She isn’t an Otto by birth, but Bette Otto has been in the family long enough to appreciate her father-in-law’s train and what it means to her family and the Sandwich Fair.
“He always was a train person. He loved trains and he would have had a full-sized train if he could have,” Bette said about Augie.
His train that runs around the fairgrounds is one-quarter scale. He built it in his shop at Otto Machine Co., an excavating business in Sandwich. The train running now made its debut in 1974.
His sons, Allen, Bette’s husband, and Norman, grew up with the train, have worked on it all their lives and continue their father’s legacy each year. They enjoy the assistance of a couple of other train enthusiasts, Steve Farmer of DeKalb and Paul Andermann of Oswego.
The family affair with Augie’s train doesn’t stop there.
His grandson, also named Augie, sells tickets for the train. Bette and Norman’s wife, Nancy, take tickets. Augie’s daughter, Carol Swenson, sells concessions. She and her husband, Glenn, grow the popcorn sold in the concession stand.
“I’m not even sure how many acres we have now,” she said. “Probably 10 to 20.”
“He could fix anything,” Bette said of her father-in-law. “If Augie couldn’t fix it, it couldn’t be fixed.”
Between his sons, Bette said they’ve inherited not only his love of the train, but also his skill for making things work.
“They will tackle just about anything,” she said.
She also described Augie as a music lover who played the organ very well. “He never wanted anyone to hear him play, but he was very good.”
An honest man, Bette said he was not one to seek the limelight.
“He is rolling over in his grave with all the fuss,” she said. “And Norm and Allen are the same way.”
Augie died in 1994, at the age of 84, just a week before the Sandwich Fair.
But the train that chugs down the tracks now is not Augie’s first.
The first train he built was christened the Iron Pony. It went on display at the fair in 1952 and ran on the tracks for the first time in 1953.
Today’s steam locomotive is a reproduction of a Burlington and Quincy 3000 4-6-4 Class S4 Hudson.
Allen said a full-sized Class S4 Hudson is on display at the train museum in Union. He said his father visited the museum often to get accurate measurements to build his model.
The only thing about the train that’s not “to scale” is the sound of the whistle.
“That whistle is authentic,” Allen said.
He said his father recorded the whistle from the Burlington that travels through Sandwich.
Sharing the joy
Bette said schoolchildren and nursing home residents alike visit the fair to ride the train.
“Augie never turned away anyone,” she said.
“We had kids ride who have come back with their children and grandchildren.
“And as long as there are people waiting to ride, we stay open. We run the train as long as people want to ride it,” Bette said.