My name is Kenneth Mathews and I am from E. Helena, Montana. For 31 years I have owned and operated an interactive, not-for-profit, children's model railroad and train safety program that over 6.7 million children have been through. Kids are actually able to operate (not just view) various scales of model trains and accessories and learn about railroad safety in that time.
I have never asked for money once in all that time but have had numerous donations of model trains, accessories and free prize giveaways. Also over all of these years, I have never charged a fee to any child or family and it didn't matter whether the train that they were operating under supervision had a high or low value, we just wanted them to have fun and enjoy this unique hobby and learn how to be safe around real trains. In addition to setting up large displays and train layouts, we had projects that children could build to learn about architecture, electronics, engineering, signal systems, train control systems, working together as a team and many other things. We also had prize giveaways with free tickets.
We set these layouts up for kids at children's hospitals, children's homes, churches, museums, schools, fairs, state agencies and train shows across the west coast and northwest. I absorbed all the volunteers costs which included food and motels. I also had many other costs to incur like prizes, insurance, maintenance on the transportation vehicles and trains and upkeep of our train layouts during all that time. It was a lot to take on, however, I really love doing it and the kids absolutely love running the trains and accessories, no matter what age they are. This program was closed due to covid-19 and after my mother passed away a year ago, I decided to take some funds and order a trackless train ride from a lady in Kimberly, Alabama. I wanted something special for children to be able to do on the west coast and in the northwest areas after the pandemic because I felt that kids deserved something special after such a horrifying event.
I ordered a locomotive and four cars which were supposed to be new. This woman claimed to build these trains professionally but I soon found out this was not the case. I ordered and paid in full for the train in October of 2019 and it was supposed to be finished by the December Christmas parade but she kept coming up with excuse after excuse and after I inquired many times, she ceased communication with me. I became very scared that she had scammed me out of my $9,000 that I had given her for the train, so I contacted Kimberly, Alabama Sheriff's Department for legitimate business verification. The sheriff's department claimed that they knew her and would do nothing further to help me. After getting into February and March of 2020, I tried contacting her back many times and even though she knew that the train was for disadvantaged children and the public she still refused contact me. I managed to get back in touch with her eventually and I tried to get on her good side so she would finish the train and send it. She was actually supposed to deliver it as part of the deal. After she refused to deliver it, I had to pay a freight company $1,150 to pick it up at her house because of her refusal to deliver it like she had originally contracted with me to do. She canceled the truck on me three times and she told me that they couldn't get down her street which the sheriff agreed with. She then said If I would pay her an extra $150, which I did, she would have her employees take it to the Birmingham, Alabama dock for that same freight company. Once again, for months she had a ton of excuses why it could never get there and time extended all the way into the summer of 2020. I contacted two separate attorneys at a cost of $300 each who wrote letters to her and told her that she had a limited amount of time to send the train which she ignored. I begged and pleaded with her for months and months, when she would communicate, to get the train up here to Montana because I was trying to work with the city of Helena, Montana for over a year to run the train around the local park trail and they wanted to see it. I don't even think that they believed that I had a train because of how long it took her. She said she loved kids so much that safety was the most important thing to her and all of her workers were alleged professionals. She had all kinds of excuses why she couldn't send it like, it was raining too much, she fell off of a scaffolding, she had to go to a conference in Florida, the town was flooded, her electrician wasn't available, family issues, etc, etc.
She did eventually sent a SERIOUSLY trashed train that I had to pay $1,500 for transportation on a bill that was $3,500. This was about 3 months ago and the worst part about it was that she shorted me one passenger car and the train she sent me had slashed flat tires, bad paint, a tractor that didn't run that was full of rust and black widow spiders, no doors on the cars, bent axles on everything, no bell, no whistle, no interior lights, no strobe lights or anything else that I ordered for it, It had paint all over everything in the wrong places, improper seat belt application, rotten tires and wood, screws sticking out in dangerous places to the kids, excessively bad welding, the worst and most dangerous wiring job I've ever seen in my life and unlevel cars, front to back. I have included photos of the previous junk she sent me and it was a lot worse than what you're seeing in the photos. I just about took the train to the dump. It was that bad and that filthy and that dangerous, however, my attorney advised me that it would be cheaper to take what funds I had left and rebuild the train to the way I liked it than to pay a $5,000 retainer and spend six months in Alabama and try to sue this woman who has the best attorneys in Alabama. She had settled out of court with numerous lawsuits in the past related to her trains, among other things. He said there would be no guarantee of winning, even though I was fully in the right and even if I did win, I would still lose all of my attorney fees and expenses because in a case like this they could not be recouped.
I only had $6,000 to spend and I knew that I would have to spend nearly the same amount of money to rebuild the train all over again that it originally cost but I was stuck in the situation and really didn't have a choice unless I wanted to lose the train and my money. So I took those funds and followed my attorney's advice to rebuild this train and the photos that you see above or how it turned out so far. We also had to build a fourth new car that was part of the original contract because she never sent it. I got some community people together to help rebuild the locomotive body which was rotting and falling apart from sitting in water and weather in Alabama and it was completely unusable and I personally redid all the wiring to code to avoid a fire that probably would harmed the public and the children on board. I also spent over 250 hours painting the train with upper respiratory problems and another 140 hours on other related projects. I had to reorder all of the parts that were supposed to be on it because she didn't supply any of them and quite frankly, I ran out of funds to finish it. It is mostly finished but it cost a tremendous amount of money that I didn't expect. In addition to the $9,000 I gave her for the train and the $1,500 to ship it here (which it was supposed to cost $3,500 to ship it here) I paid an extra $150 to have her alleged employees take it to the Birmingham dock. When the freight company heard my story, they lowered the bill to $1,500 and basically they got scammed by her to. The reason for the $5,475 is simple;
We have to pay the $1,300 insurance so we can run it and we have to buy a container to put it in downtown to store it and prevent vandalism, if we can find a nice container at a reasonable price. We also have to pay Helena Parks and Recreation to use the 1 mile park path for the summer of 2021, plus we have many other small details that need to be finished, painted and added to complete it, not to mention city taxes. Without these funds, the train will never run and kids will never get to ride it.
I invested a lot into the west coast communities over the years and I am now in desperate need of community help to finish this project, so kids can actually have something fun to do at the events we will take it to. It will also be a lot of fun at Centennial Park for years to come after the pandemic which all of us hope will end soon.
Our children deserve to have something special outside together with other children after enduring covid-19 for so long. I figured $6,000 in total would be enough and I think it will be but any help would be appreciated to get us closer to the goal. We've already had a few community donations that brought the amount needed down some.
I do wish to thank the following parties for their partial product or service donations to help this project along;
AJ From Altoll Manufacturing (altollmfg.com) - Helena, Montana/Locomotive Body And Car Rebuild/Carpentry/Welding/Engineering
Signs Now - Helena, Montana/Imagination Station Signs For Train And Trailer
Capital Upholstery - Helena, Montana/Seat Upholstery
Home Depot - Helena, Montana/Paint/Supplies/Hardware
Lowe's - Helena, Montana Paint/Supplies/Hardware
Power Townsend Hardware - Helena, Montana/Paint/Supplies/Hardware
A Simpler Time - Morrisville, North Carolina/Bell
Koffler Sales Company - Lake Zurich, IL./Diamond Plate Products
Railway Productions - Indianapolis, IN/Railroad Signs
Rock Hand Ace Hardware - Helena, Montana/Parts And Supplies
Trainz.com - Bueford, GA/Metal Signs
Staples - Helena, Montana/Streamers/Flags/Lettering/Copies/Advertising
Hawkeye Intelligence - Birmingham, AL/Information Retrieval
YRC Freight - Overland Park, KS/Train Transportation
Simpson Strong Tie - Stockton, CA/Fence Supplies
Lapp Wagon Company - Ephrata, PA/Tires And Wheels
Roundhouse Trackless Trains - Hartford, SD/Electronic Whistle And Sound Equipment/Advise
Carpenter For Hire - Helena, Montana/Carpentry
Tuff Torque Transmissions - Morristown, TN/Engineering And Design Advice
It's really hard for me to ask for money and that is why I never did it but now I don't have a choice, if I want to complete the train and see it run with children on board.
The signage, electronics, sound and other equipment is still being worked on but only if funds become available. I do have to pay for some of the labor and expertise, it's not all free. I also have to pay for gasoline to run it and maintenance and insurance in the following years.
If you are able to help, rest assured, we don't take it for granted and honestly appreciate everything that everybody does. It won't be forgotten and children will get to enjoy it for years to come. I'm sure they will really appreciate it, as will my volunteers and I.
You can check out our model railroad program online by typing;
Imagination Station Kids On Track/Photos into your internet browser and look for the, modeltrainforum.com and largescalecentral.com listings to view photos of what our model railroad program has done over the years. We also have a You Tube channel under the same name with videos of our donated and owned model trains running among other videos.
In addition, we have a music/video program also.
Thank you! Take care and all the best!
Kenneth Mathews (owner) c/o
Imagination Station Kids On Track Model Railroad And Train Safety Program (TM)
Imagination Station Kids On Track Trackless Train Ride For Children
Imagination Station Kids Music/Video Program
A CHILD'S GATEWAY TO IMAGINATION!
- Kenneth Brunt
- Cliff Jennings
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