Garrard County couple combines passion for trains and builds their own railroad
Published 8:22 am Friday, November 24, 2017
LANCASTER — Many children love to watch trains. As adults, some continue enthusiastically collecting trains and watching them chug by. And when two of these grown-ups meet and combine their passion for trains — they build a railroad.
But Billy and Gina Rice didn’t just build a typical small-scale model railroad track (though they do have that, as well, on a platform set up in their basement). They built a railroad with a real engine and cars to ride on in their yard on Fork Church Road in Garrard County.
On weekdays, the Rices work in the medical field. She has worked at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center for 39 years as a registered nurse and is currently the Magnet Program Coordinator. Billy is a cardiac sonographer at at Baptist Health in Somerset.
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But on weekends they are railroad builders.
Gina said she grew up around trains — from small indoor models all the way up to large outside trains to ride. When her family moved from Pennsylvania to Nicholasville, her dad built tracks in their backyard where she and her brothers, her mom and the neighborhood kids could ride around on the train. One of her brothers lives in the same house and has continued their father’s love of trains sharing rides.
Gina and Billy met several years ago when they worked together in an ambulance.
“I was the nurse taking the patient from Ephraim McDowell to Lexington. He (Billy) was in the ambulance too. He was sometimes the driver and sometimes the medic caring for the patient with me. That’s how we met,” Gina said. “I told all the guys if they would like to have their families come ride the train I would meet them there at Dad’s house, and he is the only one who took me up on it.”
Gina laughed when she recalled, “Our first date ended up when he asked, ‘would you take me to see your dad’s trains?'”
Even though Billy had always loved trains, he said he never had the space to collect any. When he saw Gina’s father’s ride-on train, it was the first time he even knew they existed.
After they married and combined their interest in trains, Billy decided he wanted to build one of his own.
“We’ve got about seven years in it now,” Billy said.
It’s not near completion, but in late October, they finally laid the last 60 feet to make a full circular 900-foot track. Now they can ride ride around and around, not just back and forth, Billy said.
In his original design, the railroad included more than 3,000 feet of tracks with a bridge, tunnel and trestle.
“I asked him about a year ago, because he kept making the comment, ‘I’ll probably never have it done, never have it done.’ And I said, ‘You really never ever want to have it done? Or do you really want to have it done so you can go and enjoy it at some point?'”
So Billy shortened his design to eventually be 2,000 feet long placed in an elongated figure-eight path.
They already have a covered train station, named Faith Garden Station, where you can wait for a ride. There is also a walking bridge high over the tracks so that you don’t have to step over them to get to the station. Billy hopes to also add a yard tower for kids to climb up and look over everything. And the tunnel and trestle are still in the future plans.
Most of the ride-on cars came from Gina’s dad’s collection. He passed away about four years ago, and she and her brothers divided the small scale train collections and ride-on cars.
For their railroad, Gina and Billy have her dad’s padded seat car, a box car, tanker car (which doubles as a cooler) and a caboose with a removable roof for little kids to ride in.
The small engine was made from a kit. It’s powered by two deep-cycle car batteries. “It’s a little baby engine,” Billy said with a great big smile. “But it gets the job done.” It can easily pull four people.
“It will probably be two to five years before we get the real thing. But we will,” Billy said confidently.
or now, Billy and Gina enjoy spending time together riding on their train. Being out in the country where you hear cows mooing and dogs barking, it’s also relaxing to sit back, close your eyes and listen to the soft clickity clacking of the cars while smoothly gliding along the aluminum rails, which gently rock the cars.
“I like just riding around. I mean, it’s just relaxing. You just cruise around — you know how some people are when they mow their yards. Well, I do that too when I mow the yard. But you have to pay attention when you mow,” Billy laughed. But riding on a train car — “it’s kind of an unwinding feeling.”
There are also outdoor railroad clubs all over the country where train owners can take their engine and a car or two and ride the rails. Billy tries to go to the Eagle Point Rail Road near Chattanooga, Tennessee, at least once a year. This privately owned hobby railroad is laid out on about 37 acres of wilderness, Billy said.
He loads up a couple of cars in his pickup truck and heads to the mountains where he joins nearly 100 other train enthusiasts. Billy said it takes about an hour and a half to complete the circuit. And at the end of the day, he sleeps in his truck.
“We’re just a bunch of kids,” Billy said.
The couple said they love sharing their railroad with people who are curious about the project. Cars and trucks zoom by their home, Gina said. But now a lot of them slow down to take a peek. And when Gina and Billy are outside working, sometimes strangers stop by to ask what they’re building. They’re often rewarded for their curiosity with a ride.
However, actually building a railroad is not relaxing. It’s hard work. There are rail panels to construct, long trenches to dig and literally tons of rock to shovel — all by hand, Billy said.
Gina also tends to 28 flower beds surrounding the property.
Gina said they decided on Faith Garden for the name of their railroad because, “We wanted to have a spiritual side,” and make it a type of ministry.
Gina is the choir leader for first- through fifth-graders at Gesthemene Baptist Church in Danville. And she and Billy treat the children’s choirs and their families to train rides each spring.
Gina said. “We chose the name on faith.”
“Yeah” Billy laughed, “and hopefully by faith we can get it done!”
Gina suggested that if any Boy Scouts want to earn their Railroading Merit Badge, Faith Garden Station is the place to go. Her two grown sons are Eagle Scouts and earned their badges at her dad’s backyard railroad.
“We could have a Boy Scout Troop out here and almost completely earn the Railroading Merit Badge, just by coming out here. We have the four different scales of trains. He (Billy) can tell them how to build the track and what to do with it. They can do everything, like switch the cars and whatever else.”
She said Scouts did it at her father’s railroad and they can earn their badges in Garrard County as well.