End of line nearing for Tennessee Thunder Railroad founders

By Sarah Brown

Wayne and Elaine McIntosh are hanging up their railroad caps and turning Tennessee Thunder Railroad over to another family.

The pair are in the process of selling their house and its accompanying amusement park train, located at 37672 KGAL Drive, due to health issues.

When they purchased the four-acre property in 1998, it was only cow pasture.

In 2002, following a work injury, Wayne started looking for something to do.

“I wasn’t about to go on disability or sit around; I was going to do something, so I built a train park,” Wayne said.

It would earn an income, but it would also be a way to do something for the community, Elaine said.

“We thought the Lebanon area could use something like this,” she said.

Wayne and his son, Dan, each took a part of the project and raced to see who could finish first. Wayne laid nearly 1,800 feet of 15-gauge track, weighing 12 pounds a foot, while Dan built the quarter-scale train modeled after the 999 Empire State Express.

They both finished in the same month, so they called it a tie, Wayne said.

He noted: “When I came up with this idea, Elaine said, ‘It’s been fun being married to a dreamer, but you overdid it this time.’”

The cost to build the train park was almost double what they anticipated, so they felt a lot of pressure to recoup their spent retirement savings when they first opened.

“It turned out to be disastrous for us,” Wayne said. “In all honesty, we had a lot to learn about that business, but also I don’t think Lebanon was ready for it.”

While they did build a base of patrons for their train rides from 2003 to 2007, it wasn’t enough to help rebuild their savings, so McIntosh temporarily closed it down in order to open his own construction company.

Years later, when Elaine joked to Wayne that she shouldn’t be hanging drywall at 70 years old, the pair realized it was time to retire from construction. As for the train park, they reopened it to the public five years ago, simply because they enjoy people, Wayne said.

“Both of us love kids and love people, and that’s really been the highlight,” he said. “Most of our patrons feel more like family and friends than they do just paying customers.”

Though they’ve had offers from people who wanted to buy just the train, the  McIntoshes decided they’d rather try to sell the entire property to a family who might like to use the train as well.

If it wasn’t for their declining health, they would probably have stayed at Tennessee Thunder Railroad another 10 years, Wayne said.

Elaine added, “I guess God was saying, ‘You’ve done enough. Now take a break.’”