When boarding or getting off the Indiana State Fair Train on Saturday, passengers needing help with their children’s strollers, buggies or wagons can count on Boy Scout Troop 499 for some Hoosier Hospitality.
It’s a courtesy that riders have come to expect as the troop has been providing the service on the first Saturday of the fair for the past 18 years. While the boys haven’t received official confirmation that their assistance will be needed, they anticipate making Saturday Year No. 19.
Operated by the Indiana Transportation Museum, the train will depart Fishers at 8:45 a.m. and pull into the fairgrounds around 9:30 a.m. The museum, a nonprofit heritage railroad that operates a number of excursions along 38 miles of former Nickel Plate Road line, is committed to preserving and showcasing Indiana’s railroad history by offering trips throughout the year using its vintage railroad equipment. One of the cars – not part of the fair train – features four bedrooms and bathrooms, dining and observation rooms and a kitchen. All rooms use period pieces from the early 1900s.
When the train arrives, the Scouts will spring into action.
After ensuring that all of the estimated 225 passengers have gotten off the air-conditioned coaches, the Scouts and their leaders – all donned in dress uniforms – will climb aboard and enjoy the ride back to Fishers, where they will help people board the train. The routine will be repeated for about four round trips, and there is an additional stop just west of Binford Boulevard and 71st Street. While the train obviously isn’t used by Southside fairgoers, some purchase round-trip tickets ($8 to $13) to enjoy the scenery.
The Scouts’ duties also include cleaning the coaches and selling tickets and water ... whatever the conductor needs them to do.
The act of goodwill is just one of the troop’s service projects. The group also takes on an active role in the Relay for Life at Central Nine Career Center. The event raises money for cancer research.
“That’s a big day for our boys,” said Mark Dobbs, a committee member of the troop. “They will pick up trash, serve lunch, participate in the walk and light candles for the luminary walk.”
The troop, which boasts about 40 members, meets every Monday at 7 p.m. at Southport Presbyterian Church, 7525 McFarland Blvd., where interested boys and their parents are always welcome. Typical events include socials, the Pinewood Derby, the Veterans Day program and fundraisers.
Dobbs, his wife, Pam, and son Jacob are active in the troop. Jacob earned his Eagle rank – the highest attainable honor in Scouting – in 2006 and is the assistant scoutmaster. When not stressing the importance of citizenship, character development and self-reliance to his Scouts, he is busy as a data entry clerk for the Indiana State Police. His dad is a telecommunications engineer for an electric utility.
Mark said the troop, which should have eight Eagle Scouts within a year, has the benefit of volunteers who continue to serve after their children leave the program.
One of them is Dr. Carl Kohlmann, 89, who has served as a volunteer for decades. A retired dentist, he was recognized as an Eagle Scout in 1940. He views outdoor and indoor activities as important, “But I just think physical activity is important because most of our children – except those in sports – aren’t getting enough of it,” he said in a 2014 interview.
“I want the boys to know survival skills. They need to be able to cook for themselves and take care of themselves. That’s something I really stress. And the kids are good learners. Most of them are here because they want to be. Those who stick with the program and become Eagle Scouts really get a lot out of Scouts,” said Kohlmann, whose son Larry, a former Scout, drives up from Mooresville for the meetings.
“We are well-endowed with adult help, and that’s important to our success.”