Miniature train treats neighborhood passengers

June 1998

By Leah J. Simmons of The Daily Ardmoreite, Oklahoma

ARDMORE, Okla. — A streak of silver, orange and yellow chugging along open rails tows behind it coal and hopper cars, a red caboose and flatbed car on which two smiling engineers in striped overalls sit on secured wooden boxes.

As eager train spectators line the tracks, the engineer gives a hearty wave and the train lets off a resounding whistle as it clickety-clacks on in its determined journey.

Finally churning to a stop, beaming-faced passengers pile out of the cars and give up their places to those waiting for a ride. Balanced atop the rocking cars, the engineer blows the whistle again and another group sets off around the 1,600-foot track that encircles Jack Carroll's 3-acre property in Majestic Hills.

This is the J and M Rail Road. This is Carroll's pride and joy.

Carroll's railroad interest was spurred many years ago when he was just a tot watching his grandfather who was a train conductor for Santa Fe Railroad.

"That's how I got interested in it," Carroll said. "I was 5 when he died. We lived in Enid and Santa Fe used to have an old doodlebug — one of those powered cars that ran back and forth from Enid to Oklahoma City. I had an aunt and uncle that lived in Guthrie and my memories (of my grandfather) are him loading me in that old car and sending me off to Guthrie where they'd come get me. And I remember going down and meeting him when he'd come in off of his run."

Carroll still has the pocket watch and conductor's hat his grandfather used on the railroad, along with his old lantern, his grandfather's keys, engineer's book, brakeman's badge, train passes and his first paycheck — a whopping 92 cents.

Being a pilot for Samedan, one would expect Carroll's interest to be among the clouds. But he never forgot about the trains. It just took a while for his own dream project to evolve.

"Back when I was a kid during the war, we didn't have toys," Carroll said. "Then, when I got older, I didn't have time. Now it just seemed the pieces fell into place."

Carroll said he and his wife, Marilyn, — who embodies the "M" in the railroad name — first started thinking about building a track in January. On his trips for Samedan, he researched and visited similar railroads in different states.

"We first started thinking about model trains," Carroll said. "We were in a hobby shop in Texas and someone there told us about a guy who had a train like this. We went and looked at it and Marilyn said, 'This is what I want.'"

The rail cars were built by a company in Virginia, but Carroll said he hopes to tackle some cars of his own in the future. The engine was built in Oregon. All of the cars have the same number and paint scheme as the originals after which they were modeled.

The engine itself is 24 inches tall, 9-1/2 feet long, 17 inches wide and weighs 1,000 pounds. Each of the cars weighs approximately 125 pounds apiece. The engine is powered by a hydraulic motor and a Briggs and Stratton two-cylinder motor that runs a pump.

"This thing will pull 25 cars, with a couple of people in each car," Carroll said. "Actual speed, it will go 8 miles per hour. I usually run about 4 mph. In scale speed, 10 mph would be about 80 mph. I'm just not comfortable with it wide open."

"We started in March 1996 actually building the track," Carroll said. "We've had a lot of help. Our neighbors have helped a lot. I've got a good friend in Ardmore (O.P. Higby) that is a train nut that has helped me a lot. I'll be outside working on the track and (neighbors) will come by and bolt bolts and scoop gravel and then go on their way."

As an example of just how much the neighborhood is involved, Mrs. Carroll told how when the two of them were out of town, neighbors got together and built the crossing for the Carrolls' driveway and brought it over before they came back.

"When we got home, they all came back and we laid it in the ground," she said.

Once word got around about the Carrolls' railroad, everyone wanted to get involved.

Jess Button, father of the Carrolls? friend Rita Supan, decided he wanted to be a part of it. From his workshop in Oklahoma City, Button — a woodcarver and railroad lover — carved letters and a heart for the sign that sits outside the couple's driveway entrance. The large red heart bears the words "J & M Rail Road ... in the heartland of Majestic Hills."

A lady at church took a railroad pin off her dress that Mrs. Carroll admired and handed it over to her. Others at both Mrs. Carroll's office and at Samedan have given the couple gifts of train memorabilia, as have many of their relatives, neighbors and friends.Carroll said he was always fascinated with the railroad from an engineering standpoint, but now has a heightened appreciation of what it took to build something that massive.

"Try to build the railroad I've built," he said. "We had grown men out here scratching their heads trying to figure out how to make a switch work or how to make a smooth curve and hope it works. This is a labor of love, not a lot of money, so we've had to come up with creative ways to figure things out."

The railroad itself consists of about 1,600 feet of track. The outside loop is 1,200 feet and the inside track is 350 to 400 feet, Carroll said.

"I've got a little over 5,000 ties made. We ripped 2 by 4s and cut them into lengths (to make the ties). That's probably been the most tedious," he said. "We used over 16,000 screws putting the rails on. The track's aluminum. It's cut into 10-foot sections. I work on it all the time and keep it up. I have to go out and relevel it."

Just last winter, Carroll had to do some repair work on the northeast curve of the track, which lay in the yard"s drainage path and kept washing out. To solve the problem, he built a 2-foot-high trestle, which also added to the track's aesthetic appeal.

The whole length of the track circles around the Carrolls' home and winds by the neighborhood mailboxes. In the afternoons, Carroll will get the train out to run it, then remember the mail, and chug right up to the mailboxes for a special delivery.

"They throw the newspaper right out here, too, so I pick it up at the same time," he said. "I get a lot of kidding about that."

But all kidding aside everyone wants their turn on the train, even the adults. Carroll said he is more than happy to give anyone a ride on the train if he has time and they have an interest.

The level of interest in the Carrolls' train changes with age groups, but not necessarily how you might think.

"With real little kids about 5 or 6 (years old), they go two laps around, then they get bored," he said. "With the older ones, about 8, 9, or 10, they get more into it because I can teach them how to run it. Teen-agers, especially the girls, they don't want anybody to see them sitting on it. The adults, they all like it.

"I tell people driving by that if the train's out, stop by," he said. "If they call and we're not here or we're busy, we'll tell them. But I'm happy to share this with them."

Distributed by The Associated Press

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