He made three separate and soggy trips to return his fares to the ballroom.
— Hershey News, May 6, 1954, page 4
Miniature Railroad for Rhineland
When R. Duell drew up a plan for Hersheypark, one of the rides to remain in the park after the renovations were complete was the Miniature Railroad. Their concepts had the ride being shortened and relocated along the shores of Spring Creek in the old Sunken Garden, which was going to be renovated as Rhineland. A station was going to be placed next to the station of another ride called the Rhine River Boats.
While the river boat ride was intended to be a scenic figure eight loop on Spring Creek, the train was meant to connect this part of Rhineland with the hollow since a walking path would not connect these two areas directly. The configuration of the track would have been an oval loop around the widest part of Spring Creek where parts of the Sunken Garden had been (and where Skyrush is today).
The reason why Miniature Railroad wasn’t repaired and placed in operation in 1972 was because Rhineland was part of Phase II of the R. Duell project. Phase II was scheduled for the 1973 season. The park had a lot of setbacks during Phase I, including construction delays and the Flood of 1972 which closed the park for a week. To reduce costs, the Miniature Railroad and Rhine River Boats installations were postponed to the 1974 season.
In late 1973, due to various economic and financial issues, Hersheypark modified the R. Duell plan which cancelled many of the plans the park had for the 1974-1977 seasons. This included the Miniature Railroad reinstallation and the Rhine River Boats. The Miniature Railroad wouldn’t be forgotten, but it would remain in storage indefinitely.
Long term storage and renovation
The train ended up being stored at the park’s maintenance service center after that was constructed in 1976. In 1983, there was some consideration given to reinstalling the Miniature Railroad (which was to occur around the 1985 season), however, that never happened. Had this happened, it probably would have been installed somewhere in Pioneer Frontier, rather than in Rhineland like was considered in the early 1970s.
Unfortunately, after that time, the train was stored outdoors in the elements. Over the ensuing years it became extremely rusted and in very poor condition.
At some point in 2006, the train was going to be scrapped because by that point in time, few people working were even employed at the time when the Miniature Railroad last operated. Fortunately, one person recognized the train for what it was, in spite of its poor condition. On January 10, 2007, it was announced that Hershey Entertainment & Resorts (owner of Hersheypark) and Friends of the Hershey Trolley (a committee of Hershey-Derry Township Historical Society) were going to restore the train.
Here’s what it looked like when it was transferred to the Friends of Hershey Trolley.
Over the ensuing years, volunteers worked on restoring the train in various ways. The train body has been rebuilt and repainted, while the motor has undergone work. The train made its debut at a 150th birthday celebration for Milton S. Hershey on September 13, 2007.
The train was put on display again on May 30, 2011, the train was publicly displayed in the Hershey Memorial Day Parade. Since then, it has been put on display every now and again, with the train most recently appearing at a Hershey-Derry Township Historical Society event in 2016.
To see a timeline for the Miniature Railroad, click here.
I have a wide variety of interests, from sports to politics, music to Star Trek. I write about the history of amusement parks on my website, The Amusement Parkives, which I founded in 2016.