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ALL ABOARD! TRAIN BUFF STILL ON RIGHT TRACK AFTER RIDING HEBER TRAIN FOR 65 YEARS, SETTING RIDERSHIP RECORD

In 1930, Frank Chap-man's Cotswold sheep won first prize in the Wasatch County fair. He had raised the sheep as a high school project, and the next step would be to enter them in the state fair. To do so, Chapman had to travel 65 miles to Salt Lake City by train.

Since then, Chapman has been one of Heber Valley Railroad's most loyal patrons. He has boarded the train countless times for business and pleasure. And although the 84-year-old is legally blind, he set a record this year for taking the train's now condensed 32-mile round trip 102 times during the 1994-95season."It's still fun to ride that train," Chapman said. He remembers when the train connected Heber with Provo. Now the route ends at Vivian Park in Provo Canyon.

"The only way we had to get to Salt Lake was by train," he said. "They used to call it the `Heber Creeper' because it slowed down around the canyon. It still only goes about 10 to 15 miles."

As early as 1920, the railroad connected Heber and Salt Lake City through Provo, Chapman said.

Today, Chapman usually begins his rides at the train depot in Heber, which is about two blocks from his house. The train, heading southwest, crosses farmlands to Charleston and Midway before reaching the north side of Deer Creek Reservoir. The route follows the shoreline for five miles.

Near Deer Creek Dam, the railway lays at a higher elevation than the road. From then on, the train descends into Provo Canyon, where it follows the Provo River to Vivian Park.

Last year, Chapman paid $100 for two season passes. Although he takes some rides alone, he prefers to have company with him. He usually invites friends to use his second pass or else he pays for their $16 train fare.

Once he invited a friend from Salt Lake City to take a ride with him.

"I told him I'd take him on a free ride, and he brought 16 people with him. He nearly broke me that one time," Chapman said.

But even when he rides alone, Chapman can find plenty to do on the train. He has the cars memorized and finds his way around by touch."I've got good feelers."

He enjoys sitting at the train's snack bar where he hands the attendant a $5 bill with instructions to keep it "until I use it up."

Occasionally, he takes the Saturday evening Blue Grass Express, an excursion train that features a live band on board. He joins in the singing and sometimes even dances (under the watchful eyes of train attendants).

Chapman lives with his son and daughter-in-law in the house he built prior to his marriage in the early '30s. A lifelong farmer, he retired in 1978. His wife died in 1972, and his other child, a daughter, lives a block away.

Last month, Chapman was hospitalized for surgery and has been unable to ride the train for a while.

"It might be a week or two until I feel better," he said. "But I intend to start riding that train again pretty quick."