Freestone Park Railroad

Guide to Arizona's Miniature Railroads


Freestone Park Railroad

The Freestone Park Railroad

The Freestone Park Railroad in Gilbert, Arizona

          Freestone Park located in Gilbert, Arizona encompasses more than 65 acres. The park is home to softball fields, basketball courts, sand volleyball courts, batting cages, soccer fields, a skateboard park, and walking trails around 2 lakes that house several well fed waterfoul. The best part of a trip to Freestone Park has always been the miniature train. Over the years there have been three different operations in place.

          The original miniature train concession was installed in 1992. It consisted of a 15" Crown steam locomotive that pulled one open coach and two Sandley coaches. The half mile of track circled the north lake and had a 75 foot trestle that crossed the water on the return to the depot. The 1/2 mile ride lasted nearly 5 minutes and cost riders $1.00.

Front view of the Crown

Front view of the Crown

Rear view of the crown

Rear view of the Crown

View of the Trestle

The highlight of the ride was the trestle

Sandley Coaches

Crown pulling the Sandley coaches

          By the summer of 1996 the concession was being run by highschool kids who were more interested in playing loud music at the depot and performing skateboard tricks than they were in running the train. The atmosphere scared away many families who would have taken the train ride. As a result the concession became less profitable and the fare increased to $1.50. After the Crown engine became too damaged to operate, a powered tender was purchased from J&R enterprises to push the crown engine and pull the coaches.

Powered Tender

Powered tender pushing the powerless Crown engine

Pulling the Coaches

Tender pushing the Crown & pulling the coaches

          As the track work was not particularly good (the curves were more kinked than curved), derails were frequent and detracted from the ride. The concession went out of business in 1998 after small profits turned to losses and vandals damaged the powered tender. The Town of Gilbert tried to purchase the concession, but unrealistic expectations by the owner resulted in the removal of the tracks in 1998.

All that remains

All that remains of the first concession is a few feet of track and the shed

'kinked' curve

Smoother curves may have prevented derails

          The town of Gilbert wanted to have a miniature train back in Freestone park. They contacted J&R enterprises who at the time ran a park train concession for the nearby city of Chandler, Arizona and a sign was soon posted on the depot saying that the Freestone Railroad would re-open in October of 2000.

          In the fall of 2000, Bill Capell became involved. He's the amusement ride entrepreneur who's family owned the 60 acre "Legend City" amusement park in Tempe, Arizona in the 1960's through the mid 80's. He currently owns the Enchanted Island amusement concession in Encanto Park in nearby Phoenix, Arizona. Bill had just recently become a resident of Gilbert and contacted the city after realizing it didn't look like a railroad concession would be opening in October of 2000. A partnership was formed and a new grand opening date was set for October of 2001. Sadly, October 2001 came and went without a train returning to Freestone Park. On March 30, 2002 the Town of Gilbert held "Kid's Spring Fair and Expo" at Freestone Park and a temporary train and a few amusement rides were opened to visitors.

          The concession wasn't completely finished and wasn't scheduled to have it's "grand opening" until Fall of 2002, but it didn't stop hundreds of riders from enjoying the train. A few areas of track were not ballasted yet, one of the 5 sidewalk crossings was waiting for concrete to be poured, and the depot still had chickenwire sides awaiting the skins. The motive power on that first day was a J&R diesel engine that pulled two open cars.

first passengers

First paying passengers

Riding the Train

Riding the train

Unfinished Ballast

Unfinished ballast didn't damper spirits

Unfinished Depot

The depot was still under construction

          The following week a blue J&R real steam engine from Desert Breeze Park was running at Freestone Park. The ~5 minute ride covered 3300 feet of 16" gauge track that circles two lakes and cost riders a $2.00 fare. A merry-go-round and a few other rides were installed near the depot for children to enjoy while they wait for the train to return.

Real Steam

Freestone Park's real steam engine

Circling the Lake

Circling the south lake

          By January of 2003 J&R Enterprises abandoned their Desert Breeze concession in Chandler and pulled their equipment from Freestone Park. Bill Capell took over sole ownership of the concession and began searching for a new 16" train. On July 4th, 2003 an antique 1951 Allan Herschell carousel, mini Ferris wheel, Wave Runner ride and snack bar were opened. On October 4th, 2003 a train returned to Freestone Park.

          The entire concession is very family friendly. Each trip starts with the engineer calling out "All aboard for destination Freestone station". On my ride the engineer rang the bell, blew the whistle and returned waives much to the delight of every little kid we passed along the tracks in the park.

Return of the Train

The much anticipated return of the train!

Winton Engine

The 16" Winton engine pulls away from the depot

Unfinished Ballast

Awaiting the next passengers at the depot

Unfinished Depot

Old No. 99 delights riders at Freestone Park

          For ticket prices, days and hours of operation visit the Freestone Park website.

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