Longtime lover of train builds new Z&OO engine

Updated: Jun. 27, 2017 at 6:22 PM CDT
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Todd Swan and Lions Club members stand in front of the new engine (Source: KTRE)
Todd Swan and Lions Club members stand in front of the new engine (Source: KTRE)
The train engine built right here in Lufkin (Source: KTRE)
The train engine built right here in Lufkin (Source: KTRE)
The train will keep the Gil Cox Express name (Source: KTRE)
The train will keep the Gil Cox Express name (Source: KTRE)

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - As the sun began to rise over Ellen Trout Lake, Todd Swan anxiously gave direction to a group of Lions Club members that were handling his latest creation.

After 30 minutes of fine tuning, Engine No.7 was gracefully lowered onto the tracks of the Z&OO Railroad.

"It really does look amazing," Z&OO Railroad Chairman Josh Ridings said.

The train engine is the fourth in the history of the train that first rolled out 47 years ago. Since then thousands of dollars have been donated to local charities through the train rides that take visitors around the lake and front of the Ellen Trout Zoo. The gasoline powered engine the train used was becoming a concern for those working on the train.

"With the age of the locomotive, parts where becoming obsolete so it was getting harder to find parts," Ridings said. "We just determined with the costs we were putting in that it might be time to go ahead and get a new one."

The large engine did not have to travel far to fins its home at the park.The engine was born a little over 10 miles away in a shop located in the middle of a pasture. The shop belongs to Todd Swan. Swan is the owner of Swannee River Railroad Company. He is a veteran conductor that spent almost two decades with Union Pacific. While he enjoyed traveling the rails across America, he always had a love for his hometown train.

"For over 40 years, this train has been part of Lufkin," Swan said. "As a kid, it was just the best thing you could do on the weekend. I always wanted a little train like that. Several years ago I decided I would buy one and try to restore one."

Swan said after looking at the cost he determined he could just build a newer customized one with the same look that ran better.

"I did that and then i put a story on a train website about why I did it and how I did it and people started taking notice of that," Swan said.

As orders came in from other areas, Swan made a decision to leave Union Pacific and he has not slowed down.

"I have one in Laguna Beach, Calif. Souix City,Iowa Waco and Winnie, Tx, Pheonix, Az and a pumpkin patch farm in Indian," Swan said. "I've even sent one all the way to Hungary."

What makes Swan's trains stand out is every part possible is produced in the Pineywoods.

"I use a lot of area contractors to work on the trains so while I am the creator there are a lot of moving parts that help make these possible," Swan said.

While Swan tries to make the next train the best, he knows Engine No.7 is different.

"The Z&OO Railroad influenced me to do this and now here I am building a new locomotive," Swan said. "It's like a childhood dream come true."

The engine is also coming at the busiest time the railroad has ever seen.

"We are on track to ride at 80,000 riders for the year that ends on July 1," Ridings said. "That is a lot of enjoyment."

The new engine will be slowly worked into the train schedule over the next week. The Lions Club hopes to have the train running full time by July 4. The Lions Club is planning a special ribbon cutting on July 25 and will announce a time soon.

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