Are Today’s Kids So Much More Delicate? Save the Dennis the Menace Train!

Hi Readers — One of you just sent this Facebook page about plans to stop letting kids play on this fabulous old locomotive located at the Dennis the Menace park in Monterey,California.

The reasons? Take a guess. I’ve dropped a note to the activist running the FB page, haven’t heard back yet and wanted to get this post out quickly, while perhaps there’s still time to save this treasure. It is GOOD not BAD for kids to climb on big, exciting trains. If parents are worried, they can keep their kids OFF. If parents are PSYCHED, why can’t they just sign a waiver and let the kids clamber? Is that so legally impossible? If climbing trains is so dangerous, should we make some laws to stop kids from climbing rocks and trees, too? – L.

Photo: New information on the train at the Dennis the Menace park and according to the Save the Train group, they are down to their last options and need the city to compromise. What do you think is the best compromise to save the popular tourist attraction?

All not aboard! Even though kids have climbed this thing since 1956, somehow it is too unsafe for  THIS generation.

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48 Responses to Are Today’s Kids So Much More Delicate? Save the Dennis the Menace Train!

  1. Jill January 31, 2013 at 9:01 am #

    Don’t suggest laws banning climbing rocks and trees – someone is sure to take you seriously! 😉

  2. Silver Fang January 31, 2013 at 9:20 am #

    This one really hits home for me because it reminds me of the large wooden steam engine that used to sit in my neighborhood park when I was a little kid. I have vague but fond memories of climbing on it. By the time I was maybe seven or eight it was gone. Looking at this picture reminds me of it and makes me sad for today’s kids.

  3. AnotherAnon January 31, 2013 at 9:25 am #

    They still let kids climb on the trains in Kingman, AZ. My son had a great time doing that a couple of years ago.

  4. The Gandydancer January 31, 2013 at 9:34 am #

    When I was a kid, I loved climbing on the locomotive at a local park. Unfortunately, the experience scarred me for life. I grew up, volunteered at a railroad museum, and started running those things. Even to this day, If I hear a train coming down the track, I drop everything and go watch it!

  5. Maya January 31, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    I grew up playing on this very train and turned out ok. This was and is the best park! When I was a teenager I spent weekends working at the park watching kids come every weekend, all waiting until they were brave enough to ride the whirlybird (which they removed years ago for being unsafe) or to take that first leap off the train. There were no “safe” play structures, but so many kids were able to use their imaginations to truly play at the park. I came back with my kids a few years ago and was saddened by how many plastic “safe” play structures had moved into the park.

    At least the cemetery across the street is still there for the kids who were finally “brave” enough to explore over there….

  6. SafetySue January 31, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    Thank litigious parents for that one and all similar bans. Insurers don’t want to shell out the money to defend crazy lawsuits – parents these days seem to have a hard time understanding that just because your child fell and got hurt it does not mean the property owner was at all at fault. The selfishness of seeing a possible quick buck ruins it for everyone. Focus your energy, not on the property owners/companies/insurers, but the folks who blame everyone but themselves for accidents and sue. They are the real cause of this – well, them and ambulance chaser lawyers

  7. Claudia January 31, 2013 at 9:44 am #

    I don’t see the difference between climbing on a playground structure or on a train. What’s next? Are they going to take down all the playgrounds? There is a really great wooden playground in my town, it’s made to look like a castle. When I mention to other parents how great I think that playground is, I often get the response: “But the kids can get splinters! It should be taken down.”

  8. John January 31, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    We have a big parked locomotive like that here in Gambier, Ohio, which kids climb on. They love it. It IS kinda dangerous — I am always walking around below, saying “be careful! be careful!” (and they of course sigh and roll their eyes). If in their excitement they do a header from 16 feet up, they’re dead.

    I always let my kids climb on it, bc I trust them. But I can see the idea behind the ban. How would a signed waiver work, have somebody staff the train 24/7 handing it out?

  9. Havva January 31, 2013 at 9:57 am #

    This reminds me, I need to take the family on a bike ride to the old caboose in our area and make a donation. I often see kids climbing the railings there. It isn’t as cool as a locomotive, and parents yell at them for climbing it. But the kids have fun until they get caught. I love the old safety warning painted on it: “Aware alert arrive unhurt” Lots of ways the operators back in the day could have permanently maimed themselves and all they were told was effectively.. hey, pay attention. A sort of hope the warning reminds adults and proves to kids, that there was at least a time when people were responsible for their own safety.

  10. CrazyCatLady January 31, 2013 at 10:18 am #

    My kids are going to be so disappointed. We went to there at times just to play at that park. They loved the train the best.

    I had 7 year old, 5 year old with muscle control and eye issues, and a 3 year old. They LOVED climbing on it, and no one ever fell. I never saw anyone else fall either. I think my kids were extra careful knowing that it wasn’t set up to be a play area, but they explored the whole thing, and climbed around on it like a person servicing it would have done.

    The only time one of my kids got hurt at that park was when they put in the new ‘safe” slides. My youngest some how ended up going heads over heals half way down the very long slide. He got a split lip, but was back on it and more careful after that. But that engine, that was THE thing at the park that everyone wanted to play on. The other stuff was just not as exciting.

  11. Taradlion January 31, 2013 at 10:24 am #

    Part of the issue is the more “dangerous” things that are robed, the less experience kids have. They’re not more fragile, but less agile. A kid who’s never seen monkey bars is more likely to fall when they see them and try them at age 9 or 10 when an adult isn’t waiting to catch them the way they might have been if they tried and perfected the skill when they were 3 or 4.

    My dare devil son is way less likely to get injured than his cautious sister. He’s climbed everything from the time he was able.

  12. Warren January 31, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    I am sorry, I must have missed the part where dozens of kids fell to their death in recent weeks, climbing on the locomotive.

    Can anyone point me in the right direction.

  13. Julie January 31, 2013 at 11:15 am #

    Dennis the Menace is a wonderful, wonderful park. And my kids LOVE the train. Here’s the thing–it is not safe for toddlers to do alone. They are high up, the walk is uneven and with obstructions in the path, and they could easily slip, etc. Because, you know, it is an actual train that they’re climbing on the top of! So, really, the issue here is that some parents don’t want to be bothered with supervising their kids up there, and don’t want to be the bad guy and keep their kids off of it, either.

    By the time the kids are four or five, MOST should be able to handle the train. Still, you know your kid and if he needs help, then help. Get up and go with them! Seriously, don’t ruin my kid’s fun just because *you* are lazy.

  14. Jana January 31, 2013 at 11:26 am #

    The safety slides don’t allow for high speeds. The “safe” friction is what did him in.

  15. CarrollGardener January 31, 2013 at 11:34 am #

    We played on *active* trains when I was a kid in the Midwest (not something I’d recommend now) and survived that. Presumably this one is surrounded by grass or nice soft wood chips, or could be. And maybe, just maybe, some kid might get clued to the history and engineering embodied in this old gem.

    There was a 50/50 split in my helicoptering Brooklyn neighborhood, where about half were wigged out about kids playing on big downed trees after Sandy. Because New York City kids typically have too much exposure to fallen logs, I guess.

  16. Donna January 31, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    I don’t know the train but let’s be realistic, a chunk of metal left unmoving on the California coast to be climbed all over for 56 YEARS is actually becoming less safe as the generations progress, even if it has had some serious maintainence and repair done over the years. This could be about uber-safety or could be that the corrosive effects of time, salt air, weather and children clamoring all over it for 56 years are having their natural effect and the train is actually becoming unsafe. This isn’t a rock or tree – something that is meant to exist in nature – but is a man-made object that was never designed to live forever. If the train was put there last week, I’d default to uber-safety. 56 years is a loooooooooooog time in the life of what is essentially playground equipment.

  17. Evan January 31, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    I was just there with my son last weekend (we live an hourn or so away), and was very sad to see the fence they’d put up around the train since the last time we were there. I’m glad to see there’s opposition to this damfoolishness.

  18. Havva January 31, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    Donna brings up a fair enough point. As some people here have been to this train recently, can anyone give a corrosion etc report on this locomotive? Are the railings secure, the decking in reasonable condition?

  19. Julie January 31, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    @Havva: I was there about a year and a half ago and the train is in good condition. I climbed all over it with my kids, too! The floor is secure, the railings are intact. I saw no structural damage. I didn’t feel the dangers of train were anything to do with the corrosion or the natural breakdown of man-made equipment, but rather that it is TRAIN and not a regular piece of playground equipment. That means that there was places a toddler could get his head stuck. There are places where they could fall, and there are occasional sharp corners, and places where little feet could get wedged. And honestly, the guard rails are minimal so that they don’t really protect your kid from falling from a fairly significant height. Again, it is a train.

    I read the report about what needs to be corrected if the train is to continue to be in the park–and it has NOTHING in it about being in a state of decline. It is all about the fact that it does not fully comply with safety standards set for play structures. (Things like it sits on sand, not safety matting or wood chips, it is too tall, the walkways aren’t large enough, etc.)

  20. Donna January 31, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    If the sole complaints are that kids might fall off or get their heads stuck in railings or other things that have existed for generations, I think closing it down is ridiculous. If there are legitimate safety issues due to the age and wear-and-tear, then the city’s concerns are valid. Things become less strong as they age. I feel it with every birthday myself.

    I haven’t been able to find enough information to know if I should be outraged by this or not. I see vague references to “safety concerns” but no detail as to what the safety concerns are. Anyone know the specifics?

  21. Donna January 31, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    Right Julie, but is the city’s sudden concern over this after 56 years due to the fact that kids this generation are just more fragile or due to the fact that accidents are becoming more likely? I can see rust all over the bars in the picture Lenore posted. If the city is looking at it and thinking “this thing is old, rusting, wearing down. Parts breaking when stepped on or grabbed is becoming more likely and kids will get hurt when they fall.” Or are they just looking at it and saying “that’s too high. Kids might get hurt and fall.” One is a reasonable consideration. The other assumes this generation somehow less able to climb on trains than previous ones. I think the later thought is as likely as the former, but sometimes I think we jump as much to worst-first thinking as helicopter parents.

  22. Julie January 31, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    @Donna: Here’s an article on the train. At the bottom is the actual report made by the independent playground safety consultant hired by the city to inspect the train.

  23. lollipoplover January 31, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

    What was the reason for putting up the fence in the first place? Was there a serious accident or incident? If your going to put a fence around it, you might as well call it a museum and not a park.
    Kids can climb safely. As for toddlers getting their heads stuck, they can do that at home too in between the rails on the stairs (trust me!). But to fence it off because something *might* happen would mean we would need a lot more of this green fencing around the world.

  24. hineata January 31, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

    @Donna – was wondering the same thing. Also, is the removal or whatever about keeping the train safe/preserved? We had ‘Freddy’ the Fell Engine in our playground at home for years. Fell engines were amazing little beasts, and I think used in only a couple of railroads around the world. They ran on three tracks, and had these cool little wheels that gripped the middle track so they haul up very steep gradients. They were so slow that my dad talked about hopping off halfway up to the summit, having picnics and then charging back to meet the train as it went over the top.

    Anyway, enough of the history lesson. The point is, we were all completely bummed out when they removed Freddy from the playground, but it really was necessary. Now, restored, he sits in a little museum across the road, and kids can again climb into his cab etc. They just can’t climb through the dirty great rusty hole in the floor and into his lower workings, as we could. And he looks heaps better.

    So, is it about saving kids, or saving a piece of history? (Can’t see the original story myself.)

  25. Julie January 31, 2013 at 1:55 pm #

    There was no serious injury or accident. The train is out of compliance with California playground safety laws and therefore poses a litigation threat to the city of Monterey IF someone sues. As far as I can tell, somebody at city hall just got nervous.

  26. lollipoplover January 31, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    “The city last year put a temporary fence around the locomotive because of increased safety and liability concerns about children getting hurt on it.”

    So, no actual incidents of injuries occured? The first recommendation in the article by the panel addresses ADA compliance, not safety.
    If this train is historic, shouldn’t it be exempt from requrirements to retrofit it with wheelchair accessability? I get that new parks built are accessable for wheelchairs, but are they going to close down the beaches too if wheelchairs can’t get to the water?
    But it’s all about keeping the kids *safe*.

  27. Gnatselbow January 31, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    So sad to see this! I lived in Monterey 1976-1977 and remember this park and the train. I was 6 or 7 and the only thing that scared me in the park was a swinging suspension bridge that the big kids used to run across and make bounce.

  28. Warren January 31, 2013 at 2:49 pm #

    One could see that the train was kept in great condition, just from the photos. Thus with keeping it in that condition, prevents any rust or corrosion.

    The metal fatique you speak of, considering it is being used as a jungle gym and is no longer pulling ton upon ton of freight, the fatigue you are concerned with would take longer than any of our lifetimes, that of our kids or grandkids.
    Contrary to what some think, metal is forever as long as it has regular maintenance, which is obvious this train has.

    This is simply a case of city council having no balls, to stand up for the kids.

    I am sorry to say but the land of the free and the home of the brave, has become the land of restrictions and the home of the scared.

  29. Andy January 31, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

    @Donna Quoting linked facebook page: “it is about State playground safety codes. The train has been out of compliance for nearly 10 years and is a huge liability risk for the City, hence the fence.”

    Also “While technically the engine is not playground equipment such as a slide or swing, it is located within a public park and was put there with the intention of having children play on it, so yes, it is playground equipment. With the fence up, it becomes an attractive nuisance and the City could still be liable if someone climbed over the fence and got hurt.”

    It is not about materials getting bad with time, it is not about lazy parents not wanting to watch their kids (as somebody suggested) or anything else similar.

    If something would happen they would be liable. Maybe they would even have to pay punitive damages if they would be unlucky enough? I do not know, but they are aware that they are out of rules for long time and that there is a risk, so maybe it is possible.

  30. The Gandydancer January 31, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

    After reading the consultant’s report at the URL above, I’m not impressed. They couldn’t even bother with the correct terminology! Calling a locomotive cab the “engine compartment” (tsk tsk)!

  31. Andy January 31, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

    @lollipoplover From the linked facebook page, post dedicated to misconceptions: “Misconception #1- This is about ADA compliance.
    FALSE- This is not about ADA compliance, it is about State playground safety codes. The train has been out of compliance for nearly 10 years and is a huge liability risk for the City, hence the fence. ADA compliance MAY or MAY NOT be necessary.”

  32. Linvo January 31, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    Isn’t it interesting that we have this culture where on the one hand parents are expected to never let their kids out of their sight and often accused of negligence when their kids get hurt and on the other they expect governments to remove everything that could possibly hurt their kids?

    If you’re worried aboutt your kid hurting themselves, then supervise them to make sure they don’t! And maybe you could even teach them how to prevent injuries, what a novel idea.

    I’ve had parents glare at me because I let my daughter climb trees. Because it sparked their little ones’ imagination and they wanted to imitate her.

  33. lollipoplover January 31, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

    Thanks Andy.
    So it’s about safety codes that did not exist when this train was built.
    Got it.

  34. Andy January 31, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

    @Linvo Are you sure it is fair to blame parents in this case? Because there was no mention of any parent complaining. Except those parents complaining that train is going away.

    But, if the society expects parents to never let their kids out of their sight and often accuse them of negligence when their kids get hurt, I would not be surprised if those parents would then turn back and demand governments to remove everything that could possibly hurt their kids.

    Anything slightly dangerous is not only a risk of a skinned knee or broken arm, it is also a risk of being accused of being negligent to parent. It is not possible to prevent all injuries no matter how hard you try, how close you are and how safe the place is.

    Basically, unreasonable societal expectations breed unreasonable parental demands and harsh accusation of parents after every small mistake breed hysterical parents.

    To use analogy, if you accuse me of negligence if my kid gets dirty, I expect you not to put dirt on the playground. Alternatively, you can accept that kids occasionally get dirty when they play on a dirt, stop accusing me and I will have no expectations of you not putting dirt on playground.

    Funny thing is, maybe we truly live in blame game society. People are more interested in whose fault it is (parents? lawyers? nanny state? opposing political party?) then about how to fix it. Would it be possible to change those state safety codes? Create new “strong supervision recommended” playground type with relaxed safety rules? Something else?

  35. hineata January 31, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

    @Warren, sorry to play devil’s advocate, but not true about the corrosion factor ( though I know that doesn’t seem to be an issue here anyway :-) ). Freddy, all the time we played on him, had a well-painted outside and looked fine, which was all the council of the time cared about, but inside the cab etc there were large rusty holes that grew larger as they rusted (and not assisted by kids climbing through said holes!). Not always possible to tell the maintenance level from the outside, though poor maintenance, as above, can lead to a higher fun factor!

    @Andy – and I know you’re not saying it – I ‘love’ it when people talk about ‘lazy’ people not ‘properly supervising’ their kids. Do these people never take more than one child to the park? I used to regularly take groups of five or six kids, and it is a nervous breakdown in the making if you try and actually eyeball every child every minute. Fortunately kids really do not need eyeballing constantly (unless, maybe, they have a specific special need). Kids can and should be expected to look out for each other too.

  36. Let_Her_Eat_Dirt January 31, 2013 at 8:36 pm #

    Thanks for letting folks know about this issue, Lenore. I hope common sense will prevail and we can save this historic delight. Climbing trains and other “dangerous” things is part of being a kid — and so is falling and hurting yourself if you are doing something bone-headed. That is how we learn best. “Liability” is a lame excuse.

    Let Her Eat Dirt
    One dad’s take on raising tough, adventurous girls

  37. Betsy January 31, 2013 at 8:41 pm #

    Don’t have time to read all these, but it IS true that kids need experiences with climbing. When we bought a geodesic dome for my dgtr. for her 4th birthday, every other 4 year old who first tried it out immediately fell off (not her; she was cautious). And no, we didn’t have the recommended 4 inches of wood chips or pea gravel (ick – who wants that imbedded in their knees?). They were surprised when they had the wind knocked out of them, got back up, and were more careful after that. Though it was recommended for over age 4, of course at some point we had a younger child who didn’t know that. He was climbing all the way to the top when he was two (and never fell off).

  38. amy January 31, 2013 at 9:43 pm #

    Once upon a time, I was carrying my child past a tree. She reached up, touched a leaf, and was stung by a bee. What if there was a bee on this locomotive? Anybody ever think of that possibility? Life is fraught with danger! Keep your children away from all trains and trees!

  39. Ann in L.A. January 31, 2013 at 11:01 pm #

    This is in the Washington Post today:
    Playground fight: Fairfax County Schools place new apparatus off limits to kids

    Parents bought a playground structure, the school district shut it down because they thought the parents were wrong about the safety of their own children.

    “Although parents worked with the Fairfax County Public Schools facilities department, purchased the equipment, hired a contractor and had the playground ready for recess, the school system suddenly deemed the play equipment too dangerous. Since Nov. 30 it has been off-limits, say parents.

    “Never mind that the same equipment is installed at more than 1,200 parks and schools across the country, including a public park in Fairfax County.”

  40. CrazyCatLady January 31, 2013 at 11:40 pm #

    There is NOTHING wrong with the structure of that train. It was put together with inch thick metal in most places, with bolts that they knew were going to be jostled (all the chu-chunck, chu-chunk of the tracks) and it is in better condition having been used by kids for 50 years than it would have been if it had been run. It is kept painted, so rust is not an issue. Places where the paint is worn off are well oiled by little hands holding the rails.

    I wonder how much money they will loose from tourism by not having that train. More than the “maybe” lawsuit? Granted, there are other things that draw people to the area, but that playground was where we always ate lunch, that we bought there. Without it, we probably would have just gone home because the park wouldn’t be too much different than one near where we lived (an hour north.)

  41. CrazyCatLady January 31, 2013 at 11:43 pm #

    Oh, and speaking of such, there is another train engine in Santa Cruz at one of the parks. It has a fence around with signs not to climb on it. And it looks like the signs should be taken seriously as it is rusted through in some of the places that people potentially could climb. The Denis the Menace train is in MUCH better shape and has been well maintained.

  42. Andy February 1, 2013 at 5:15 am #

    @hineata I was never in the situation when I would have to watch five kids at a time.

    But somewhat related, I found that my toddler takes much more risks when I’m close and watching her. When I’m standing away and talking with somebody, she is much more careful.

    If I would be non-stop right next to her, I would never find out. I would think that she has much less common sense then she really have. Sometimes I wonder, whether this does not happen to hovering parents. They see their kid to show way less brain, because the kid is smart and knows that it does not have to.

  43. don February 1, 2013 at 7:50 am #

    Gravity has been banned due to the fact that children have been falling down at alarming rates. Susan Be Safe, government nanny official stated:”We are looking at alternatives to gravity, to allow children to play safely in all areas of the world.”
    Anti-gravity experts are schedule to present their plans en mass at the next meeting of the gravitational containment symposium next week.
    Meanwhile, parents are encourage to keep their children indoors, safe on the couch playing video games. Carefully walk beside their children when they get up to get more food etc. so they don’t succumb to the gravitational field in their area. If parents cannot be present, then children should wear safety helmets, knee and elbow pads with an approved safety harness connected to the ceiling.
    All toys will have this sticker applied immediately: “Warning! Gravity makes you fall down and could cause serious harm!”

  44. John Cecere February 1, 2013 at 8:24 am #

    And of course this action was brought on by the enormous number of children getting hurt, maimed, and killed from climbing on this train ?

  45. Havva February 1, 2013 at 9:54 am #

    @Andy, that is an interesting thought. I have seen risk variations with my daughter as well.

    It is always a fight to get her to sit down and scoot her way down the stairs (she can’t securely reach the hand rail). We sort of gave up and she hasn’t done the sit and scoot in months, we just hold on really tight. She isn’t really stable when she is stepping down, but she “always” wants to walk down that way. When we were at my sister’s house I heard her and my niece taking her down the stairs. My niece isn’t strong enough to support her if she looses her balance, so I ran right over. There I saw my niece trying to encourage my daughter to stand up and use the handrail (lower than at our house) and my daughter staunchly refusing as she sat and scooted down the steps!

  46. LG February 2, 2013 at 11:31 am #

    I’ve been to this playground with my son several times during visits to Monterey (it’s close to the world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium) — it’s hands-down the best playground I’ve ever been to. We love the train!

  47. AndreaW February 3, 2013 at 6:05 pm #

    Thank you for covering this! I live here and my kids grew up playing on this train. Yes, they fell off. No, they weren’t damaged. I’m so sad that bureaucrats are so stupid that they decide to ban something that I would guess MILLIONS of children have played on.

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