Lufkin man moves from Union Pacific to his own small-train company

Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 7:00 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 9, 2021 at 11:11 PM CDT
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LUFKIN, Texas (KTRE) - Todd Swan runs Swanee River Railroad Company Lufkin. His trains are a little different than the ones you might see on Amtrak, though. Swan’s miniature transport trains can be found in zoos, amusement parks, and the collections of private owners across the U.S. It used to be a passion project while he worked for the Union Pacific Railroad, but now it’s a business that can be seen as far away as Hungary.

“People started calling and asking ‘hey, where did you get that? How did you do this?’” said Swan. “Well, I hired a local contractor and I drew it up and I designed it and everything and hired a local contractor and we put it together and you know, all that. And then people started calling me to build these things.”

Swan builds a lot of his components at his location in Lufkin, but he also gets parts from ISO certified local businesses. The trains are hydraulically driven and run on engines that can be in the 75 horsepower range, replacing what used to be largely electric motors. Prior to his services, a lot of customers used trains with technology originating from the 1950s.

“There’s a hydraulic pump mounted to the back of the diesel engine and then there’s hydraulic motors mounted to these axles here, and it’s driven through a chain and sprocket system.”

His latest creation was shipped out just last week: a special order for the San Antonio Zoo with a particularly unique color scheme. The locomotive they ordered is the longest train Swan’s company has ever built. The train is composed of an engine with five cars with lights and speakers. The zoo knew right away that Swan’s company would be perfect to service their needs.

“We loved the designs he created, we loved the different options that he had,” said Ash Harris, who is in charge of guest experiences at the San Antonio Zoo. “We went to visit him in Lufkin and we were able to test drive one of the trains and see how it felt and we knew it would have been a great fit for the zoo.”

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