Building a railroad from scratch
SILT MESA – Dick Maddock has invested his skills as a machinist, thousands of dollars and thousands of hours of his time building a railroad that he can ride in his Silt Mesa yard.He has built a miniature steam locomotive and two diesel locomotive replicas, laid more than a half mile of track, and installed a trestle and a tunnel across acres of well-manicured lawn that take him five hours to mow.Yet for all of Maddock’s efforts, something seems unmistakably amiss. One of his locomotives has a hitch in its gait. It rolls down the track with an obvious wobble.How to explain such an imperfection in this perfectionist’s world? How, even, to ask the question of him?
But I do, and the answer says even more about the degree of railroad realism to which Maddock aspires.When he was building Rio Grande locomotive 3099, he accidentally bent an axle. Then he remembered something about the real 3099.”It had bad wheels on it. It kind of wobbled like that,” he said.He realized a bent axle would produce the same effect.”I thought, that’s the way 3099 was, so I’m going to leave it that way,” he said.
Maddock got started in his railroad hobby as so many youths do, with a model railroad when he was 4 or 5. By age 12 he had taken over a room in the basement of his Denver home to build an HO-scale track.At 15, though, his family moved to a new home without room for train tracks.”I kind of gave up on it for a while,” he said.He paused. It was the perfect time to repeat a saying Maddock said is common among local railroad enthusiasts.”A boy starts out with trains, then switches over to girls, then goes back to trains,” he said with a grin.Maddock, now 60, got back to trains when his own son, Duane, took an interest in them.
Eventually Maddock began to pursue dreams beyond basement-scale model railroads. All his life, he had wanted a steam locomotive, so in 1998 he bought a kit. He put in 1,200 hours assembling it over the next year.He modeled his steam locomotive after the Rio Grande 713.”It was stationed in Salida. They scrapped it in 1926,” he said.Maddock’s authentic engine is powered by coal, which takes 45 minutes of burning before the engine is ready to run.Run, but on what?”After I had the train built I said, ‘Well, I need some track to run it on,’ so I starting building this,” he said, surveying the 3,200 feet of rail that circle part of his 4-acre property.”I’ll probably finish it the day before I die,” he said.He eventually wants to double the track’s length. The rails are 7.5 inches apart, and he has welded every metal tie that holds them down and hauled all the gravel base that underlies them.
As time went by, Maddock looked out into his sloping orchard and took his railroad a step farther by building a trestle that lifts his train into the air, against the splendid backdrop of the mountains south of Silt.”I figure I have 80 miles of wood in that if you laid it all end to end,” he said.His diesel replicas actually run on a gas engine. He had no kit to guide him; instead he built the locomotives from scratch.”I took an HO-scale engine and scaled it up and started making parts,” he said.It would cost about $16,000 to buy a similar locomotive, unpainted, Maddock said.His railroad includes several cars, including a tanker he constructed himself and a refrigeration car built by his son. A black, Colorado Midland Palace Stock Car and a Rio Grande caboose pay tribute to two historic Colorado railroads.Maddock said his son helps out with his project.”He lives in Denver but he comes over on weekends and we play trains.”
Maddock’s wife, Janet, tolerates his hobby pretty well, while enjoying her own hobby of knitting, he said.”I tell you what, some of the yarn is expensive,” he added, again with that slight grin. Maddock acknowledged that he is indulging in a “champagne habit on a beer budget.” He said his hobby makes it almost mandatory to be a machinist, or know someone who is one.Jan Girardot, managing director of the Glenwood Railroad Museum, said Maddock has put his talents to good work.”The fact that he’s used all of his machine skills to do what he’s done out there I think is really amazing,” he said.Maddock has worked his entire career as a machinist. He lived 12 years in Wyoming, and worked at a Union Oil uranium mine. The oil shale boom brought him to Garfield County, also with Union.After that boom went bust, he started a machine shop at his home. In 1994, he moved his business to downtown Silt.
Thanks to the natural gas industry boom, business at Pioneer Machine & Tool is going all too well, keeping Maddock plenty busy. He wishes he had more time to pursue his hobby, and looks forward to a day when he can retire and just build and sell trains from his home, and continue traveling to other states to meet others who share his interest and gather to ride miniature trains on elaborate, miles-long tracks.For now, though, Maddock always can fire up one of his locomotives, blow his whistle and go clackety-clacking down his own tracks. He can pass a double-spouted water tank he built that’s like one that used to be found in Glenwood Springs. He can lose himself in the little world he has created.He can watch and feel Rio Grande 3099 wobble, and know all is right with that world.Contact Dennis Webb: firstname.lastname@example.org
Post Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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