Smiles danced on faces as the storybook "train" chugged to a stop, ready to pick up its final passengers.
The Tri-Cities J & S Dreamland Express at Columbia Park was about to make its last run for the summer.
But one smile was missing as a young boy watched longingly from a distance.
"He asked at the ticket office if it cost money," my husband commented quietly as I returned from a photo opportunity with the engineer.
We exchanged glances. Both of us understood what it was like to be a kid who never had pocket change.
Within minutes, the elementary age Jesus and his older 11 year-old sister, Sandra, clamored aboard, their young parents and 2 year-old brother waving from a picnic table beyond the fishing pond.
With a ring of the whimsical train-trolley bell, our adventure began as the bright orange propane-propelled "engine" and brightly painted cars toured past the river.
A fancy standard-size poodle — fresh from a dog show competition — brought cries of delight as we whisked by.
And when a flock of geese scurried in front of our refurbished Air Force tractor and colorfully painted airplane luggage carts, laughter filled the air.
Unknown to the little children in our care, the J & S Dreamland Express is a tribute to Washington State Patrol trooper, James E. Saunders who was killed Oct. 7, 1999, when he made a routine traffic stop in Pasco. His death brought the community together to remember his life by creating a joy-filled experience for countless passengers, young and old alike.
The summertime ride, staffed primarily by the Kiwanis Club of the Horse Heaven Hills Foundation, keeps the smiles coming to kids — and kids at heart — every weekend. The volunteers work as a team to ensure a smooth and safe operation — with added lightheartedness.
"There's only one rule," conductor Wayne Underwood announced as engineer Chris Sivula readied for departure, "and that's to have fun."
We happily obeyed the rule. By the time the "train" pulled back into the "station" for the final time until spring, our young charges were grinning ear to ear.
I couldn't help but think that if there was a window inside heaven, Trooper Saunders was smiling, too.