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Iron Horse Festival now and then

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New Haven event celebrates railroad lore

By Randy Patrick

The afternoon sunlight glinted off the chrome of the motorcycles lined up in front of the Long Branch as the bikers swapped stories. Across the street, Stephanie Mahoney and Dana Mattingly sat on the sidewalk with their kids, waiting for the start of the Iron Horse Parade.

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In another time, they would have been serving the thirsty bikers.

Mahoney and Mattingly worked together at the Long Branch 12 years ago, and remember what the Iron Horse Festival was like in those days.

“It was so packed you could feel the floor shake,” Mahoney said. “It was definitely our biggest money maker of the year. We planned for it for weeks.”

Today, they are moms with five kids between them, but they always come back to the festival and reminisce and let the children enjoy the parade.

“Every year we watch it from this same spot,” said Mahoney, who is from across the county line in LaRue. Mattingly still lives in New Haven.

Most out-of-towners go home after the parade, but the Iron Horse traditionalists stay late into the night, drinking and conversing in front of the Long Branch and the Sherwood, near the Kentucky Railway Museum, where the old train depot stood.

On the other side of New Haven, the lonesome call of an old passenger train carrying tourists could be heard in the distance as the iron horse rolled into town.

Two young women, Ying Chan, a nurse at the University of Kentucky Hospital, and Mary Newton, a teacher at the New Haven School, sat at a picnic table sharing a plate of loaded ribbon potato fries and watching the crowd.

Newton said her family, which had a bake sale booth at the festival to raise scholarship money for high school seniors, attends every year.

“We like it because you get to see people you don’t always see … and I get to see my students on the weekend, so that’s always fun,” she said.

Her friend Ying said she likes festivals, and the Iron Horse is one of the first.

“This is always fun to do, and it’s a good way to start the fall season,” she said.

It felt like fall Saturday with temperatures in the 70s and without the stickiness of early September.

Besides the parade, the festival featured a 5K race, free miniature train rides for children, a Mr. Magic show by Jeff Russ, a gospel music concert, Elvis Presley and Meatloaf tribute and other musical performances, a children’s dance routine, carnival games, craft vendors and every kind of festival food from grilled pork chops to ice cream.

This year’s festival had a Hometown Hero theme to honor Jerry Nevitt, a former EMT, firefighter, sheriff’s deputy, city police officer and New Haven commissioner, who died in January. He was honored posthumously as grand marshal of the parade.