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Big-scale dream becomes real rail.

Byline: LARRY BACON The Register-Guard

DEADWOOD - The train's wheels set up a rhythmic clickity-clack as they glide across the trestle and turn to follow a small creek swirling around a beaver dam topped with freshly cut willow branches.

"You'll probably see some pretty good-sized cutthroat trout here on your left," says 59-year-old Ray Robinson, engineer, president and chief gandy dancer of the Meadows and Lake Kathleen Railroad.

The train rolls for more than a half-mile under a canopy of alder and maple, past a spring-fed wood water tower with a sheen of water dripping down the side, along the edge of a bog brightened by gaudy yellow skunk cabbage blooms, through a tunnel, then on toward Lake Kathleen.

But then the track ends, the train rolls to a stop, and Robinson gets off his engine - a boxlike red and black converted lawn mower complete with bell and big-eye running light - and talks about his dream for the 1/4-scale railroad he started building six years ago.

The train runs on 18-inch gauge track, which means the rails sit 18 inches apart atop ties and a bed of gravel. It's the kind of railroad that was used in mines and timber mills early in the last century.

In fact, some of the rails on Robinson's railroad are more than 100 years old, from a long-gone California lumber mill. He held onto about 13,000 pounds of the track for than 20 years - moving it with his household goods seven times - before he and his wife, Kathy, found their remote 40-acre piece of heaven west of Deadwood in late 1995.

Robinson knew he wanted to build the little railroad even before he quit his 16-year job with the Southern Pacific railroad in California in 1977 to go into the landscaping business.

Railroading is in Robinson's blood. His father and grandfather spent a combined 95 years as SP engineers, and the Lionel electric train that chugged around the tree on his eighth Christmas is still one of his fondest memories.

He looked a long time for a place to build what would be the best-ever 18-inch gauge railroad layout. In 1989, he proposed Alton Baker Park in Eugene, but city leaders rejected his "Emerald Empire Railroad" idea - and later declined to embrace his vision of a streetcar system between Eugene and Springfield.

Now, he believes that the old homestead in the scenic valley where he and his wife have made their home is the perfect place for his dream project.

The trees, the stream, the wildlife, the large pond he calls Lake Kathleen - all add to a project he considers a giant piece of artwork. A railroad, he says, always incorporates graceful, flowing curves. "My idea is to have a railroad that flows through the forest," he says.

The Meadows and Lake Kathleen Railroad started with a hundred feet of track in 1996.

It's grown slowly in starts and stops as money became available and Robinson juggled his work schedule and commitments to his wife to fix up their new home.

He did the smaller railroad jobs by himself and for the bigger projects called in friends he said have been eager to help - either because they, too, are railroad buffs or because they're just enthusiastic about the project.

So far the 36-foot tunnel, about 7 feet high, has been the major project. Completed two years ago, it took Robinson and a helper about two months to build. They cut through an embankment, built the tunnel out of concrete, then put the earth back over it.

Robinson's landscaping speciality is building pools and waterfalls and he can make concrete look like real rock; the natural-looking artificial rock approaches to the tunnel make it look as though crews pushed it though a rocky hillside.

He treated the wood supports to make it look as though they've been there for a hundred years and has been adding bulging pieces of rock to the tunnel's interior.

"I'll make this whole thing look like it has tremendous pressure starting to cave everything in," he says.

With the train stopped at the end of the line, the gurgling stream and the wind in the leaves provide the only sounds in the quiet forest.

The train's two most-frequent passengers, a golden retriever named Sam and an Australian shepherd called Hooch, have already jumped off the two flatcars and are playing by the stream.

Robinson walks along the future railbed and explains what is yet to come.

He says he already has the beams for his next big project - a 300-foot long, 15-foot-high trestle that will make a sweeping left turn across the stream and become the most impressive feature of the rail line. He expects the trestle will be done in late fall or early spring.

"Then the railroad will be about 70 percent complete," he says.

The track still to be laid will run back across the stream, along the edge of the pond, past the Robinsons' house and back to the beginning point in a meadow below the house.

When it's finished, the railroad will be about a mile long. Robinson's hoping for that to happen in about 2 1/2 years, when he's ready to retire. Before that happens, he plans to acquire a working, six-passenger electric trolley.

When all the track is down, he wants to build a couple of sleeper cars so he can spend the night in one dozing while the train loops on automatic pilot around the route.

"That's been a 30-year desire," he says. " I may only do it once. Or I may do it every night. I don't know."

Robinson expects word of the little railroad to spread across the country to other 1/4-scale railroad enthusiasts, who will bring their engines and cars to run on his track. Many of them, he says, have concentrated their money and energy on putting together authentic-looking scale model rolling stock, some of it pulled by working miniature steam engines. But he says the track they usually run on is a simple oval in a field.

The little railroad has already proven a magnet for locals. Most people in the Deadwood Creek valley have ridden on it, Robinson says, and school classes come, along with a lot of old-timers who remember of glory days of train travel in the United States.

"When they ride, you can watch a 75- or 80-year-old man turn into a 10-year-old boy," he says. "You can see it in their eyes."

Kathy Robinson predicts that her husband will never really finish the railroad and will always be looking for ways to improve it. And she predicts that he will always look forward to sharing his creation with new people.

"It makes it all new to him again," she says.


Ray Robinson welcomes visits from railroad enthusiasts. You can reach him by calling 964-3111 or by e-mailing him at


Ray Robinson of Deadwood takes his dog Sam for a ride on the railroad he built and calls the Meadows and Lake Kathleen Railroad. Ray Robinson hasn't yet installed a crossing sign on his half-mile of track in Deadwood, but some of the rails on Robinson's railroad are authentic and more than 100 years old.
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Title Annotation:Recreation
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 23, 2002
Previous Article:Business Beat.
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