Broken little hearts at Dennis the Menace Playground

There is a popular playground in Monterey’s El Estero Park called Dennis the Menace Playground — named after the comic strip character.


The creator of Dennis the Menace, cartoonist Hank Ketchum was a local and lived in Pebble Beach, California until his death in 2001, at 81 years old.

More about this park on the graphic below from the Monterey city website…

Story of Dennis the Menace Park

Part of the park’s attraction is a real train steam engine, located at the playground entrance.

My grandchildren have always called this park the “choo choo train” park, and love to climb inside and play around the train steam engine.

We always kept a close eye on them, and when they were smaller, accompanied them up the steps and around the structure.

These days, this is what you will see if you visit the train steam engine…

Boy looking at fenced off train web

…a fenced off area, and one disappointed little kid after another staring at the train.

The city’s explanation for the closure is below…

Steam Engine train closedBoy leaving fenced off steam engine webIf they have never played inside of it, it probably does not matter, they are just curious.  But if the kids are accustomed to playing inside (like my grandchildren), then they’ll be a bit brokenhearted after learning of the closure.

Despite the train steam engine area closure, there is a lot do in the wonderful playground, so it is still definitely worth a visit.

The playground is next to a lake (and an easy walk to the beach), and there are also paddle boats if you want to spend time on the lake itself.  More information here.

The climbing structure next to the train is a good place for kids to expend energy and get exercise.

I spent many years in the insurance industry so I understand liability issues and the reason for fencing off the steam engine area…but that does not make it easier to explain when my grandchildren ask “why did they close it, Lola…why can’t we go inside… like before?”

Train Stem Engine at playground

Do you think we are overprotective of children in our modern society?

If you have children or grandchildren, would you allow them to play in this train steam engine, within the confines of a park playground?

19 thoughts on “Broken little hearts at Dennis the Menace Playground

      • some times it isnt even an actual lawsuit, its the possiblity of one, and that seems a shame. If parents are ‘inattentive’ sometimes it’s in the eye of the beholder. Ive seen mothers drive their kids to the schoolbus stop at the end of their driveway and sit there until the kids are safely on the bus. Overprotective? oh yeah

    • As another observer of this issue noted : “What’s changed is attitudes toward safety. Liability for a playground injury requires negligence. Back then(the 50’s and 60’s after the train was installed), people on juries didn’t think it was negligent to let kids play on locomotives and spinning helicopter contraptions. Today they do. It’s a change in ideas about what kind of play is “appropriate” that makes liability greater today, not a greater willingness to sue. More here:

  1. Kids are curious beasts. They need to know why, and how, and how many. As a kid (and even as an adult) i’ve always been fascinated by trains, train stations, tracks. It seems the obvious and easy solution is to have a real live conductor on the train, or maybe a few “tcket takers” who can keep a careful but unobtrusive eye on the kids.

    And yeah, I think we’re way way over protective of them. You cant expect a chicken to survive if you open the shell for them, nor can you expect kids to survive iin a difficult world if you put mattresses down in fromt of them all the time.

    • Thanks for adding your thoughts to this, Judy. There is a Facebook page “Save The Train” stating…

      “Currently, Engine 1285 at Dennis the Menace Park in Monterey does not meet the playground safety codes for California. The City of Monterey is faced with bringing the engine up to code or losing it forever,” The last post was in March of this year.

      The consulting company hired by the city submitted a report over 2 years ago (its at ) if anyone reading this blog post wants to view.

      It is interesting to learn that the train was built in 1924, and has been there since 1956 (!) — meaning it has probably been climbed on by thousands upon thousands of kids, both locals and families visiting Monterey.

      There has to be a way to balance out playground safety codes and letting kids continue to play on the beloved structure. Creativity needed, and yes, your thoughts of “careful but unobtrusive eye on the kids”.

  2. I was just speaking with my friends and daughter the other day about this. People are too over protection of children and people are too quick to sue. Some protections are good, others make me sad. Nice post and photos

  3. Super post for this challenge, Lola Jane.
    We have definitely become over-protective. Grazed knees were treated with mercurachrome (can you believe it?), we were punished with the cane and I don’t remember knowing what a crash helmet was. As a generation, we did not turn out any worse for it, and definitely learned early that taking the hard knocks was part of life. The overly litigious society has become the bane of our lives.
    Having said all that, the current knowledge of the effects of concussion are appropriate in protecting some sports people from themselves and miserable later life.

    • It is amazing to me the things that we did as little kids. Sometimes my sisters and I look back —- and wonder how it was we survived our childhood without major injuries (like the time we slept on our slanted roof, close to the edge, not thinking we could roll off overnight and land on the concrete floor below)! But we turned out OK (or at least I think we did, haha!) 🙂

      Yes, since kids have little fear, I am happy about things like HELMETS, but like you, I didn’t have one when I was a kid riding my bike.

      We had a product called “merthiolate” in the Philippines for our scrapes and cuts, it is probably is similar to the mercurachrome, red in color when applied to the skin?

  4. As a Dennis the Menace fan from way back this was a disappointing post. To think that the kids are not allowed near the train…and to paraphrase another blogger ‘because parents are inattentive’. The way of the world unfortunately. Commonsense has long been dead and buried.

    • Oh gosh, I hope commonsense is not dead and buried… how do we, the older generation teach this? What happened? Is it all the rules and regulations, and then the average person does not venture to think for themselves?

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  6. I heard about this closure. I haven’t visited this park in decades! I had no idea they had those different structures there now. Do they still have that metal crane thing (I might be making this up – my memory is failing me)? I totally remember climbing all over the train when I was a kid. If I had ever gotten hurt, I can’t imagine my parents ever suing anyone over it.

    Your photos have made me curious to see the park with my own eyes! I’ve run past it several times in the last few years but never detoured into it…

    • It’s still a really great playground, Jane, and it’s nice to know you were one of the kids that climbed all over that train. It will be interesting to see if other kids get to do so again. The city must be close to a decision soon.

      Maybe the attitude of the new generation of parents is the difference… Like what your parents would do for example — if a kid got hurt climbing that train — vs. today’s parents.

      • Americans have certainly gotten progressively sue-happy over the years.

        I’m scratching my head a bit over seeing the rock wall – kids could certainly hurt themselves on that, too, right (and on any other thing they climb)?

        Remember when monkey bars only had concrete to break our falls?

        • Jane — I was thinking the same thing when I was posting the photos! My grandsons were climbing all over the rock wall — why is that open? But the ground is the squishy foam material (if my memory serves me right). The train had a myriad of other issues according to the report…

          Swing / slide areas, monkey bar area, etc.will have bark underneath of a certain required depth, and oh yes, I remember when the ground underneath was concrete. Yikes.

          Last year, one of my grandson’s classmate broke a wrist at elementary school after falling from the monkey bar, and I’m pretty sure he just had a cast, it healed, and that was that, no lawsuit.

          I think we have to balance out what we can do for safety, but also that there are certain risks anywhere we go, even at playgrounds, and we have to just let them play. We can’t control how they move, twist, jump, and how they land on the ground.

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