Any organization name consisting of the word ‘amusement’ connotes a good time. Think roller coasters, water slides, or train rides. Trains have always had a place in the hearts of those young and old, especially for toy-model and entertainment purposes.
The Century Flyer, Conway’s own amusement train has an interesting history behind it. The train was originally built in 1955 by the National Amusement Device Company of Dayton, Ohio. The company was one of two companies leading the nation in the manufacturing of amusement park rides. The National Amusement Device Company created over 400 roller coasters along with fun houses, comic mirrors, Ferris wheels, and merry-go-round chariots, all by 1959.
Specifically the company was known for its miniature trains which were shipped to various locations throughout the world including: Venezuela, Canada, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, France, Belgium, England, and Hong Kong.
In the early days of their popularity miniature trains ran on steam and many of them were custom built. Usually the train cars were a representation of a real locomotive, a facet that is still widely practiced. The miniature train industry began to do away with steam along the timeline that actual trains began to shy away from the practice, during the 1920s. Therefore, the ‘hybrid’ locomotive was born in order to offer an easy maintenance option for minaiture train owners. The trains looked as though they were powered by steam, but instead ran on an internal combustion engine.
The Century Flyer, reflecting train designs of the period, was built to mimic a diesel passenger engine. The cars of the train also reflected train car design of the period including the rounded end on the third car. This detail echoed the design of the streamlined observation lounge cars that were found on most passenger trains in the fifties. Of the over 1000 trains built by the National Amusement Device Company, less than ten still remain in operation, with Conway’s passenger car as one of them.
The Century Flyer originally was a part of Burns Park’s Funland. Burns Park was bought by the City of North Little Rock in 1948, and was named for Mayor William M. Burns on April 11, 1950 in gratitude to his countless years of community service. Funland was one of the first developments in the park and was up and running around 1957. The mini-amusement park featured The Century Flyer and Shetland pony rides, among others. However, there was a greater future for The Flyer. In 1959 it was purchased by the Little Rock Chapter of the Railway Business Women’s Association for use at the new Arkansas Children’s Colony which was located in Conway.
The Arkansas Children’s Colony was created by Governor Orval Faubus in 1955. The group served mentally-handicapped children and housed 256 residents in its beginnings. However, over time and due to the growing needs of the community 1971 legislation changed the face of The Colony. Children with certain physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, autism, and epilepsy became a part of the mix and in 1981 the organization was renamed the Conway Human Development Center.
The Century Flyer was an immediate popular enjoyment on the campus. Resident’s could ride the track around the 0.75 mile loop of track, across two bridges, and through the tunnel. There is also a small station building near the east end of the track’s loop to provide a waiting area for passengers.
In 2010 the Century Flyer was added to the National Historic Register of Places. The train has provided endless hours of joy to countless resident children and family visitors at the Conway Human Development Center.
Source: Arkansas Historic Preservation Program