The great train robbery

Everyone I meet has a wish list. They all have long and short term goals. Some dreams are small, others grandiose. Most dreams have been held for years. And right after they tell me of their wonderful wishes they start giving me reasons why they haven't (and probably won't)  accomplish their goals. This litany is often longer than the wish list.

We are all busy. No one is exempt. Especially me. We all struggle to balance our family life and business responsibilities. Through all my years I've only met one person who had enough money to realize his goals. The rest of us fall far short. So how is it that some realize their goals while the rest of us simply wish? I believe the answer isn't in the big things but rather in a thousand small steps we need to do each and every day.

My wish list is long. I need goals to work towards, to motivate me. But how do I get from merely wishing to celebrating these achievements? First I need a realistic plan. Buying lottery tickets or deciding to simply wait until we have the time and money most likely will not get me any closer to my goal. I have to get busy immediately. We all waste time each day... five minutes here, ten minutes there, sometimes more. I would steal some of some of this time back and apply it to my goal. Imagine how fast that time will add up! Let me tell the story of one of my long term dreams to illustrate my point...

I want a large scale train to circle our property. It's my belief that every grampa should have an electric train to share with his grand kids. Mine would simply be a little larger than most, the engine measuring six feet tall and eight feet long with a cab large enough to hold at least one grand child and myself.

We build similar projects for theme parks from time to time and they can easily run $250,000 - $500,000. To even dream of such a train in our backyard is very silly - and totally unaffordable. Out of the question actually! If I waited for when we could afford it or had the time to do it then it would never happen. But I wanted that train and I had a plan. I called it 'the great train robbery'. This plan called for stealth efforts, teeny manageable steps to get me to a very large goal. 

I first designed my little train, did a bunch of research in how to do it and then set my plan of action in motion. I surveyed the property to determine the grades, turning radii and needed elevations. This took a while, done a few minutes here and there over a number of months. Phoebe and I would drive the ridem mower around the yard, imagining where the train would travel. 

I went to town on some errands and stopped in at a metal fabrication place. I went directly (with permission) to their scrap yard. I found a couple of pieces of steel suitable for my project and gave the guy $20 which is the price he put on the steel. I could afford twenty bucks no problem. I could also afford the time to trim, weld and grind those two pieces to fit. In a few hours of spare time I had made a little progress towards my goal. It was no longer merely an armchair dream. A few weeks later on another errand run to town I bought a couple more pieces for my grampa train and found some spare time to work them.  It wasn't long until the beginnings of a train engine were taking shape in my shop.

Soon, as word got out about my little project people began to volunteer parts and pieces. I acquired a bell, an antique brass whistle and someone even offered to help turn the wheels from billets of steel that I had also collected.

At this point I had to start spending a little more money if this dream was to come to fruition and the pocket change I threw in a jar each night wasn't going to cut it. No dream comes without some sacrifice. There was a hot rod stashed in the back of our shop. I was making good progress but there was still far, far to go. I knew if I concentrated on the train over the next few years the hotrod would simply gather dust. We had a house to build as well. I had to make a choice and focus on that specific project alone. I sold the incomplete hotrod. The bit of money I realized from the sale of my project car would buy some pieces of the train I couldn't build or trade for. 

Over the next couple of years we built the chassis and bodies of the engine and two cars. I managed to wrangle a trade for a quarter of the required track needed to circle the yard. The engine still lacked motive power and the tracks only went a few hundred feet up the driveway but we were making progress. I've pushed the train back and forth a hundred times with Phoebe in the cab, imagining herself the engineer, ringing the bell loudly for all to hear. When I got tired of pushing the entire train we would ride the flatcar instead.

The project stalled until we could design and build a new house on the property, and that dream like all others we held had to wait for it's time. Once started, the house took three years to complete. When we planned the asphalt driveway budget, enough money for steel track to go that distance and a little more was included. The track now went half way around our small acreage.

Last week a long time business acquaintance dropped by for a visit. I had done work for her dad more than two decades ago. Her company is in the rail business. She took note of the train and asked if we needed more track. I measured things up. In late spring the railroad track will finally be complete. It's time to dust off the mechanical pieces I've been collecting and fit them in place. I suspect the engine will be fully powered about the same times the last spike is driven. 

From start to present the project has taken almost fourteen years so far. Work will continue for a while yet but we've managed to acquire a very fine backyard train. Dreaming is fun but doesn't get one far down the track. Time and sweat equity accounted for the bulk of my investment. Creative thinking through every aspect of the design and construction process made it possible. I missed a lot of couch time in front of the TV but I believe my life is better because of it. I can hardly wait to experience the delightful experience of sitting beside my grand children as we pilot the rig around the yard on endless wonderful adventures. That is the true nature of my dream.

To do it we had to pull off 'the great train robbery!'

-grampa dan

Dan Sawatzky1 Comment