Dozens gathered at Depot Park as crews worked to move the famous Mercy Train from Hardy Murphy Coliseum Thursday to its new downtown home.
The much anticipated move took years of planning and was expected to happen Friday. But, since much of the work was donated by the companies with the manpower to do the job, the move was at the mercy of when the companies could arrange it. Nevertheless, the train attracted dozens of spectators, who cheered as the train was lowered onto the platform at Depot Park, overlooking the heart of downtown.
Jim and Carolyn Welch, and their Yorkie Maggie, were among the spectators Thursday morning.
“I have been watching this train since I was a little girl and my grandpa took me to see it,” Carolyn said. “The collaborative effort of all these people to make this happen is amazing.”
The trio were celebrating Carolyn’s birthday. She said she couldn’t think of a better present than watching the train move and history unfold. On Thursday the couple watched as the crews loaded up the beloved train and got ready to move it at 8 a.m.
“We know a lot of the history of the train,” Jim added. “I went to Hardy Murphy as a kid and it’s neat to see it come to Main Street where everyone can see it.”
In order to move the train from Hardy Murphy
Coliseum to Depot Park, the train car that goes along with the locomotive was loaded onto a flatbed trailer to be pulled by an 18-wheeler. The 100 ton locomotive had to be lifted with a crane onto a specialized trailer called a Goldhofer PST. The trailer was then driven by remote control through the city of Ardmore, but the feat wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Police escorted the trailers while crews from Oklahoma Gas and Electric lifted up power lines that the train may have otherwise snagged.
Kyler Blackwelder, of Hennessey, a PST operator for Northwest Crane Services, LLC, was in charge of driving the front end of the train — via remote control — through the downtown streets. The “nerve wracking” drive took Blackwelder about an hour.
“It went really well,” Blackwelder said. “The part that worried me the most was the power lines, but OG&E did a good job getting the lines out of the way. Everyone did a really good job staying ahead of the game so in the end I can say it went as smooth as silk. I’m happy to have done it and happy to be down here.”
Blackwelder added this was the first time he’s ever moved a train.
Once the train was at the park, a welding crew was brought in to cut the train off its old tracks using a cutting torch. It was then lifted –  using two cranes — onto the new tracks where crews welded the train in place.
Clarence Bridgeman, 92, was also among those watching the action. Bridgeman said he wanted to come to the event because he watched the city move the train to Hardy Murphy Coliseum more than 50 years ago, and thought he should see it move again.
“Unfortunately, I can’t wait another 50 years to see if they move it again,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot in this town, and since I’m retired I’m always looking for something to do.”
While the train, and train car, have been successfully moved to their new home, work on the train isn’t complete. Next, crews will replace the wood paneling on the inside of the train, put the conductor’s seat in, and seal off the cabin with plexiglass. Ardmore Main Street Authority Board Director Todd Yeager said this measure is to ensure no one can crawl into the train and get hurt. The Authority also plans to add a plaque that will feature the story of the great downtown explosion that initiated the Mercy Train’s claim to fame.
After the final touches are added to the train, the Main Street Authority plans to turn its focus to the rest of Depot Park. The next phase of the project is installing the infrastructure to the rest of the park — an estimated $1 million project the Authority is still raising money for.