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Train cars | by Tina / Reflected Memories
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Train cars

From the Hawkeye newspaper 3/27/08 -


Thirteen years after its opening, Minerville and its railroad company, The Fort Madison, Farmington & Western Railroad Inc., will be sold at a public auction June 16 and 17.


The full-size country branch line railroad recreation and 1930s replica village were the playground and creation of 47-year-old Dave Miner.


However, due to health issues, Miner is retiring and auctioning off his train collection and retiring.


"My health situation is such, I can't leave anything hanging for the long term. We have to settle things in the near future," Miner said. "Everything needs to be finalized. That is why we are going the auction rout."


After the auction, the tracks will be removed and Minerville exist only in history books like so many other towns that lost their rails.


Miner also plans to retire from his business Miner Manufacturing Inc., which makes antique style popcorn wagons, self playing accordions and is the only producer of brass-whistle calliopes in the world.


But, the business may remain open. Miner said someone has expressed an interest in taking it over when he retires.


However, Miner does not consider himself as retiring from Minerville. After all, how does one retire from a hobby?


At its height, Minerville attracted about 7,000 people a year. Each person left the modern world to plunge into a historic town of trains, rolling hills and quaint buildings.


Miner opened his namesake village in 1994.


Miner built the railroad, laid the mile of track and built the village almost all by himself with support from his wife and contributions from his father-in-law, John Richers, and a small group of volunteers.


He constructed and ran Minerville in his spare time during evenings and weekends.


It was the five-year challenge of building the tracks, restoring the train cars and engines and building or restoring the buildings that kept him interested.


"I thought I was having fun at the time, but I look back now and I think, wow, that was a lot of work. But I enjoyed it," Miner said. "I'm a nostalgic type of person. I just like old stuff."


Minerville is located on the winding back roads of Lee County. Nobody simply wandered by and decided to stop. It took a great deal of promotion to drag people off the highways and onto a little traveled road east of Donnellson.


For about the first two years after opening, Miner loved his hobby. He gave train rides and tours every weekend from Labor Day through October.


While admission was charged to cover some costs, Minerville wasn't viable as a business, Miner said. But money was never the issue. He was driven by the challenge of recreating history.


"We bodily dragged people out here," Miner said. "There is no traffic on this road obviously. And that was one of the challenges to me. We built it, now can we make people come?"


Once he had scaled the mountain and proved to himself he could do it, the hobby lost its appeal and became a chore, Miner said.


"I put in long days. It was a real sense of accomplishment," Miner said. "Then it became somewhat burdensome."


So after five years of being open every weekend, he scaled back, opening Minerville to the public only for select weekends and special occasions.


"We worked hard for five years to let people know about this to get people out here, then the next five years we worked hard to let them know we weren't open," Miner said.


Miner said the only reason he didn't close the railroad entirely was because he felt an obligation to the volunteers who had helped him run the park throughout the years.


"I could build it by myself, but I couldn't run it by myself. You can't run trains with one guy," Miner said. "They (volunteers) put so much time and effort in helping to run the trains. I thought it would be nice if they could come here at least once a year and play trains. And of course the public really enjoyed it."


Then last year, Minerville didn't open at all.


Not everything in Minerville will be auctioned off. The depot will stay and Miner plans to give the historic Viele one-room schoolhouse, as well as the general store and print shop to the Lee County Fair at the suggestion of his wife Carol.


Mr. Miner passed on in September 2008. I had never been over to his great place of explore until this past weekend. A friend and I were riding around looking for old houses and came upon this. We had to give it a look and then when we got home we researched it. I was saddened to see that Mr. Miner had passed on. I would have loved to met and talked to this man of great creative virtue. He will be missed by many.

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Taken on October 5, 2008