Ulrich Pricer had no idea he would get to take an extra-special train ride when he came to spend this summer with his grandparents.
The 6-year-old ferroequinologist — train enthusiast — arrived June 9 at the BNSF train depot, dressed in a conductor’s hat, to welcome an Amtrak inspection train to town.
He quite literally was handpicked by an Amtrak representative to ride on the train from Arkansas City to Wichita.
“That was my first train ride,” Pricer said.
The inspection ride carried city dignitaries who were showing support for the potential expansion of a passenger train route between Newton and Oklahoma City.
“He was the junior ambassador of Ark City,” said Thomas L. “Todd” Stennis III.
Stennis is the director of government affairs for the South Region of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, also known as Amtrak. He is based out of the New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal.
“It was a unique opportunity,” Stennis said. “We were glad to have him on board.”
Right place, right time
Pricer ’s grandparents, Larry and Gloria Miser, were with him at the BNSF depot when the train came into town.
“He’s always been agog at trains,” said Larry Miser.
Pricer held a bright yellow sign that simply stated, “I want to ride the train.”
This sign caught the attention of several people, including Commissioner Karen Welch.
“He’s such a cutie,” she said.
Pricer in shock
When the train stopped and the officials exited, Stennis shook the hands of many spectators.
“I saw (Pricer’s) sign and spoke to his grandparents,” Stennis said.
“We were really very surprised. It just happened so quick,” Miser said.
Pricer stood on the steps to the train and faced the crowd, while onlookers took photos.
He stepped off the stair, as if to join his grandparents again, and appeared to be in shock as he was told that he would get to ride the train.
“They picked me up (and put him on board),” Pricer said.
A fun ride
“(Pricer) was a little timid at first,” said Arkansas City Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Pam Crain.
“We were shocked that he was willing to get on a train with no one he knew.”
To start the ride, Pricer stood in the back window of the inspection car with his sign, waving goodbye to the crowd that had gathered to see the train.
“He made for a fun ride to Wichita,” Crain said.
“(Pricer) was sitting next to the mayor the entire time he traveled,” Stennis said.
Picking a conductor’s brain
Mayor Duane Oestmann said Ulrich got to look the entire train over.
Oestmann worked for the BNSF railroad before he retired.
“I was a (freight) conductor,” he said. “I really never worked a passenger train — maybe a few times.”
With Pricer, the topics of conversation were varied.
“We just talked about what he liked to do and about the train,” Oestmann said.
“He was sitting, visiting with the adults, just like he was one, too,” Crain said. “He turned to me and said, ‘This is the best day ever.’”
Trip of a lifetime
“I got off the train at Wichita,” Pricer said.
His grandparents left the station in Ark City shortly after the train did and traveled by car to pick him up at Union Station in downtown Wichita.
“They didn’t make it on time,” Pricer said. “The train beat them.”
Crain said the Misers arrived just before the train pulled out of Wichita, bound for Newton.
“(His) mom and dad said it was a trip of a lifetime for him,” said Larry Miser. “He definitely enjoyed his ride.”
“Hopefully, he’ll be riding more trains in the future,” Stennis said.
One more twist of fate
Pricer and his parents live in Perry, Oklahoma.
His mother, Charithah Pricer, also saw the train June 9 when it traveled through Perry.
She held a sign that had a picture of her son and said, “This boy will be in Ark City, waiting for the train.”
Somehow, the sign apparently traveled to Arkansas City aboard the train. It ended up in the hands of Oestmann, who bent down to ask Ulrich Pricer, “Is that you?”
“That’s me,” the boy replied. And so his adventure began.
“I did not know about (Charithah Pricer and the sign) until we were in Ark City — it was a very interesting twist of fate,” Stennis said.