I love a good story. And almost anything makes for a good story if there is a good storyteller behind it. So many things we take for granted and I realized that our kid’s barrel train is one of those things. So for two and a half hours I sat fascinated by Aubrey’s story of how our barrel train came to be.
Aubrey, as many of you know, has been around many years. He is one of the coffee crew that used to hang out at the now closed Not the Same Old Grind coffee shop in the old livery building. He was deeply involved with our police department back when cops on motorcycles were just coming to be. Aubrey is part of Orange’s rich history and continues his deep sense of community.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Aubrey begins: “Back in 1993, the Town of Orange Police Department had a public service group who would entertain elementary school kids and go to special events. They had this little go-cart type of car we would drive kids around teaching them about traffic safety. You could take one child at a time. I was a volunteer helping and me and Sgt. Ronnie Parrish used to team up for those events. I had purchased a two-seat golf cart, converted it into what we called the “Buckle Up Buggy”. But it only could take one child at a time as well.
One day, I read an article written by a farmer in N. Dakota about a ‘barrel train’ in a Farm Show magazine. The train he illustrated was low profile, accessible for handicapped kids and could be built with a minimum investment. I showed the article to Parrish and both of us agreed that this was what we needed to take several kids for rides at a time. We took the idea to Chief Otto who said, “Build it.”
What’s interesting is that, almost if not the same day, a farmer friend named Bill Roberts in Somerset somehow heard about us doing this and called me at home. Said he had a construction crew taking down an outbuilding and relocating it elsewhere. ‘They will be available to help with the train as they are looking for something to do after hours. They’re here after five and can use my shop. You have to supply the beer.’ It was just an amazing opportunity.
So we were in the barrel train business. First stop was the Richmond Barrel Company who assured us the recycled barrels we were purchasing were not only clean but sterilized for the children’s safety. Back on the farm Roberts’s crew did the welding, bolting, assembly and basic painting on the cars. Well, building it was one thing but maintaining it was an expense we had to take care of: Bearings go bad. Tires wear out. Hauling it required gas.
We decided to sell advertising at a very reasonable rate. Now here’s where the next amazing thing happens. My first stop to talk to a local businessman about buying ad space on a barrel was not only met with enthusiasm but with twice the offer we were going to ask for. I had six barrels with four sides to a barrel – 24 spaces for advertising. That day, the first day, I had six merchants buy advertising space at twice what we were going to ask for. It was truly encouraging to see the support from the community. Within days we had sold all twenty four sides without a bit of hesitancy from anybody approached. In fact, the sales were so successful that we went back to each business offering to refund some of their money. None of them accepted the refund. That’s what Orange was like back then.
About 1998, we had a “You’ve Got A Friend Day” event in Charlottesville where kids could meet police and firefighters, see motorcycles, the cruisers and fire trucks. Our barrel train was by far the most popular thing at that show. Our train had twelve barrels and was pulled with a small Kubota tractor on loan to us.
By 2004, we were getting invitations from other localities, that is how popular the train was. As this was all being done on a volunteer basis we just could not go out of town. Local events had us busy enough.
That was when I decide to build my own so I could go out of town but doing so on a fee basis. There was insurance, (which is a whole ‘nother story), it had to be built at my expense, pulled with my truck, a trailer needed to be bought and back then the tires on the barrels lasted only about two years before needing replacing. But I did it. The only changes really were that I made the openings a bit larger to accommodate adults and I added seat belts. It is the train you see the kids in now at our events.
This is something I thoroughly enjoy. It’s my personal thing and it brings so much happiness to me to bring so much happiness to the kids.
And now, there are versions of my train everywhere; Spotsylvania has two, Madison has one, there’s one in Northern Virginia and Fredericksburg has several of them.”
So there you have it: Aubrey Treakle’s almost-world famous Barrel Train. Something I trust not many of you knew about but now find that much more interesting and valuable.
And Aubrey… thank you.