Family helps train run smoothly
It is common for fathers and sons and grandfathers and grandsons to build and play with model train sets. What is not so common is a family, like the Strandts, that maintains and runs model trains meant to transport people.
For Wayne Strandt, his sons and grandsons, the model train of choice has been the scaled-down, three-car Union Pacific train that chugs along the tracks at the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame and transports families around the center this time each year during the Santa's Express program.
Strandt, a retired Union Pacific employee, has been volunteering his expertise to the center since it acquired the train via a donation in the 1980s from the Red-X in Riverside, Mo. Through time, Strandt's family members volunteered their services by either helping maintain the train or serving as an engineer during events at the Ag Hall. Two of his grandchildren, Connor Strandt and William Roach, continued the tradition of volunteerism and have become familiar faces around the center.
"I have had a daughter run it and grandkids run it," Wayne Strandt said. "We have probably all run it at one time or another. They have all spent a lot of hours out here working on things."
Roach, who lives near Basehor, and Connor Strandt, who is a sophomore at Shawnee Mission Northwest, began helping their grandfather with the train when they were small children. Roach was a regular engineer during Santa's Express a few years ago and now, Connor has taken over that title. However, their service is not limited to running the train and chauffeuring families around the half-mile track that spans 940 railroad ties. They are there to help maintain the train and keep it in running order and they are there when the train is not running as well.
"We usually work every day before they run it," Wayne Strandt said. "There are always things that happen."
Unfortunately, on Saturday, "things happened" to the train. The train was not quite feeling up to the task of performing during Santa's Express Saturday and the motor could not drive the train the length of the track without faltering. Wayne, Connor and William were there to work on the train, as they popped the cover off the engine and tinkered with the motor as curious children looked over their shoulders. They were able to get the train back around to the depot, but rides were postponed for a time as they tended to the sick train.
"Basically, everyone in our family is mechanically inclined," Roach said. "It's mostly enjoyable and I like the space out here a lot. Nobody really has any complaints except when it is broke down like this."
Although the train went down, Strandt and his grandchildren did not let their spirits down. Each of them is humble and soft-spoken by nature and they calmly explained the train's condition to the curious children.
In recognition of the years of commitment Wayne Strandt and his family members made, officials at the Ag Hall established a youth volunteer award in the family's name.
That award was given out for the first time during a ceremony at the center last spring. Fittingly, Connor Strandt received the award.
"We really depend on our volunteers," said Cathi Hanhner, the center's director. "We are fortunate to have so many longtime volunteers, like the Strandt family in particular."
"Connor has been out here most of his life," she said. "I can remember when he was little and out here just waiting to help. He's grown up to be a really nice kid."
Connor said he was an exciting and sentimental experience to win the award that shares part of his name. He also said is glad the center appreciates all of the volunteers that help.
"It was kind of nice to get the award," he said. "But it is really nice that they do an award for volunteers. I just volunteer when I can."
He also knows that piloting the train is a unique job that many envy.
"It is different experience that not everybody gets," he said. " I just like to set back and watch (everybody) when they get on an off the train. A lot of times the kids want to know if they can drive, too."
However, Connor's service to the center does not begin and end with the train.
During summer months, he works on plumbing and maintenance projects at the center with another relative.
For Hahner and many at the Ag Hall, issuing the award to Connor and naming the award for the family were just a couple of ways to thank them for helping the train and the center run smoothly.
"I just thought it was fitting to name it after the Strandt family," she said. "I could not imagine naming it after anyone else."
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