The ABCs of Lowell History: R is for Ramona Railway

The Lowell Area Historical Museum is offering a weekly feature to explore local history. This week, museum staff share a piece of Lowell history that many residents might still remember: the Ramona Railway.  To learn more about Lowell history, visit the museum website to explore its collection of local artifacts and records.

What does the Ramona Railway have to do with Lowell? The railway was originally located at Ramona Amusement Park on Reed’s Lake in East Grand Rapids, Michigan. This was a vacation destination and getaway for Grand Rapidians beginning with steamboat rides in the 1850s. The venue grew to include pavilions, theatre, athletic building, club house, swimming school, playground, merri-go-round, roller coasters, and derby racing area. A miniature railway and locomotive built to scale was added in 1937. The miniature locomotive and its open cars carried people around on its one half mile track in the park. It could carry 30 people at a time. During its heyday, it carried as many as 50,000 people each year. In 1954, the citizens of East Grand Rapids voted to close Ramona Park and raze it in favor of retail stores and residential apartments.

In 1955, Harry D. Glidden, owner of the little locomotive, purchased the land that is now Lowell Township’s North Riverfront Park, and moved his train operation to Lowell. Later, the Ilin Graves family operated the train while Ed Bytwerk continued to maintain the locomotive.

The Lowell Railway operated here in Lowell from 1957 into the 1980s. The miniature made-to-scale steam engine pulled open cars carrying guests around a circular track. The rails were spaced 15” apart. They circled through our Park’s beautiful woodland and back to the Lowell Railway station located where the parking lot is today.

The train was very realistic in its operation. You paid your fare and the conductor took your ticket before the engineer departed the station.

After the fun of the train, there was the Kwi – Kee Dip drive-in opposite the Lowell Railway. They advertised “hamburgs, floats, sundaes, shakes and malts”!

After the closure of the Lowell Railway, Keith Buck purchased the land and train setup but never operated the train ride.

In 1998, the locomotive, including the train track, switches, train station, water tower, round table, and crossing signs were sold and moved to Burley Park in Howard City where they remain today. It is operated during their flea market days.

Today, the locomotive and its setup is the only surviving amusement/concession of the original Ramona Park. Its Statistics are: NO. 5002, Class 4-6-4, Gauge 15”, Builder-Wagner & Sons Miniature Train Co. , Operational, Used in East Grand Rapids, Lowell, Howard City.

North Riverfront Park in Lowell Township has brought back memories of the Lowell Railway. There is playground equipment in the shape of a train, and the raised bed which used to hold the train’s track is now a walking trail in the park. The Lowell Area Historical Museum in cooperation with Lowell Township has placed an historical marker along the trail denoting the location of the tracks that were once here.

 

1 Comment

  1. I remember the Romona Train well. I checked through the years what happened to it, however, I didn’t know everything that is written here.
    I am enjoying this history as I am into history and genealogy.
    I knew a Keith Buck that worked for Metric MFG but I do not believe it is the same person.

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