After spending nearly a decade to transform their basement into a model railroad wonderland, a Jefferson City father and son are taking their love of trains outdoors.
Randy Hackman and his father, Kenneth, are starting to construct what they believe will be the second largest outdoor garden railroad in the nation. They hope to have the $210,000-plus project finished by next summer, then make it available to the public free of charge during certain times.
"We plan to finish by July 5," Randy Hackman said. "We want the main line running, which right now we're ahead of schedule and under budget, which is always a good thing."
He said they aren't looking to make money. They just want to get people, especially kids, off the couch playing video games and excited about model railroading.
"Dad wants to be able to give kids something to do other than do drugs and to get up from the television or the video games and actually learn something," Randy Hackman said. People can learn math, reasoning and other skills through model railroading, he said.
Kenneth Hackman, 79, started building model railroads 63 years ago with a high school friend, John Sturm. Now a retired Union Pacific conductor, Sturm is one of a handful of people helping the Hackmans with the project.
The elder Hackman got his son into the hobby at a young age. Randy Hackman lives with his father, a retired postal worker whose wife, Belva, died a couple years ago. The father and son now devote much of their time to their railroading hobby.
The plan for their outdoor railroad project is to create a model railroad in F scale, which is roughly a 1:20 scale. That's much larger than the typical HO scale, which has a ratio of 1:87.
The railroad will be modeled after four real narrow-gauge railroads in Colorado: The Cumbres and Toltec, Georgetown Loop, Cripple Creek, and Durango and Silverton. All are still operational. Everything will be set in the time period from 1800-1910, from the trains to the buildings to the way people dressed.
Features in their backyard project will represent a canyon and the Rocky Mountains, while a creek in the yard will represent the Animas River. A lake will be created in the middle of the display, and a tunnel has already been dug out of a berm in the yard. The scenery will be as authentic to Colorado as possible, from native flowers to evergreen trees. Many miniature, but real, flowers and trees will be used.
Making the model railroad look realistic should be easier for the Hackmans - they've been to the area countless times and ridden the train lines there 11 times. The elder Hackman would have moved there long ago if not for the harsh winters.
One of the engines on the track will be a live steam engine, powered by diesel rather than coal, and will cost $5,000.
Their love for railroads and model railroading is apparent to anyone who meets them. They recently greeted a reporter in railroad T-shirts. They chose the location of their log cabin home, located in Cole County a few minutes west of Capital Mall, because Union Pacific's westbound line is not far from their front yard.
When a reporter asked during a follow-up phone interview whether they've seen a train go by today, Randy Hackman answered: "So far this morning, we've seen four coal trains, three freights, a double stack and an auto" train that carries cars and car parts. At another point, he interjected: "Hold on. There's a train going by."
The Hackmans are not seeking donations for the project, but they would love to enlist more volunteers. They can be reached at 573-584-9418.