Couple inspired by Tennessee Thunder Railroad now owners

By Sarah Brown

Lebanon Local

It’s “all aboard” for the new owners of Tennessee Thunder Railroad, who took ownership of the property only two months ago.

Matt and Ashley LeFever, with their kids Reeve, 5, and Matley, 2, moved into their new house in October and have already started inviting the public to ride their quarter-scale train.

Ashley is the ticket clerk and Matt is the engineer, while Reeve acts as switchman. Sometimes Reeve gets to sit in his dad’s lap while he drives the train, he said.

“I only do the throttle and the bell,” Reeve said.

The LeFevers had been to the park in the past for birthday parties, Ashley said.

“Our dream had always been to some day own something to entertain with, to do something like that,” she said. “Years ago, we said to each other, ‘If this place ever goes for sale, we want to buy it.’”

They just didn’t anticipate the opportunity would come so soon, or that it would even ever happen. The family was settled into a one-acre parcel of property outside Albany, and had visions about doing something similar, on a smaller scale, on their own land, Matt said.

THE “DEADWOOD EXPRESS” was purchased just two months before the LeFevers put a bid in for the Tennessee Thunder Railroad property. They plan to operate the barrel train at events and parades.
Photo courtesy of LeFever

In fact, he’d recently purchased a barrel train made from 55-gallon drums that is pulled by a tractor and holds up to five kids. Since he bought it out of Deadwood, Ore., Matt dubbed it “The Deadwood Express.”

“This was more for when my son’s friends came over, I wanted to have something fun to have,” Matt said. “So we purchased this, and then about two months later this (house) came up.”

Still, they’re keeping the Deadwood Express, which is perfectly suited for parades, and Matt wants to add lights and a bell-ringing system for the kids to play with.

“It’s a good starting point, because I love tinkering and playing around and figuring out things,” he said.

The couple have many more ideas they might incorporate some day, such as a small petting zoo with goats, Easter egg hunt, gold panning, an 1800s-themed town including a lopsided fun house and a “Fort Reeve,” and a caboose on the train for wheelchair accessibility.

But for now they just need to get settled into their new life.

The past two months have been a hubbub of activity for the family, what with moving into a new house and running something of a business outside their front door. And with the holidays right on their caboose, they’ve also been busy hanging more than 8,000 feet of Christmas lights, Matt said.

Matt and Ashley met in 2007 while attending college at Central Washington University, and married in 2010. Ironically, at the time, Ashley’s song on her MySpace page was “Come and Ride the Train.”

And when one of Matt’s professors suggested he apply for a job at Georgia Pacific (mill), his first thought was, “I don’t really know anything about train work.”

But after he learned the real purpose of Georgia Pacific, he got hired there and eventually ended up at the Albany plant.

“We joke that maybe all of this was just meant to be,” Ashley said.

They had always wanted some way to entertain, and to work with the community and get to know people, she said.

When Reeve heard his parents bought the house, he thought, “That’s so fun. I get to live on a train park and drive the train? I’m going to make sure no one walks on the tracks, because that’s not safe.”

Reeve has always been concerned about train safety, even before they acquired Tennessee Thunder Railroad, Ashley noted.

The former owners, Wayne and Elaine McIntosh, and their son, Dan, built the train park in 2002.

“They did such a wonderful job creating this place, so it really kind of just felt right to do it,” Ashley said. “They truly did take care of this place, and this was a labor of love. To be able to keep it going was just perfect for us.”

And, just as with the McIntoshes, the LeFevers are discovering that those who visit to ride their train are more like family than customers. Reeve also doesn’t think of them as customers, but thinks of them as new friends he can play with, she said.

When visitors enter the “train station,” they find a play room filled with vintage and antique toys, as well as old phones, typewriters and adding machines.

“I think one of the most fun things is how many parents and grandparents will come in and say, ‘I remember these toys,’” Ashley said.

The kids ask how they work, and the parents and grandparents get to spend time playing with the younger generation, she said.

“People stay and hang out, which is what our dream is, to let people do that. We don’t want them to come just for the ride. We want them to enjoy themselves,” Ashley said.

“We feel so welcomed by the community, and everybody is so kind.”

Read more about the amusement park at LebanonLocalNews.com/end-of-line-nearing-for-tennessee-thunder-railroad-founders.

For operating hours and more information, visit Facebook.com/TennesseeThunderRailroad.