This Is Carolina: Conway workers build train for Celebration of Lights festival

Conway workers build train for Celebration of Lights festival

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) – A decades-old Conway tradition was put on pause last year because of flooding from Hurricane Florence.

In typical Conway manner, the people decided to come back bigger and brighter, and make 2019 a festival to remember. They’re doing that by bringing the ‘Shoofly’ train to life.

“We want more bulbs, more light. We want more! When you’re driving by in a car you can actually see the frame of the gingerbread man,” Timmy Williams, the city’s grounds and maintenance director, said while admiring the newly rewired and re-lit gingerbread man frame for Conway’s Celebration of Lights.

Williams, who was worked for the city for 19 years, estimated there’s up to 6,000 new bulbs being using for the festival. He should know; he’s in charge of the Celebration of Lights.

“Everything is housed at my department. We have two big bays of nothing but Christmas decorations, and we also have three shipping containers that’s out back,” Williams said.

A warehouse is filled with Christmas décor and Williams’ team has been using it as their workshop. He said almost everything is new for this year’s celebration.

“Our electrical wiring on the decorations, the bulbs - we got new bubs, new wiring harnesses - so nothing will trip,” Williams said.

According to Williams, they started planning for the festival in October and everything is made in house. That’s especially true of the city’s newest gem.

As Williams wrapped tape around a new bulb, a train whistle rang through the adjoining warehouse. That meant everything was working for Darrell McDowell and his team, as they built the train themselves.

“We’re a river town but we also enjoy our trains,” McDowell, who has worked for the city for 40 years, said with a laugh. “It’s a real nice place to live. Friendly people, people that love one another.”

Conway city leaders heard about McDowell’s knack for building trains and asked him to build one for the city.

“I built a train about 10 years ago for Vacation Bible School for my church and we rode the kids around each night during Vacation Bible School, and whenever they started playing with the idea of having a train in Conway, they called me and asked me about the one I had built,” he said.

A month later. and the team had an almost finished ‘Shoofly’ train in the workshop.

McDowell said his favorite part of the train is the whistle, while showing how it works. Every part of it was made by city workers, and the grill came as recycling parts from an old Conway garbage truck.

According to McDowell, building the train was a challenge but it was a total team effort. He said it’s something they’re all proud of.

It will be painted black and include gray accents to make it look like the famous Shoofly train. That train mural is at Kingston Park at the corner of Main Street and Fourth Avenue.

Unlike McDowell’s first train, the Conway train is built off a tractor. It’s strong enough to pull carts of kids and families behind it for not only this year’s festival, but many more to come.

“We’re Conway strong and everybody works together for the good of Conway,” McDowell said while in the conductor’s seat of his train.

The train will be at Conway’s Celebration of Lights for families to enjoy and ride. The festival begins on Nov. 29, the Friday after Thanksgiving. It will be held every Thursday through Sunday each weekend until Christmas, from 6 to 9 p.m. For more information on the festival, click here.

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