Working on a Mini Railroad

A lot of trains still travel through Central Kentucky... hauling cars or coal or chemicals... but almost never people. Passenger trains are pretty much a thing of the past, except at Heavenly Hilltop Railroad near Stamping Ground.

These trains often haul people all day long.. delivering smiles.

People like Walt Keinath bring their miniature trains here to run them on the tracks. He doesn't have anything like this in his backyard in Lexington. They come to hear the music of the rails and and to meet the conductor, Don Saager.

Saager started building his railroad in the late 1990s, after he retired as a tool and dye maker. He met other small train owners and it stoked a fire in him.

In 2000, he decided to build a full-blown steam engine from scraps of metal he had around his workshop or in junkyards.

"As I found a piece of material, I'd just make a part," he said.

And it all came together like a well-oiled machine.

"For me, being a tool and dye maker, it's the mechanical part that makes it awesome. You've got all these chunks fo metal that go together and it works. It moves, it has a life of its own, you know... especially on steam engines."

Saager prefers live steam, but his track also welcomes diesel engines and electric ones.

Like most hobbies, this one has a way of growing. Saager started out with just a loop of track. Now it covers five acres. It goes for a mile into the woods and has trestles and tunnels.

It's a lot of work, keeping these engines running and the track maintained, but for train lovers, it doesn't seem like work.

" I don't work. I play," said Saager.

"It keeps me out of the bars and I don't chase women. I chase trains. so I stay out of trouble that way."

The payoff is the reaction of first time passengers.

Keinath said "They're amazed by the size, how strong they are and what they do."

"It's a good feeling to make people happy and smile, especially kids." said Saager.

He's 74 now and figures he still has a lot of years to be workin' on the railroad.

"As long as possible. It keeps me young."

And his friends will be right there with him. He knows the clickety-clack will call them back.


NOTE: Heavenly Hilltop Railroad is not a tourist attraction. It's a place where hobbyists meet on private property.

If you want to learn more about the hobby, a good place to start is

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