- Associated Press - Saturday, December 5, 2015

VIENNA, W.Va. (AP) - A Mineral Wells couple’s love of trains and sharing that love with others led them to buy the trackless train at the Grand Central Mall.

David and Malinda Goldsmith purchased the train in August and made changes, including putting in a depot where people can buy tickets and having their employees punch the tickets of each passenger.

Called “The Grand Central Express,” the train gives mall guests rides around the one-half-mile interior perimeter of the mall and takes around 8-10 minutes depending on the mall’s foot traffic.

“Our mission is to bring a safe, clean, exciting, enjoyable attraction for our area and convey our love of trains,” Malinda said. “Through changing seasons/decorations and events we hope to fulfill our mission and keep the train in the mall for years to come.

“It’s for everyone and for their enjoyment,” she said.

The couple got the idea for the train in 2010 after visiting the house featured in the film, “A Christmas Story,” in Cleveland. While there, they visited a local mall and it was there Malinda first saw a trackless train and knew she eventually wanted to bring the attraction to the Grand Central Mall.

“We came home, researched and looked into the business, but life was busy and we were never able to get the idea moving forward,” Malinda said. “In 2012, Connie, Bud and Aaron Lindley opened the Grand Central Express.

“I cannot express my mixed emotions of happiness and sadness that my dream was owned by someone else. I was happy for them, but sad for me,” she said.

Not ready to give up on their dream, the Goldsmiths approached the Lindleys and told them their desire to purchase the train when and if they were ever interested in selling.

“Over the years, we observed the business, rode the train and enjoyed seeing the happiness it brought to the riders,” Malinda said. “The Lindleys loved the train as much as we do and wanted to pass it on to someone that would continue to nurture and keep the business at the Grand Central Mall.

“In August 2015, our dream became reality and we became a West Virginia small business and the proud owners of the Grand Central Express,” she said.

The couple has always had a love of trains. They grew up in Salem, W.Va., where railroad tracks ran through the center of town. Their first house was next to railroad tracks.

“Seeing, hearing and counting the cars on the train was a daily activity,” Malinda said. “Early in our childhood, Salem was a depot stop and you could ride the train to Clarksburg to shop. You can understand our love of trains, train memorabilia and riding them.”

Even before owning the train, Malinda had plans to have a depot like no other trackless train in any other mall.

The Goldsmiths built the depot where riders can now buy their tickets. The tickets are punched by the engineer and dressed employees, just like on a real train.

The depot was built in six sections and brought to the mall and reassembled.

“The depot was started in late August in our garage at our home,” David said. “After many long hours of planning, building, frustration and anticipation it was finally brought to the mall.”

Malinda feels it is a wonderful attraction that people can walk up to and buy their tickets.

“They get the real train experience,” she said. “A lot of kids will never have that experience of riding a train.

“Just to have something for the kids to do. You look at the kids and families enjoying themselves. That is what it is all about,” she said.

The Goldsmiths offer private discounted group birthday excursions and decorate the train for the birthday honoree, complete with name on the front of the engine. They partnered with Kase’s Candies for rides for parties booked in the private birthday room.

They are getting interest from school groups in booking rides.

The mall is pleased with what the Goldsmiths have been able to do with the train.

“We are thrilled with the creativity and enthusiasm they’ve brought since purchasing the train,” said Katrina Stephens, marketing director for the Grand Central Mall. “They provide a great family entertainment option for our center, and our customers really seem to enjoy having them here.

“This is also a great example of how well locally owned businesses can perform in the mall,” she said.

The train appeals to people of all ages, Malinda said.

“Each car on the train can hold up to 850 pounds, the train is for adults and kids of all ages,” she said.

Peg Gerhart, one of the engineers, said the train is a great family activity.

“I think one of the most wonderful things is we have some dads who work throughout the week and are not home that often and they bring their children here every weekend,” she said. “It is a legacy and a tradition that families are doing together.

“We have grandparents who have started a legacy with their grandchildren to come and ride the train. It is very family oriented and focused on the children,” she said.

During the holiday season, they are averaging over 200 riders on Saturdays and numbers vary throughout the week.

Tickets are $3.25 a person and kids 12 months or under ride for free.

Safety is their number one concern for the riders and mall visitors alike.

“Our drivers are trained to expect the unexpected, drive cautiously and never take their eyes off of the front of the engine for any reason,” Malinda said. “One of the biggest problems as a driver is patrons being distracted by their communication devices and walking along not even realizing there is a train in their immediate vicinity.

“I find it humorous when someone realizes they were in the path of an oncoming train and give you a look and a smile. Overall, most patrons have respect for the train and only occasionally, someone will give us a reason for caution by acting silly,” she said.

The Lindleys recently visited to see what the Goldsmiths have accomplished.

“The joy on their faces told me we had succeeded in making our promise to them,” Malinda said. “They teared up because we actually fulfilled their dream.”

A couple of teenage girls recently left notes thanking the people associated with the train for the joy they are bringing people.

The train had to be shut down for a period of time when the ownership was being transferred; people did notice.

“A lot of people have spoken to us and said they were glad we brought the train back,” Malinda said. “Our mall needs this train.

“It has become a part of our mall. If the train wasn’t here, something would be missing from the heart of the mall. I just love our train and the enjoyment it brings to everyone,” she said.

___

Information from: News and Sentinel (Parkersburg, W.Va.), http://www.newsandsentinel.com

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