February 3, 2004
Tifton-- In our do-it-yourself world, it seems nothing escapes amateurs from tackling a job professional workers would normally handle, even re-building a railroad.
People who dream of working on the railroad all the live long day can make it happen almost any weekend. "Saturdays and Sundays after lunch and most holidays. We come back after work during the summer when the days are longer," says Jamie Cater, a railroad enthusiast and co-project leader.
Jamie and his pal, Chris Parrott, became railroad memory-savers in 1997, joining their mutual interests in wanting to preserve Tifton's railroad history. "Chris is the railroad man," says Cater who credits his partner with teaching him about trains.
"It's just something about the mystique, the awe, the power. The whole thing kind of draws me, lures me in," says Chris Parrott, a graduate student at Valdosta State University and project leader. It lured Willie Ray Green, spiking his interest and he joined the re-building crew. "I've always wanted to work on the railroad," says Green.
He saw Jamie and Chris working at the Tift Avenue crossing and volunteered to help out. "I can swing a sledge hammer like a regular hammer," says Green. He moved track, and hammered spikes. They intend to re-build 1,500 feet of abandoned track, and while that doesn't sound very long, it took more than a month to re-build the roadbed.
"Getting the crossties level was the hardest part," says Chris. A borrowed fork lift does their heavy lifting. "Whoa," shouts Chris as Jamie lowers a rail with the borrowed fork lift. A sledge hammer fine tunes the placement.
"About an inch," says Chris, as Jamie hits the end of the rail with a sledge hammer. That was all it needed to line up a coupler. They get a kick out of having their fourth rail in place.
"That's good," says Chris after kicking the end of the rail into place.
Only 150 more rails need placing, using a homemade tool to gauge the track width, and a three-dollar wrench to tighten bolts. "It's kind of like learn as you go," says Chris who has read books and talked with railroad workers about how-to lay track. Some of the rails are older than the 24 year old project leader. "It's a labor of love," says Jamie. They have made significant progress. Already, they have an old train station for the museum, and two rail cars.
They need a locomotive to move them. With every hit, every piece of track laid, they move closer to the day of short train rides, and eating in a real dining car. "It's a new experience everyday," says Chris. Their train project, complete with a museum, gives history gets a chance to roll on again.
The volunteer rail workers hope to get their dream train rolling early next year, with several fund raising projects scheduled in the mean time. They welcome fellow train lovers.
For more information call: 229-382-1500.