A daughter tracks memories of father’s train legacy

Alicia Lenon has spent the past few months trekking through memory lane, uncovering pictures, unfinished projects and the loves of life left behind in the last residence of her late father and mother.

The rural house on the outskirts of unincorporated Port Orchard was a product of her father’s craftsmanship outside of the bare minimum of contractor contributions and is just over two decades old, but those who knew the late Dennis and Marie Weaver are certain that some part of them will always live on in that house, along with their true home on the train tracks in South Kitsap Regional Park.

“Everywhere there’s a nail, he is a part of this place,” Lenon said. “If we could afford to, we’d stay here, but there’s just no way.”

The name Dennis Weaver is known throughout the communities of South Kitsap and in various corners of the nation, especially among the most dedicated of train enthusiasts. He and Marie were both instrumental in the founding of the Kitsap Live Steamers in 1990 and the start of laying track in what was the beginnings of the South Kitsap Community Park. Today, the nonprofit attracts thousands of visitors annually to the county park for free miniature train rides on roughly a mile of track, whether it be for the summer season public runs or special runs such as the annual Ghost Train.

Like many great products of Dennis’ life, KLS was inspired by a similar type of club. He caught his “bug,” as Lenon put it, when finding the Riverside Live Steamers in California. The family made countless trips to the club in Lenon’s youth and held picnics while Dennis became enthralled with trains.

The newfound love worked its way into family vacations, Lenon recalling her father chasing trains just to get pictures of the most intricate parts of them. Those photographs would appear to most as only pictures, but to him, they were blueprints and the first step in putting his own train cars and locomotives together. She said, “My dad was very meticulous, very precise, and everything had to be prototype. I threw away an entire box of just different trains, pictures taken so that dad could know what the prototype looked like; the gears, the wheels, the brakes. Everything had to be perfect.”

His hobbies led to creations of many notable trains and cars including a shay modeling the early logging trains of the Pacific Northwest and a scale battery-powered Galloping Goose railcar, a ride created for Marie that led to her KLS nickname “Goose Lady.”

Lenon said Dennis was at work even in his late years putting together a simple stock car. Faces and names would disappear from his memory due to onsetting dementia, but the knowledge and love of trains seemed to be everlasting.

That did not make his gradual slips from reality any easier to witness. “His dementia was really becoming an issue, and his motivation, he didn’t have a lot of it. I’m not sure if that was because he was forgetting and didn’t remember. He didn’t want to fess up to that kind of stuff.”

Still, trains were his love language, and it astounded Lenon to see a simple mention of the subject keep an otherwise quiet and introverted Dennis talking for hours.

When he did not speak, the work of his hands spoke for him, especially in the Port Orchard house that Lenon has since prepped and listed for sale. It’s exactly what someone envisioning a train lover’s house would be with endless framed pictures showcasing modern and antique locomotives. Just outside are two 500-gallon diesel tanks for house heating, and next door stands a two-level workshop for building and storage of trains.

They are all marks of her father and seeing so many of them depart from her possession has been bittersweet. But as buyers from across the country take Dennis’ life work into their own loving hands, she believes the house’s next owner will do the same. His memory will live on in that house and on every KLS train ride since.

A variety of train cars in storage ready for transport.

A variety of train cars in storage ready for transport.