Category Archives: Save the Train at Dennis the Menace Playground

Are the Kids in Monterey, California Getting Railroaded?

The Dennis the Menace Playground in Monterey, California is stirring up passions again and community action is building up steam. The old Southern Pacific Company’s engine #1285 donated to the City and installed in the playground in 1956 is at the centre of all the fuss. It has the hallmarks of another case of safety zealotry run amok.

Photo credit – D&S McSpadden. Creative Commons – Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Is there a record of how many accidents have occurred since 1956? Has there been previous litigation against the City of Monterey? For over 50 years, kids have clambered, climbed, surefooted themselves across and over this workhorse from the days of steam.

Only two of ten switch engines made in the 1920s by Ohio’s Lima Locomotive Works for the Southern Pacific Company’s Pacific Lines have escaped the scrap yard. Only one, #1285, has brought so much joy, excitement and imagination powered adventure to so many kids. It has done so since the playground’s opening day but this could be about to change.

This YouTube video posted by the City to celebrate over 50 years of the Dennis the Menace Playground displays archival photos from the Monterey Public Library’s California History Room. The arrival and placement af steam locomotive #1285 was a key event back in the day.

Now the City Council is considering options which include a complete fencing off of #1285 so there is no access whatsoever for kids, or removal of the steam locomotive from the site altogether. Many in the community, and further afield, are up in arms and are organizing to keep the train in situ.

On August 23, the new Save The Train at Dennis The Menace Playground Facebook Page got up and running and continues to pick up speed with nearly 6,500 likes and almost 8,500 people ‘talking about’ the page.

In response to a letter from a citizen, the City Manager responded as follows.

Thank you for voicing your concerns regarding restricting public access to the steam engine at Dennis the Menace Park. I heartily agree that the train is a Monterey legacy and a favorite feature of the park enjoyed by generations of children.

Unfortunately, because there have been several incidences in which children have sustained injuries, we were compelled to review the safety aspects of retaining the train as a play structure. The result of the review is that the steam engine does not comply with current laws and regulations that have been established by the State of California. In other words, the play structure (steam engine) is not safe to play on. That fact can’t be disputed and is reinforced by the many comments we received that mentioned “mastering the climb on the steam engine without a fall” as something to be proud of. Frankly, falling from a 20′ high steam engine and getting severely injured is not something that this generation of parents and grandparents will tolerate.

Not only is the City obligated to comply with current mandatory play equipment standards, we also feel a strong responsibility to the public to do our very best to ensure their safety. We must seriously consider whether continuing the tradition of allowing access to the train outweighs the risk to the welfare of park visitors. After careful deliberation, staff is recommending to the City Council that erecting permanent fencing around the train is a solution that would allow us to keep the train as a historic feature of the park while ensuring that park visitors maintain a safe distance from the structure. Other options for the Council to decide among include keeping the steam engine accessible for future generations (and being liable for future claims stemming from falls of the engine) or, the Council could decide to remove the steam engine altogether and locate it elsewhere in our City or County, thus clearly distinguishing it as a historic monument and not a play structure.

These recommendations will be presented at the August 21, 2012 City Council meeting. No decision has been made as of yet. If you feel strongly that there is another solution to this issue, please come to the meeting to voice your opinion. We welcome any and all suggestions you may have.

Once again, thank you for your concern. I am very happy that you have enjoyed your visits to Dennis the Menace Park in the past and hope that you will continue to frequent our local parks.

Fred Meurer
City Manager

Dania King Ketcham Ranes, daughter of Dennis the Menace creator and playground benefactor, Hank Ketcham, has also posted her thoughts on the matter to Facebook.

To the Mayor and City Council,

My name is Dania Ketcham-Rhames and I am writing to ask that the train at Dennis the Menace park stay open for children to explore. The train has been there for the past 56 years, and now all of a sudden it’s going to become just a museum piece? I understand that this is a serious piece of equipment, but so are all the other play structures.

As children we learn how to play on these structures by climbing, sliding and exploring, I feel that the train is no different. My father was a very instrumental part of bringing this park together, the train being his idea, and it would be a sad day to see his vision fade away. The train, the bridge, the tunnels and the maze are the only original parts left of the park that I remember from my childhood.

Please don’t take this away. I know there have been accidents on the train but children fall and hurt themselves daily on bikes, skateboards, climbing trees etc… We all had to LEARN how to play on the train, and I believe it’s part of growing up in Monterey!

People come from all over to play at this park because it’s like no other, and I would really like it to stay that way. The train is an important piece of Monterey, and as a parent myself I want my child to be able to explore it when she is big enough. In the mean time I follow her on every piece of equipment there until I’m sure she can do it without me. It’s MY responsibility to make sure she is safe, as it should be of every parent. Dennis the Menace park is a special place to learn and grow for everyone, young and old.

Source: Save The Train at Dennis the Menace Playground Facebook Page

Traditional media are also weighing in as this editorial from Joseph W. Heston, KSBW President and General Manager illustrates.

Locomotive not loco parentis

We all know what a special place the Central Coast is to call home: rich with renowned beaches and “must see” family attractions, an international destination of unique activities and places to visit.

For over two generations now, one of those landmarks has been Monterey’s Dennis the Menace Park and the famous locomotive that was gifted to the city in the 1950s.

Over the years, that train engine’s served as a depot of sorts for the special memories built together by so many parents, grandparents, and children. But now, like Amtrak, that train’s in trouble!

You’ve likely seen or heard about the city’s temporary fence around the locomotive — and in September it will consider permanently sealing it off from the children with an iron fence like this one.

What a shame it is that we’ve come to this. To be fair, the city may be legally exposed because the locomotive doesn’t meet state minimum safety standards for playgrounds. Lawyers advise that signs cautioning parents of their need to supervise their children likely don’t go far enough.

But taking that to its logical conclusion, where do we draw the line? Do we chop down any and all trees in the park to keep little climbers from taking big falls? What about the climbing wall and monkey bars? Do we require all children who enter the park to wear a helmet to protect them from a child-endangering foul ball from that pesky baseball diamond next door? Of course not.

Bottom line: there’s no substitute for adult supervision, whether in the home or at the park. Ultimately that should be the solution. And we urge city leaders to find a creative and gutsy way to balance risk and benefit.

Don’t derail Monterey’s playground locomotive, simply hiding behind an argument that we want to keep children safe.

City Council is currently scheduled to have the train on the agenda for their October 2 meeting which begins at 7:00 p.m.

Southern Pacific’s old locomotive #1285 at The Dennis the Menace Playground is mobilizing public opinion about reasonable balance vis à vis safety issues. Let the kids play – have they changed that much since 1956 when the park was opened? It was a wilder, funner, more adrenalin charged place then. We could do with a bit more edge, more in keeping with the original type Dennis Playground and Europe’s Adventure Playgrounds and less with the bubblewrap, all contingencies covered, litigation free, antiseptic playspaces.

You may also be interested in reading:

Dennis is Dead, Long Live Dennis
Newsreel-Upside Down at Dennis The Menace Park
Dennis the Menace and Burning Man

For the story of California neighbours who reversed a City Hall decision, based partly on safety issues, to have a playground destroyed:

Monster Mash – Conservation Wins the Day in San Gabriel, California