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View improves for Largo train track

Gone is the treeless, shadeless weed patch the miniature trains used to run through. In its place is a 4,800-foot track that meanders through oak trees, green grass and flower beds.

Shut down while Largo Central Park was being refurbished, the railroad will have its grand reopening at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.

The railroad opened in 1991 on land occupied by run-down buildings, including a packing house and mattress factory. The buildings were torn down later but left the undeveloped land looking like a weed patch. Gone too was the little bit of shade the buildings provided.

The railroad's permanent home is much different.

"We're proud of what we have here," said Ray Gaskill, secretary of Florida Live Steamers and Model Railroads in the Central Division. "We have one of the most beautiful (railroads) in the state, if not in the Southeast. We have trees, flower beds, shade along the route."

Gaskill and 51 other railroad enthusiasts run the railroad, providing free rides the first full weekend of every month from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The six trains _ steam and diesel _ travel about 5 mph and carry 15 to 18 people on a 10-minute ride.

The trains are one-eighth scale replicas weighing from 600 to 2,100 pounds but are "powerful little beasts," Gaskill said.

The railroad project was begun in 1991 by model builders, both young and old.

"This group is not made up of old, retired railroad men," Gaskill said. "It's a group of men who were fascinated with toy trains when they were boys. We got involved in building models and then got interested in large-scale models."

With many children expected for railroad opening, the city also is sponsoring a safety awareness day. One of the organizers is Brenda Luteran. Her son Steven was killed in 1992 when he was hit by a car after getting off a school bus.

"I don't want it to happen to someone else," Luteran said. "When school starts, I want to make sure children watch the roads. I want to make sure that no more Stevens happen."

Professional wrestler Hulk Hogan will be there at noon. There will be lessons on safety precautions and karate demonstrations. Largo police Officer Robert "Bo" Bauman will be honored for developing programs to make dangerous intersections safer for kids.