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Running Mini Railroad Pays Off
The Great American Train Company's battery-powered 1/8-scale trains are ideal for money-raising special events or permanent installations. The company says the sturdy equipment easily pays for itself and then some, even at a cost that starts at nearly $15,000 for a single locomotive.
Built to carry adult passengers, each powder-coated engine can pull as much as 1,600 lbs. up a 3 percent slope. Justin Muller says the mini railroad is a real crowd pleaser.
"We had a holiday party for Southwest Airlines, and they kept the train running until 2 a.m.," recalls Muller. "We charge $2,000 per corporate event. That includes setting up and tearing down the track and providing an operator and other staff. We can transport the train and track on two trailers."
Muller originally bought the train for himself as a stress reliever. It quickly evolved into its own income stream.
"We have Muller Railroad business cards, hats, overalls, patches and more," he says. "We even issue our own railroad tickets. People love it."
Muller set the train up inside a 15,000 sq. ft. building. "We can carry up to 12 adults, and they often have more fun than the kids. They wave to their friends and others as they go around the track, like they were on a real train," says Muller, who likes to operate the train himself.
Muller is planning to sell ads on the side of the train and give the sponsorship fees to community outreach. While it's just a small sideline business, he is confident it could be much more.
"I think it could be a full time business for someone who is dedicated to it," he says.
The Great American Train Company says that a train set up with room for 10 passengers could bring in $240 per hour. If operated 8 hours a day for 60 days a year, the company projects income of $115,200 per year. That's based on 8 rides per hour and a $3/person fare. Increase the fare to $4 and income jumps considerably. They suggest setting up at fairs, festivals and shopping malls as well as special corporate and social events.
Muller says moving the railroad isn't difficult, especially if setting up on level ground. Even with his several hundred feet of track, he says it can be accomplished in four to five hours. Should repairs be needed, the component nature of the design makes swapping out parts easy.
The locomotive is patterned after the 2-6-0 Baldwin locomotive built in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The all-metal construction relies on 6 powered wheels in the middle of the engine driven by four electric motors. Electricity is supplied by 24V DC batteries.
"We chose Great American over others because they are safer and more reliable," says Muller. "They have good quality construction, and the engine has the feel of a real, working locomotive."
A starter package of locomotive, riding tender, gondola riding car (seats two) a Bobber Caboose (seats one) and 228 ft. of track is priced at $22,995. That's enough track for a 60 by 80-ft. oval. Extra gondolas are priced at $2,395 and extra (preassembled) track panels at $189 each.
Although the train can be run outside and is weather-ready, Muller's train has mostly operated inside, often for hours on end. "We bought extra batteries, but so far we haven't needed them," he says. "We have run it for up to 6 hours without charging."
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Great American Train Company, Two Carlson Parkway North, Plymouth, Minn. 55447 (ph 763 476-5140 or 800 486-0553; www.greatamericantrain.com).

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2009 - Volume #33, Issue #5