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Lord of the rails

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Posted: Saturday, April 2, 2011 6:15 am | Updated: 1:14 pm, Sat Apr 2, 2011.

What stemmed from a quick escape to the train yard when he was just 5 years old is now a full-time hobby for Don Saager. 

Saager, who lives in northwestern Scott County, owns Heavenly Hilltop Railroad. He designed and built it to his liking, based on trains he admired in his youth.

Although he has always liked trains, he never thought about building a railroad through his property until 1997, when he went to Nashville, Tenn., and saw a train running through a Davidson County park.

Knowing he had the property for it, Saager built a railroad that is nearly a mile long.

It includes a round track that goes downhill to a 12-foot-high trestle, and a tunnel. The railroad runs through 3 acres of his land and includes a working water well, Holbrook’s Noxious Gas Works with a working bathroom, a barn with plastic horses and decorations he and his wife have picked up at yard sales. 

Currently on the track are two steam engines with seats that can hold six to eight people.

He is working on two more in his shop, based on trains he fell in love with when he chased them in New Mexico and Arizona.

One of those is a K-27 train he saw in New Mexico with the engine number of 463.

“Every part on here I know very intimately; I caressed every part.”

Saager, 69, is a volunteer worker for R.J. Corman, where he is a part of the steam engine program group.  Earlier, he worked at Commonwealth Tool in Stamping Ground as a mechanical design engineer.

Saager moved to Scott County in 1979 from Wisconsin and married Rebecca, a teacher and a volunteer at the Scott County Humane Society.

“She is happy I have this hobby,” said Saager, who has named one of his three dogs R.J. Corman. “It keeps me out of bars. I am either in the shop or on the railroad.”

The railroad is constantly evolving, as Saager comes up with new ideas at meetings of train hobbyists.

But for now, everything he has is exactly what he wants.

“I could have a crazy world, but this is all I want, it is enough to keep me busy,” he said.

Train meets are held throughout the U.S., and each host railroad has a different layout. Some may have elaborate bridges and tunnels while others are simple, but the events typically draw the same people.

“No matter where you go, you’ll see a lot of the same people and the friendship is great,” Saager said. “It’s a great hobby.”

It is also an expensive hobby, and if Saager were to estimate the price, he would not like the answer.

“I would probably shoot myself,” he said. “It’s hard to say.”

Each of the railroad’s 450 track panels — sections of track — is 10 feet long and costs about $25 to $30. Then there is the cost of materials to make train parts and repair the trains.

“No two trains are the same. Some have more power and subtle differences. It’s like women — they’re all the same but they’re all different.”

Saager is eager to show off what he has built.

On May 21, he will hold his first train meet.

The railroad will be open to the public that day, but Saager is always happy to show it off to visitors.

His passion for his hobby keeps him going, Saager said.

“It’s a crazy hobby and there are a lot of crazy guys in it,” he said. “It keeps me young, it keeps me moving, it keeps me out of trouble. It’s going to keep me moving for a long time.”

“Sometimes I feel like the field of dreams.”

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