WATONGA — The wheels that started turning in Steve Neuman's head were different — some were made of metal, others had spokes.
Neuman, an avid cyclist, had certainly heard of the famous Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, an annual bicycle race in Durango, Colo., inspired by a race between two brothers, one on a train, the other his bicycle.
So, when he learned that friend Austin Lafferty's family owned the AT&L Railroad, the wheels started moving pretty quickly.
“I looked at Austin and said, ‘Hey, there's a train we can race,'” said Neuman. “Austin's brothers, Todd and Ladd Lafferty, ride bikes, so there was a connection.
“It seemed like a neat idea. That's really how it started.”
Thus was born Race the Rail!, a fundraiser held since 2010. This year's start time is 9 a.m. Oct. 12, the second day of the Watonga Cheese & Wine Festival.
The AT&L is owned by Wheeler Brother Grain Co., based in Watonga, and is used for moving grain. “Because of track limitations, the train cannot travel faster than 10 mph,” Neuman said.
So on race day, at 9 a.m. the train starts out of Geary, headed north to Watonga. Bicyclists start at Watonga, ride to Geary, turn around and at that point, the race is one to catch the train.
About 125 bicyclists participated the first year. The race has made steady gains, with about 170 expected to ride this year.
An appealing challenge
The appeal is rather obvious to Neuman.
“I think it's 100 percent getting to race a train,” said Neuman, who lives to the east of Watonga in Kingfisher. “I think there's a pride factor there to say you raced a train and you won.
“The route for cyclists is just over 32 miles.”
Through each of the first three years, about 15 to 20 percent manage to beat the train. Those who are successful receive a railroad spike. There are traditional and nontraditional bicycle divisions with male and female winners, those finishing first in each category. The winners receive an 8-inch section of rail attached to a wooden plaque.
But there are other winners.
Each year, proceeds from Race the Rail! are donated to different causes. For example, in 2012 a portion of proceeds from Race the Rail! went to Young Survival Coalition, a global organization dedicated to the critical issues unique to young women who are diagnosed with breast cancer, according to its website.
Another recipient of proceeds in 2012 were Roman Nose State Park rangers, who were presented with two mountain bikes.
Last year's beneficiary
Neuman said they bought the bikes for several reasons. About four times a year, he takes his mountain bike to Roman Nose to ride the trails and knows many others do the same. He also had volunteered with the Roman Nose Mountain Bike Festival, often hosted in May.
Through that he came to know park ranger Travis Lindley, who is the facilities manager at the park. Neuman noticed the mountain bikes that Lindley and other park rangers were using.