More than two years after the trains stopped running at Country Village, Iron Horse Railway owner Kent Manchester is still searching for a place to set up again.
The locally loved attraction provided rail-free train rides around the Bothell shopping center in addition to pony and wagon rides, a garden and a model railway. Since shutting down in December 2015, Manchester has been working on a plan to reopen.
“It’s a three-phase plan,” he said on a recent morning as he walked through the corral gates where he rents storage space for his four ponies and the train equipment.
The first was to head back to school to get additional certifications for a cybersecurity and IT career he put on hold during the 15 years he ran the railway. He’s finished these and works part time for a community college but Manchester hasn’t landed a full-time job yet, which would finance the final step of purchasing property to reopen the railway as a weekend attraction.
While Manchester believes he’s qualified for many positions he has applied for, at around 60 years old, he believes he’s being turned down partially because of his age at a time when many tech companies are trying to build a brand that attracts younger workers with their corporate culture.
“Somebody that’s as old as me doesn’t fit that,” he said.
However, Manchester has his hopes up for a job at a local school district. But for now the equipment and ponies are kept at a property he rents northeast of Bothell, which is kept secret due to repeated thefts. In one instance, a woman had cut her way through four deadbolts and was in the process of removing a pony before she was stopped.
Manchester said he could likely get a tech job elsewhere in the country where competition isn’t as fierce. But this would also mean moving away from both his aging parents and his children.
“It’s not a real great time to jump across the country,” he said.
So, for now, Manchester has his fingers crossed for a job. Since he doesn’t need property that’s commercially zoned, he’s hoping to find land for under $500,000 in the area. Once that happens, he could set up in around six months and be chugging away again.
Manchester isn’t just hoping to restart the railway, pony and wagon rides, but also expand with a possible petting zoo, playground and even food service.
Manchester worked as a computer technician in Seattle until the dotcom bubble burst in the 1990s, after which he and his wife took an interest in starting a model train business. After selling model trains for a while, he started constructing the full-size train he would later use for rides.
The Iron Horse Railway operated for nearly 13 years of its run out of the back acres of Country Village. The owners of the village decided to sell the four-acre plot to a real estate developer to be turned into multi-family housing. Country Village will be shutting down entirely next year.
Manchester maintains a website as well as a Facebook, which he updates on his journey to bring rides back to the North End.