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[Sandia Lab News]

Vol. 53, No. 7 April 6, 2001
[Sandia National Laboratories]

Albuquerque, New Mexico 87185-0165    ||   Livermore, California 94550-0969
Tonopah, Nevada; Nevada Test Site; Amarillo, Texas

All aboard! Doug Drumheller's Dream Express

By Iris Aboytes

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When was the last time you had a dream that you made come true? Doug Drumheller did. In secluded woods east of Albuquerque, reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting, Doug built a toy train. The quiet 2-1/4 acres with mountain spring is interrupted only by the distant ringing of a shiny brass bell.

[Doug Drumheller's train]

All Aboard! Doug Drumheller aboard his backyard train (Photo by Randy Montoya)


The train includes a four-foot-long engine weighing about 600 pounds, a five-foot riding car, and a five-foot flat car. It runs on a 7-1/2 gauge, 800-foot track, which Doug expects to grow to about 1,500 feet when completed. The track currently includes two trestle bridges and two viaducts. His plans include several more bridges to allow the track to snake up an arroyo.

Doug, a wave-propagation guru from Geothermal Research Dept. 6211, is an unassumingly talented individual. His matter-of-fact attitude and the deceptive mischief behind his smile reveal only his dry sense of humor. When talking about his hobby he never describes it as work. He compares it to playing golf. In the same breath, he also quotes Dave Barry, who says about hobbies: "There is no difference between a hobby and insanity."

After revealing to his wife, Phylis, that he was tired of being an adult and wanted to be a child again, Doug began work on his dream. But the work actually began after the design, the research, and the all-important commitment -- mutual commitment.

With Phylis, his partner, consultant, and full-time laborer, he excavated rock and soil and transformed a seemingly perfect landscape into a little piece of heaven. The tall piņons and peaceful mountain spring provided the canvas to which Doug and Phylis added toil, sweat, and a lot of heart.

It took him six months to build the electric engine from scrap steel. It is no ordinary engine. It has a controller that makes it run at an almost impossible crawl, or at full speed. The track has steep grades and several sharp turns -- one called the "irrational radius -- that are normally hard for a train to maneuver through," he says.

Except for the actual rails, Doug and Phylis machined and built everything themselves. There were retaining walls to be made out of rock, trestles to be erected out of treated lumber, redwood to be curved for walkways over the bridges, and lots and lots of track to be built. Doug excavates soil on one end, and with the help of the General (the name of the engine), fills the other end.

Besides Phylis his only help came from a 1953 milling machine and a 1922 lathe with overhead flat-belt spindles. What he calls "blasting" came from a pick and shovel with the Drumhellers providing the explosive power.

With neighbors and onlookers, to say nothing of the visitors from the church down the hill, work has been measured a weekend at a time. Phylis says they welcome weekend visitors especially when they bring a shovel with them. The only thing obviously missing from this picture is a railroad crossing sign. When asked, Doug only mumbled, comparing it to a rubber tire and pink flamingos (retro fifties). So, I guess that means no sign.

With my eyes closed while riding the train through the peacefulness of the tall pines, I felt what Doug wanted to achieve: "Being a child again."

Last modified: March 22, 2000


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