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Building the Kersey Valley Express Spookywoods Train

a green train that is sitting on a table

Behind the Scenes + Stuff You Didn’t Know

It All Began with an Idea and a Dream

Take a journey with us as you learn the story of building the Kersey Valley Express!

As with all great things, it starts with an idea and a dream… a thought tossed around the table until it grows into something that Must Be Done… a fun train ride by day and a haunted train ride by night—all on a former tobacco farm before my parents bought it in 1979.

No haunted attraction in North Carolina has a train. In fact, no haunted attraction within 350 miles of us has a train. Period.

And you know us at Kersey Valley… when we do something, we do it 1,000%—and we abide by every safety rule possible, even going above and beyond regulations to ensure the safety of every guest on our property at all times.

The First Phone Call

So, I took my purple cow idea to the best in the business: Todd Swann at Swannee River Railroad Company. He and I had talked for probably two years earlier, and I decided that now was the time to launch. So, I picked up the phone sometime in April, and after some final talks, we hammered out the details.

building the kersey valley express
She’s a beaut!

We announced our big reveal on the next Kersey Valley Attractions Experience on June 1st to our Facebook Ambassadors, and it was on from there. While our train was being built, track installation began.

It’s coming around the corner soon!

The Train

So, it was official. Our engine would come from Texas, and the caboose and passenger cars (plus special effects box car for an air compressor, audio equipment, etc.) would be built by Raber’s Buggy Shop in Indiana. They’re most famous for building the horse-drawn buggies you see across America. The trucks that the cars ride on were built by a fabrication shop in Indianapolis that builds Formula 1 race cars. 

building the kersey valley express
Caboose fabrication

The Kersey Valley Express is a 1/3-scale model of a GP38-2 locomotive, a real locomotive used in the 1960s ̶ 1980s. The GP means General Purpose, and 38 is the rendition. They had to make some tweaks to the length, cab, windows, etc., in order for it to work in the scale we needed.

And here’s a little more for all you motorhead/grease monkey geeks out there: the Kersey Valley Express runs off of a standard engine Kubota power plan, one of the best engines that can be manufactured today. Everything on our train is brand new and totally built to our specifications, right down to voltage, pump capacity, torque requirements, and more.

The best of materials were used in the making of this 1/3-scale train from fabricators across America.

It’s coming around the corner soon!

The Tracks

After some extensive training on how to properly lay out a railroad track, we got to work. Step one for our railroad track involved carving out a path, then leveling and spreading a three-inch rock bed along the tracks (12-inches for the mine shaft). It felt like we’d been living in the bobcat for about a week!

building the kersey valley express
Every bolt and screw tightened and re-tightened and tightened again and again and again…

Laying out the track was a non-stop, 8-week job for a five-person crew during the worst heat of the summer and more rain than we planned for. By day, we’d work under a construction tent to keep the worst of the sun off our team. But mostly, we worked at night—and I mean all night, sometimes as early as 6am all the way until midnight or later—to beat the dreadful heat.

building the kersey valley express

Laying the track turned out to be very slow, meticulous work. Every piece of rail is custom bent. No detail was overlooked. It had to be perfect, no less. Each rail had to be precision placed and the while track needed to absolutely level all the way around to prevent a derailment.

building the kersey valley express
Digging out the track

We completed railroad installation very late on August 12th, after two months and 30 days of back-breaking and precision work in the heat, humidity, lightning, rain, and monster mosquito attacks.

building the kersey valley express
Rail ties delivered!

After the track came the passenger loading platform and boardwalk, which leads to the cornfield entrance from the railroad crossing, as well as the completion of our 200-foot mine shaft.

It’s coming around the corner soon!

The Mine Shaft

building the kersey valley express
This was truly a massive project, unlike anything we’ve ever done before.

The 200-foot mine shaft, which will also house our 180-foot train when it’s not in operation, required its own set of structural plans and a custom retaining wall with extra drainage and fire exits.

building the kersey valley express
The mineshaft takes shape!

The trusses, our final roof system materials, arrive on August 7th. So, we could finally move forward and finish this portion of the project.

It’s coming around the corner soon!

Going Green

Choo choo! By June 27th, the side panels had been fitted and door latch and stops welded in. The hydraulic tank was installed, then came the shift cable to control the locomotive’s direction and speed.

Our engine was done at the welding shop on July 1st and awaiting pick up for her 23-mile journey to the final assembly shop.

building the kersey valley express
Our engine in fabrication

Lots of sanding, and grinding and wiping, then more sanding and wiping took place— nearly a month of sanding, body work, priming, and more, our engine finally got its color. Our locomotive first got covered in a black epoxy primer getting ready for its final paint. Then Swannee painted the cab and motor compartment interiors John Deere green, which had to dry before it could be taped off for surrounding paint.

With painting done, it was time to install all of the bells and whistles—quite literally!

Seeing the first pictures of our train in production was a bit like Christmas, we have to admit. Our little red caboose landed on site August 20th along with four passenger cars, but still needed powder coating with Unique Coatings in High Point.

building the kersey valley express
Working hard in the summer heat!

The final step was the steps, themselves, on the train, which needed to be a maximum seven-inch rise to meet regulations. We consulted Precision Fabrication in High Point, and they designed self-attached steps (with a six-inch rise) that Jimmy’s Plumbing welded on our train cars.

Then we installed DMX lighting on the first passenger car September 23rd, and each got their fancy on one car at a time. But lighting is just part of the show. Pneumatic scares make our train cars a full-blown haunted house on wheels.

It’s coming around the corner soon!

The Permits

We started the permitting phase in late August. We thought it would be simple, but boy were we wrong. It was a one-month challenge that took us all the way past opening. The Department of Labor has oversight for all amusement rides, such as our train. We knew that we would need to keep maintenance logs, an operating manual, and service logs, as well as closing procedures, guidelines, and operator training logs. But we weren’t prepared for a fully engineered drawing—and a fence! (More on that later.) So, we hired an engineer and surveying company (Survey Carolina) to start the process.

building the kersey valley express
Everything by the book and then some!

Having built things like the first zip line in Guilford County, we’re used to jumping through hoops and traversing bumps in the road. But the stress certainly was building on everyone involved, especially me and Donna.

It’s coming around the corner soon!

She’s Home!

On August 28th, our engine boarded the trailer in Lufkin, Texas, to make her way to Archdale, NC. And on the same day, our last load of train parts arrived from Indiana.

Finally, our engine arrived on August 29th, complete on a John Deere-green truck to boot! The driver had quite an adventure of a ride all the way from Texas to North Carolina. No matter where he stopped, people asked, “Where’s that train going?”

“It says right on the side,” he’d say.

We got her situated on our newly built tracks, and guess who was the first person to go for a ride in Engine 1985? My mom, of course. She had been questioning for about eight weeks why I was building a train track. So, it was only appropriate that she was the first passenger.

Swannee River Railroad Company built The Kersey Valley Express Engine #1985 in just four months—and delivered a full week ahead of schedule! We are forever grateful to these guys and their exemplary work. As they say, the devil is in the details. And the Kersey Valley Express has been detailed with the smallest of paintbrushes, rivet details, and more.

On August 21st, we got the first video of our train with engine on! She was purring like a kitten while being inspected by CK Power from Texas.

building the kersey valley express
It was a labor of love and exhaustion!

Then who shows up on August 30th but Todd Swan in person! He drove from Fort Worth, TX, all the way here to Archdale to perform the final inspection himself.

“It’s all part of the personal service we provide,” said Todd. After 1,000 miles on a trailer, he wanted to check it out for himself, give us the green light, and see where his train ended up.

It’s coming around the corner soon!

The Final Stretch (but not quite)

We spent the night before our state inspection from the Department of Labor ensuring that every part of the track is level, dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s. We were a little nervous, yet still confident that we had covered all of our bases. But were we in for a surprise!

Only days before opening, state inspectors required us to install fencing along both sides of the tracks—that’s 4,500 total feet of four-foot-tall black chain link fencing with tension wire, plus four 4-foot gates and two 12-foot gates BEFORE we can have any guests ride our train… a daunting task that wasn’t budgeted.

building the kersey valley express
Digging out the mine shaft

Safety is always the most important thing here at Kersey Valley Attractions. If you know us, we don’t skimp on safety—ever.

I told the inspectors, “I want to be the place you bring your new hires to, to show them how to do it right. We became the gold standard when we installed our zip line, and we want to be the same with the Kersey Valley Express.”

I almost threw in the towel on the Kersey Valley Express for this season. It seemed that we had such a huge task to complete and nearly no time to do it. I was prepared to remove it from the website and refund everyone’s money, who had paid for an advance train ticket. I thought my dream for 2019 had died.

building the kersey valley express
Caboose is on site!

Then, to the rescue came Scott Pyrtle of S&P Custom Fencing with 20 years of experience. He and his team dropped everything they were doing for their current customer—and worked an entire Saturday—to get our fencing installed in just six days… and a day ahead of schedule to boot! And don’t worry, we compensated those folks who had to wait a little longer for their fencing with some free tickets.

To keep the project on schedule, we dug all of the holes for the fence poles (10 hours straight!) so S&P Custom Fencing could get on premises and get straight to the fencing installation—and not just by day, but all night, too, until sunup. These people were incredibly dedicated to their craft and to Kersey Valley—even sleeping in their cars in the parking lot.

It’s coming around the corner soon!

The Biggest News of All

Tony’s Spookywoods Ambassadors Facebook post, September 27, 2019.

126 days ago I began the most ambitious project I ever dreamed up The Kersey Valley Railroad. Today goes down as one of the many milestones in Kersey Valley’s history. Never before have we attempted such as massive project at the Kersey Valley Express railroad. For a small company as Kersey Valley to be able to build such an attraction is almost unheard of. Most railroad attractions are funded by municipalities or zoos. This project would not have been able to be accomplished if it were not for a lot of amazing people that worked non stop for 8 weeks to build the rails. Billy Peele, Doug Lowe, Larry Murphy, Sam Herron, Christopher Evans and Chris Nagel. Brandon Hill worked all night long digging out the mine shaft for weeks and used his brand new equipment for just fuel cost. That alone saved us thousands of dollars. Tom Benedict the master of the air scares on the train that worked through the night away from his wife that is battling health issue just goes to show the level of commitment to us. Todd Swan with Swannee River Railroad built our engine 1985 with such a passion and workmanship that can not be mass produced. He created a stellar product that left me speechless when I seen her for the first time. Matt Lark from Lark Ranch, my mentor that guided me through the process of building a railroad that alone would have cost well over 200 thousand to have built by a vendor. Eric Lark made so many trips from Indiana bringing train parts I lost count. When the department of labor did their first site visit and informed me of mandates I totally did not plan on I thought my dream to open this season was over. This is where Scot Scott Pyrtle owner of SP Custom Fencing came in and literally save the project by dropping all their current jobs to build us 4000 feet of fence in a record 6 days! When we had to create steps on the passenger cars my childhood hero Tim Martin pulled out all the favors he had built up over years to get M&M welding to break the diamond plate metal steps. Josh Tucker and Jon Stubbs the master welders that worked crazy hours and also dropped all current jobs to get our job to the top of the list. David Brown, owner of Unique Coatings also pushed our project to the front to powdercoat all the cars and did an amazing job. The support from fans that have encouraged us to keep pushing through the long nights and some that even camped out in their cars like Shannon Barkey to help with the fence project working day and night to get us under the deadline. Employees like Jesse Allen Hale, Ashley Paile, Steve Routh, Paul Cordero, Shania and Jeremy Frisbee, Sam Herron stepped up and worked non stop to get it done as fast as possible. Local companies like Jimmy’s Plumbing, Unique Coating, M&M Welders, A&M Crane, Precision Fabricators, KC Contractors that created the seats, that literally bent over backwards to make this happen deserve a standing ovation and recognition. It humbles this old country boy to see the support from the City of Archdale, to the Randolph County inspectors that were in awe of our commitment to not only build an amazing attraction for the community, but more importantly spare no expense to do it right and safe for hundreds of thousands of fans to enjoy for years to come. The last and most important level of permitting to get passed is the NC Department of Labor. This is the most strict and involved level of certification I personally have ever had to achieve and I have to admit nothing was going to stop this train unless this project killed me. Thankfully I survived and we have a freaking railroad with an amazing train for you to experience for years to come. There were many that helped in the project, so if I did not mention you I sincerely apologize since I have had less than 3 hours sleep a night this past month. Thanks to my wife Donna and my mom Irene for putting up with me being gone and on train duty this entire summer. Thanks to Dee Loomis for taking care of my mom while I was unable to. I also apologize to Tracie Lucas for the noise from the equipment until 4am while she was trying to get her much needed beauty sleep. Last but not least thanks to all our fans for sharing our content and buying tickets to support us and our never ending drive to keep pushing what is possible.

The most expensive photo I have been in, my two DOL inspectors Steven and Don giving the approval of two thumbs up. I’m humbled even more by all involved that care so much about Kersey Valley.

The whole process has been unbelievable, to say the least. And now our train ride is complete. We will never forget all the hard work it took to get here. And we hope our KV fans love it. Building’s done. Now, it’s time to scare some folks! Who’s in?

building the kersey valley express
A look at the undercarriage

Truly, we are building much more than just an adventure park here in Archdale, NC. We are building a family, the Kersey Valley family of staff, fans, supporters, vendors, suppliers, partners, and more. We do this for the love of creating memories that will last a lifetime.

And so, that’s the story of building the Kersey Valley Express.

We are super thankful to have such dedicated and passionate employees who work so hard to make each Halloween the best ever at KV. Big thanks to the Kersey Valley Rail Dogs Chain Gang (They’ve got the t-shirt to prove it!) and all who helped build the Kersey Valley Express (in no particular order): Doug Lowe, Chris Nagel, Sam Heron, Larry Murphy, Christopher Evans, Billy Peele, Brain Causey, Brandon Hill, Todd Swan, Swanee River Railroad Company, Raber’s Buggy Shop, Outback Builders, Survey Carolina, David Brown, Unique Coatings, Pat and Tony from CK Power, Charlotte, Ashley, Tom Benedict, Matt Lark, Lark Ranch, Eric Lark, Scott Pyrtle, S&P Custom Fencing (logo on our train for all of eternity), Shannon Barkey, Tim Martin, M&M Welding, Josh Tucker, John Stubbs, Jesse Allen Hale, Ashley Paile, Steve Routh, Paul Cordero, Shania and Jeremy Frisbee, A&M Crane, Precision Fabricators, KC Contractors, the City of Archdale, Randolph County inspectors Steve and Don, the NC Department of Labor, Spookywoods Facebook Ambassadors, my wife Donna, my mom Irene, Dee Loomis, my family, my friends, and all of the Spookywoods and Kersey Valley Attractions fans.

It’s coming around the corner soon!

Are You Ready to Get Your Scare On?

Reserve Your Spookywoods + Train Ticket TODAY!

Then Join our FB Ambassador’s group for all the behind-the-scenes details on Spookywoods!

P.S. We have more plans for our train besides Spookywoods and Maize Adventure. Perhaps Christmas? Easter? National John Deere Day? Who knows?