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Quassy’s Chance train ride back on track following major restoration

Rebuild took months, hundreds of parts

AT: Ron Gustafson

MIDDLEBURY, Conn. – Since being introduced in 1948, it’s estimated that more than 10 million park-goers have ridden the rails on the Quassy Express, the miniature train ride at Quassy Amusement & Waterpark here.

The 24-inch gauge track, which runs the perimeter of what is commonly known as the Great Lawn area at the 109-year-old lakefront property, offers guests a leisurely ride under soothing shade trees during some of New England’s hot and humid summer days.

Quassy’s original ride was from National Amusement Device Co. (NAD) of Dayton, Ohio (1920-1973), known throughout the amusement industry at the time for the manufacture of miniature trains and roller coasters.

The NAD train served Quassy, a regional family-owned park, for three decades and was retired in the fall of 1977, being replaced by a model known as the C.P. Huntington from Chance Rides of Wichita, Kan.

After countless miles and operating hours spanning nearly 40 years, Quassy’s C.P. Huntington was, indeed, showing its age at the close of the 2016 season.

“When we got the train into the shop last fall, I thought we were going to just swap out the engine and work on the brakes,” recalled Rui DaSilva, the park’s maintenance supervisor.

But further examination by the veteran mechanic revealed more work than initially anticipated needed to be done to bring the aging ride back to pristine condition.

“It certainly compounded in a hurry,” DaSilva said of the endeavor, which would turn out to be the single largest ride restoration project he has worked on in his 21 years at the property.

Bottom line: Quassy’s C.P. Huntington train was about to be rebuilt from the ground up.

Hundreds of parts

Fortunately for the park, Chance Rides continues to provide parts and service for the ride. In fact the manufacturer, which delivered its first C.P. Huntington in 1961, still produces new trains for amusement parks, zoos and other attractions worldwide and is honing in on a milestone: delivery of its 400th unit.

DaSilva dug in for what he termed the “tedious” task of inspecting hundreds of pieces, including wheel bearings, axles, pneumatic brake lines and just about everything in between.

The locomotive (engine) was completely torn down to the frame and decorative electroplated ornaments, including items as small as bolt caps, were sent out to be re-chromed.

“Pulling the engine was extremely difficult as the rusty mounting bolts had to be cut,” he said.

During that process the ride’s transmission was also dropped and DaSilva discovered the need to rewire all of the electrical.

While waiting for various parts to be delivered, he tackled repainting of the locomotive’s cover panels in sparkling red metal flake with trim pieces refinished in gloss black.

“I wanted something different and attractive,” he said of the decision to apply a metallic finish.

The transmission was rebuilt by a local firm as were the engine’s gear boxes. Two axles had to be replaced, the drive shafts balanced and new gauges installed on the instrument panel.

Fortunately, the park kept a rebuilt gasoline engine for the train in its parts inventory.

“We installed it when the transmission came back in February,” he added, while other components were scattered about the maintenance shop awaiting reassembly.

The four-cylinder motor pulled from the ride during the overhaul will be rebuilt and go back into storage for future use.

Coaches also a challenge

The three coaches on the Quassy Express can carry more than 60 passengers when the attraction is running at capacity.

Each of the passenger cars rest on the tracks by what is known as trucks, which house the axle, wheel and brake assemblies. Each truck also swivels, allowing the train to make turns.

Once the seats were removed, DaSilva was able to inspect the workings of each truck.

Dozens of components were ordered to bring them (trucks) back to like-new condition with the technician replacing bushings, seals, bearings, axles and — basically — the entire brake system.

Welds were all thoroughly checked before the steel framework of each coach headed to the park’s paint shop for refinishing. The wood seats were also stripped and re-stained during the five-month process by other members of the maintenance team.

The gratification for DaSilva came when the park opened in early May and guests were again able to hop aboard the ride.

“I came here as a kid and rode this same train,” he recalled with a smile. “I really like seeing people at the park having fun, especially on the rides.”

From all indications, the Quassy Express is again poised for long haul as the iconic property enters its 109th summer of operation.

This article appears in the June 2017 issue of Amusement Today.

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