Sad Monkey Origins – The Sad Monkey Railroad
Sad Monkey Memories
People often ask how we thought up the name for Sad Monkey Media. There have even been requests to meet the monkey who they assume swings around our offices in between writing blogs. But the true answer is part of our Panhandle heritage, and a story we’d love to share.
Many trains capture the public imagination and refuse to set it free. The classy and mysterious Orient Express, the sprawling Trans-Siberian Railway. There are even the lost trolley cars of downtown Amarillo, Texas, the remnants of their tracks still slumbering beneath the pavement, awaiting the trolleys’ return. The founders of Sad Monkey Media — our Prime Primates, if you will – named our agency for a little engine that could, the Sad Monkey Railroad.
The Sad Monkey Railroad served Palo Duro Canyon State Park from 1955 to 1996. Visitors young and old purchased tickets at the Depot, where you could also buy souvenirs and snacks like frozen custard and hot dogs. The train itself was a sight to behold, a black engine pulling a tinder car and passenger cars, their wooden benches painted red. As the train pulled out of the station, the engineer pointed out the landmarks, plants, and animals that make Palo Duro Canyon so special. The trip covered two miles and lasted only twenty minutes, but lived on in the minds of its passengers for much longer.
It was a magical landmark for grandparents and best friends and cousins and friendly strangers. The kind people who ran the train were always prepared with a smile when passengers arrived, ready to share their love of Palo Duro Canyon.
Owned by Earl Burtz and later his son, Clifford, the Sad Monkey Railroad took its name from a rock formation said to look like a frowning monkey. Much like the Man in the Moon, some people swear they saw the Sad Monkey, while others remain skeptical. Unfortunately, the rock formation itself collapsed in 1997, shortly after the closing down of the train and the passing of Clifford Burtz.
Due to the expense of complying with modern safety regulations, the Sad Monkey Railroad took its last tour in 1996. While we understand the benefits of progress and the importance of safety, we can’t help feeling disappointed these concepts didn’t leave room for a steel manifestation of childhood.
The Sad Monkey Railroad was put out to pasture at a local ranch. Its sign proclaimed the train “Retired.” This piece of Panhandle history could have ended its run, peacefully resting in the tall grass, if not for Barbara Logan.
Clifford Burtz had hired a 13-year-old Barbara to work at the Sad Monkey Railroad in 1981, her first summer job. She worked there the following eight summers, creating treasured memories. In 2015, the then-current owner of the train sold it to her for the same price he paid, and so began the process of finding the train a permanent home.
Barbara spoke with Randall County Sheriff Joel Richardson, who told her the county would restore the train if she provided the materials. Public Steel stepped up and donated the necessary steel. Amarillo National Bank’s Canyon branch provided financing, with additional services provided by Texas Lone Star Truck and Body and Canyon Towing. With the train restored to its former glory, Barbara donated the Sad Monkey to the City of Canyon.
This tremendous community effort brings to mind the Save the Cowboy campaigns that rejuvenated Tex Randall, Canyon’s four-story, seven-ton cowpoke, and the return of the iconic Paramount sign to Amarillo’s Polk Street. In 2017, the Sad Monkey made its final home in the town square in Canyon. Much like the current renaissance of Amarillo’s downtown, the Downtown Square in Canyon glows with new life. There’s delicious food, fun shopping, and an honest-to-goodness, locally-owned bookstore, The Burrowing Owl.
We’re grateful to be part of a community that treasures the past even as it gears up for an exciting future. Sad Monkey Media works hard to help realize these dreams, and we love partnering with businesses that make West Texas great. If you’d like us to engage your audience so you have time to grow your business, contact us for a free branding consultation.
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