By LeAnn Dilbeck –
Whether it’s your first trip or your hundredth, it’s impossible to not be stricken by the inspiring beauty of the Talimena National Scenic Byway and Rich Mountain, in any season. That was certainly the case for Ronnie Gene and Allison Waggoner when they stayed at the lodge on their honeymoon a few years ago. So much so, in fact, that they wanted to invest personally in the experience when later they learned that the miniature train was for sale. And that they did! And, they have worked diligently bringing the facilities to code and are now anxiously awaiting the grand-opening of the “Glory Train” and the Mountain Glory Station on July 4.
Allison said she and her husband rode the train three or four times that honeymoon stay, “I loved it because of the way it circled all away around the property…the views that you could see are just amazing. I was just in love!” And after making subsequent return trips, Allison discovered the beauty of the mountain isn’t just in the fall. “I remember coming up here the first week of May this year, and there were ice crystals on all of the trees. It was just glorious…looked just like a winter wonderland.”
The Waggoners took over ownership in March. “I haven’t worked a day since I came up here,” said a beaming Allison as she spoke of all of the improvements that have already been made and more that are planned. “I want people to know we cater to families. We are here to help promote all of Mena, especially our beautiful downtown.”
She said when they first acquired the train, she knew immediately she wanted a name that would make everyone feel welcome and at the same time capture the glorious beauty of the mountain. She said she had many discussions with her mother and they began to pray about it. They knew they wanted a patriotic theme and something that was more reminiscent of the 1800’s when her mother came up with the Glory Train. “I just loved it,” said Allison.
It was important to them that the former owners were also pleased with the new identity. “When they were, we knew we had it.”
She said John Waggoner was the artist who designed the new look for the train that appears to be busting through a patriotic banner.
Exuberating with excitement and energy, Allison spoke of the joy she and her daughter, Brandee, receive in meeting the many bikers, campers, and tourists who frequent the station. Allison said it makes them even more excited for the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge’s re-opening that has now been pushed back to April 2014 and the additional traffic that will bring.
She is particularly grateful for “Mr. Harley,” the train’s engineer, who has stayed on staff. “He knows every little thing about this train and its track…I just don’t know what we’d do without him.”
They are in the process of refurbishing the putt-putt golf area and plan for it to be finished by their grand-opening. They also plan to add horseshoes and shuffleboard in the future.
Allison said the former owners spoke of the success of the Halloween themed ride and they plan to offer many more themed seasonal rides throughout the year, including Christmas, Valentines, etc. They want to add arbors and other embellishments all along the track to add to the overall experience.
Inside the train station, they will be serving eight flavors of Blue Bell ice cream, shakes, blizzards, smoothies. They will also have “sandwich fixin’s.”
The Waggoners are from Norman but have other business interests in the area, owning Ligon Oil and a local gas/convenience store.
“We’ve priced everything where it can be affordable for a family to come and enjoy all of the amenities,” said Allison. “The Lord has blessed us with this tremendous opportunity and we are looking forward to meeting everyone He brings through our door,” she said as she also quoted one of her favorite scriptures found in Joshua 24, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Keep reading The Pulse for more information on their upcoming grand-opening July 4.