Leander community members are working to bring public art and history to the city through the Leander Trail of Trains.
The Leander Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center is planning to encourage businesses and individuals purchase concrete steam engines that can be decorated and placed around town. The project will promote the city and provide an activity for visitors, who can take photos and tour the town to view the various trains, chamber President Bridget Brandt said.
“It will be amazing and unique for Leander when we do it,” she said.
Brandt said the idea has evolved over the years and included consideration of public art in the city, influenced by other Texas cities such as Hutto’s hippos and Jacksonville’s tomatoes. The idea was also crafted to recognize Leander’s history.
“When I came to Leander, even in my first weeks here, I thought, ‘Man, this town really has an opportunity to create community, and they really have an opportunity to do something really cool with the history of Leander because of the train coming through here,’” Brandt said.
The significance of the train and railroad to Leander goes back to the town’s founding, said author Karen Thompson. In the 1800s, residents in the city of Bagdad, which used to be located west of Leander, were asked if a railroad could run through the town. Citizens voted no, so the line—which would run from the Marble Falls area to Austin—was moved 1 mile east.
“Then, because that was where supplies, goods and so forth were brought, [Leander] sprung up immediately,” she said. “The town was started because of the train.”
Today, there are no steam engines in production, so Brandt said the city is receiving a custom design from a sculptor with Double D Statuary near Corpus Christi. The cast is a replica of the original steam engine that first came through Leander.
Thompson said she was excited when she first heard about the idea from Brandt.
“I think they’re going to be great, and we’ll be able to use them at historical sites that we wouldn’t have any other way of designating,” Thompson said.
Along with the custom shape, each train will be custom-designed, as businesses will be encouraged to turn them into works of art.
Nancy Knickerbocker-Penick, chair of the city’s Public Arts Commission, has been working with Brandt to develop a list of local artists interested in helping businesses as well as make suggestions for products that would help avoid the paint fading over time.
“We’re going to put together a pool of artists that we can recommend for those who don’t feel comfortable painting themselves and hope creativity takes over,” she said. “It should be fun.”
Brandt said the first train will be placed in front of the chamber of commerce, and businesses are already showing interest in ordering a train.
“Our goal isn’t to make money off it. Our goal is to create art,” Brandt said. “It’s not a fundraising project, it really just is a community project to create that art.”
Brandt said the goal is to have the first shipment of trains in early 2018.