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Trainland’s owner recounts his time in The Old Guard

Published: Friday, Oct. 25, 2013 11:00 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Oct. 25, 2013 11:17 a.m. CDT

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Colfax’s Red Atwood was a member of the famous Old Guard, the Third U.S. Infantry Regiment, tasked with conducting memorial affairs to honor fallen comrades as well as ceremonies and special events to represent the United States Army.

Red had enlisted in the Army Reserves in 1953, while the Korean War was still on, and he was informed he could be called up for the draft at any time.

By 1955, Red and his friend Joe Morgan were tired of waiting with the draft hanging over their heads, so they went to Newton to volunteer.

Red and Joe, along with several other Iowans, were sent off to Fort Chaffee Maneuver Training Center in Arkansas, where they received their 10 weeks of basic training.

“It was so tough, it’ll grow you right up … They were so disciplined, they had us out picking up rocks in the rain,” Red said. “After the 10 weeks, you’d grown up enough to know how smart your parents really were.”

He finished his training in Chaffee and was sent off to serve in the infantry in Fort Carson, Colo. The fort was home to nine divisions, many of them earmarked for Korea, but Red’s stay there was short-lived.

“They needed 22 people to go to Ft. Myers, Va., where we’d served in the Third Infantry Regiment,” Red said. “We had to meet all sorts of requirements. You had to be unmarried, a certain height and in good shape.”

Red and his comrades embarked on a cross country train-ride which brought him to his final posting in Arlington, Va.

Of the group from Fort Carson, Red and 11 others ended up meeting the stringent requirement to serve in the elite regiment. A full half of his group didn’t make the grade.

“I was on funeral detail, shooting at the ceremonies,” Red said. “Five days a week and every half hour, we buried somebody.”

He stayed in Arlington for 18 months, serving in countless funerals throughout his time there, and still some of the ceremonies stand out for him.

“The worst funerals were the ones with no mourners, when it was just us and the minister.”

Red recounted one funeral he still remembers vividly. A woman threw herself upon the casket, and Red and his comrades were unable to touch her or assist in any way, standing by while the other mourners pried her loose, getting one hand free at a time just to have her latch back on to the casket.

For Red, his time at Arlington and in the Army helped to mold the person he would grow into, teaching him the importance of discipline and taking care of one’s self.

He returned to Iowa and went into business selling seed from his dad’s old farm, where he still lives and works today.

In 1981, he opened the museum which he is still famous for today. After a lifetime of infatuation with trains, beginning as young as 5 when he can still remember watching them go by Ira on their way between Colfax and Mingo, Red opened Trainland USA.

Trainland, which is open over the summer season, is well known for its toy train museum and the Lionel O Gauge trains Red collects.

The museum allows him to work with trains and children, two of the things he loves most, and he often visits with schools in the area to talk to them about the old trains and railroads.

Staff writer Matt Nosco may be contacted at (515) 674-3591 or at mnosco@newtondailynews.com.

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