Gloria Keenan stood akimbo in the grass with her late husband, Thomas Keenan. The pair was sizing up their acreage, speculating if a newly acquired 1950s “Century Flyer” 24-gauge amusement park train and track would fit. A third of the size of a real locomotive, but substantial nonetheless, the train was loaded up onto a logging truck by Thomas and transported to Bristol in hopes of providing some backyard entertainment for their grandchildren. Gloria pointed out the landscape’s challenges — a ravine and a hill — to which he calmly replied that he would build a trestle.
“He was an amazing man,” states Gloria fondly. “He had travel logs and wrote books, and he did everything he wanted to do by reading and learning.”
This month, the train is busy zooming through a life-sized Santa’s Village, Polar Bear Mountain, Candyland and light display.
Gloria fell for the quiet, businessminded Thomas as they bonded over their love of travel and trains. He was a retired air force veteran and she had spent most of her career as an administrative aide for a legal publishing firm before going into marketing as a salesperson. Once she retired, Gloria continued working with families and children who lacked access to recreation as an administrator, and also served on the Liberty County’s Arts Council.
Both wanted to find a way to give back to their community, and as they debated what to do with their new train set, the idea for the Veterans Memorial Railroad was born. In 2001, they were given permission by the Liberty County Board of Commissioners to use part of the newly constructed Veterans Memorial Park to build Thomas’ vision. Liberty County, known primarily for its fishing and hunting tourism, suddenly had a new cultural attraction.
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