- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

PALO DURO CANYON STATE PARK, Texas (AP) - Barbara Logan was riding with her husband David past an overgrown field near Palo Duro Canyon four months ago. There, in some overgrown weeds, she could barely see her childhood. It was rotting next to a stagecoach and chuckwagon.

“I said, ‘David, I want the train,’” Logan said.

To his credit, her husband didn’t laugh.

Instead, he asked her several questions: What are you going to do with it? Where are you going to put it? How can you afford to fix it? Her answers were all the same: I don’t know.

“All logical questions,” Barbara told the Amarillo Globe-News (https://bit.ly/1LdHgYx), “but all that was going through my mind is that it shouldn’t be sitting there, and it was wrong. A part of me wanted to save it.”

Sentiment might have won out over logic, but nonetheless, Barbara Logan became the proud new owner of the Sad Monkey Railroad about a month later. Now what?

“I had absolutely no plan,” she said. “No idea where it would take me.”

Remember the Sad Monkey? You have to be of a certain vintage to do so. The miniature train with four passenger cars operated on the rim of Palo Duro Canyon from 1955 to 1996.

Named after the side of a nearby cliff that looked like the face of a grumpy monkey, the train crawled two miles into the canyon, taking a maximum of 53 passengers on a 20-minute guided trip.

It was located less than a half-mile from the Palo Duro Amphitheatre. There was a depot and a concession stand. For 41 years, the Sad Monkey ran daily from Easter through September and weekends year-round, weather permitting.

Clifford Burtz was the longtime owner of the train, succeeding the original owner, his father Earl. Burtz hired many young kids in the summer, giving them their first job, taking them under his wing, mentoring them. They included a young Barbara Wood, now Logan.

She began work there at age 13 in 1981, and continued to work at the Sad Monkey for the next eight summers. It became her refuge from a home life in Canyon she said was far from ideal.

“He (Burtz) told me years later that when he hired me, they didn’t need another employee, but he knew I needed a place to be,” she said. “It was my comfort zone, my safe haven. Cliff rescued me.”

The end of the line came for the Sad Monkey 20 years ago. It was derailed by government regulations by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Indications were it was overzealous.

State officials said the railroad was not up to code, that it could be liable under the Americans With Disabilities Act and needed an increased insurance coverage. For a 5 mph train?

Burtz pleaded his case, saying he would have to hike his prices, which he knew would price out many families. And so it ingloriously closed. Burtz, 66, maybe not coincidentally, died just a few months later in November 1996. The First Baptist Church in Canyon was filled with many who were once his summertime employees.

The train went to auction, bought by a local collector who since moved from the area. The train also moved several hundred yards from his home near the canyon. The locomotive and four cars sat in the elements.

“It looked like a complete loss,” Barbara said. “It was rusted, rotted. There was no floor. The seats were gone.”

Still, she wanted it.

In negotiations with the collector, he let Logan have it for what he paid for it at auction - a few thousand dollars. It cost less than a used car.

Logan had no initial plan, but it didn’t take long to come up with one. The old train today sits outside the back shop of the Randall County Sheriff’s Office and jail.

Jimmy Stewart is the county’s works program officer, and he will lead seven inmates in refurbishing the locomotive, a passenger car and coal car. Randall County often builds community service projects. In a 15-minute conversation with Logan, Sheriff Joel Richardson agreed to take it on.

“I think it’s great,” Stewart said. “When I first got the job, I’d pass by that train and thought it would be pretty neat if someone would buy that and we could do something with it, not knowing someone was going to buy that and we can do something with it.”

Public Steel of Amarillo is providing much of the material. Stewart and crew are providing ingenuity and elbow grease in what could be a four-month project. Fundraisers will help defray additional costs.

“It will look like every inch that I remember it,” said Barbara, who even has the original clanging locomotive bell.

The Sad Monkey will return to as close a hometown as it has - the city of Canyon. The city enthusiastically accepted the offer. There’s a perfect place, too.

It’s the new Neblett Park, an area initially funded by Amarillo National Bank that’s adjacent to the square in Canyon. Sometime this summer, the Sad Monkey will return, gleaming on some of the old refurbished track, too.

“She got to bring her childhood back,” said David, a Canyon city commissioner. “To me, this is a way to make a mark - a mark for the town she grew up in.”

This summer, if she hasn’t already, Barbara Logan will feel a sense of completeness, of satisfaction of rescuing the Sad Monkey from decay and rubble.

“This is a tribute to Cliff,” she said, “but it’s more than that. She (Sad Monkey) saved me as a girl, so it’s my turn to save her.”


Information from: Amarillo Globe-News, https://www.amarillo.com

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