More than half of the spectators watching the delivery of a piece of industrial history here Wednesday were gray-haired and some of them walked with canes.
But, when they saw the tiny locomotive perched on a semi trailer in the Hitchins School parking lot, they returned, at least for a spell, to childhoods spent playing around the clay mines.
Made by the Plymouth Company in Plymouth, Ohio, the engine is affectionately called a “dinky” and once hauled similarly sized gondola cars loaded with the raw clay used in the local brickyard.
It is about as “dinky” as a five-ton piece of machinery can be, with a tiny cab, narrow-gauge wheels and a diesel engine. To history buffs in Hitchins, it represents an integral piece of their community’s heritage.
The Hitchins Preservation Society will display it for posterity outside their headquarters in the former school.
Society president Ed Isaacs found the engine on a trip to Maryland, where, until his retirement, he was manager of a restaurant chain. He paid $7,500 from his own pocket and spent another $2,000 trucking it to Hitchins.
It was on a drive in Annapolis that Isaacs saw the dinky, on display in front of a machine shop. He immediately recognized it as the same type of engine he remembered chuffing around the mines.
Isaacs slammed on his brakes and turned around, talked to the shop’s owners, and sealed the deal.
“I grew up seeing them around here,” he said. “As kids, we would play on the tracks.”
Even after the mining company got rid of the dinkies, he and his friends would putter around with the gondolas, spending hours at a time trying to get one of them on the rails and then pushing them along until they jumped the tracks.
The dinky is a piece of Carter County history, said Don Mills, who is president of the Eastern Kentucky Railroad Historical Society. Mills drove from his Huntington home to watch the arrival of the engine.
“It’s vital for the kids to understand where they came from,” Mills said. “You look around here and you can’t tell what went on here.”
But there are clues, he said, like the highway running past the school, which was built on the right of way of the EK Railroad, and some stretches of utility poles that snake off away from paved roads — a sure sign they were placed there to follow rail lines.
The small crowd that gathered got to watch as a crane lifted the grimy black dinky off the trailer in a nest of chains and moved it over to a temporary resting place on a set of old rail ties.
They applauded as the dinky touched down on its ties. “History returns to Hitchins,” Isaacs proclaimed.
Soon, the society plans to build a more permanent display pad in front of the school, using ties and some sections of rail, Isaacs said.
MIKE JAMES can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2652.