By CRISTINA JANNEY
ELLIS — A new set of murals by Dennis Schiel at the Ellis Railroad Museum are complete with the final phase of other improvements to the grounds almost complete.
The murals grace the new miniature train building on the museum's grounds. The exterior murals were finished earlier this month.
Schiel, a Hays mural artist, said COVID slowed the painting process. Schiel began working on the interior mural in September 2019, and it was completed in January.
The exterior murals didn't take as long, but Schiel had to wait for the train building to be completed to start on the paintings.
The mural on the inside of the train building is comprised of panels. It depicts an historical view of downtown Ellis, including the downtown hotel, as well as other buildings that are no longer standing.
A scale model depicting the early Ellis cityscape is on display inside the museum, and Schiel said he took cues for the mural from that display and historical photos.
The railroad was integral to the birth and growth of Ellis.
The Kansas Pacific Railway needed a water station as it moved west. The railroad built a water station on the present site of Ellis in 1867, purchasing the site under the Homestead Act. Ellis was an ideal because of its location near Big Creek.
In 1870, the U.S. Postal Service opened an Ellis office. The Kansas Pacific laid out Ellis in 1873, establishing a depot, a crew hotel, and locomotive and car shops. Settlers from New York and Kentucky arrived to work for the Kansas Pacific.
The exterior murals include a depiction of a steam locomotive and a modern engine. The painting also note the other attractions in Ellis, including the Walter P. Chrysler Boyhood Home and Bukovina German Museum.
Arrows on the modern engine mural point in the direction of other sites of note in the city, such as the Ellis football field and golf course.
The murals are part of a larger project that included the restoration of the one-third scale replica of GM’s 1950s Aerotrain. The train provides leisure rides along a three-quarter mile-long track.
"With the restoration of the train, they have something over there that is really spectacular," Schiel said.
The final phase of the project included landscaping, erecting historical plaques and painting the museum's depot, which was brought to Ellis from Penokee many years ago.
The Community Foundation of Ellis was the recipient of a $12,500 grant from the Union Pacific Foundation to restore the depot. The foundation also helped raise funds for the other phases of the museum improvements.
Brad Frickey, Community Foundation of Ellis vice president, said the depot has been painted, planters and benches have been placed and landscaping finished at the museum.
Historical plaques for the grounds have been approved, Frickey said.
Schiel is well known for his murals. He also painted the bison mural on the side of the Uptown Fox at 13th and Main St. and the mural honoring service personnel on the side of the VFW building at 22nd and Vine streets, both in Hays
Schiel said his next major project will depict Buffalo Bill Cody, General Custer and Wild Bill Hickok, all of whom lived in Hays during its Wild West period.
The mural had been planned for the city water tower adjacent to the Sternberg Museum. However, the city declined to fund the project.
Schiel is in the fundraising process for the mural. He said he is looking at locations on Eighth Street, but did not specify an address.