Louisville Magazine

FEB 2019

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 2.19 73 Kevin Cook was five years old in the late 1950s, riding on the Pennsylva- nia Railroad, wide-eyed as the train slowly inched toward another engine coming from the rail yard's side track. e engineer on board saw the wonder mixed with panic in the boy's blue eyes, said, "Do you want to pull the brake?" Without hesitation, the boy stopped the train so fast that everybody ended up against the wall. Cook's dad — a brakeman and conductor, like his dad had been, and his dad's dad — yelled: "Don't you ever big-hole it without telling someone first!" Big-hole — to lose all air in the automatic brake valve in an emergency stop. By then, Cook already had a toy train, an "HO" scale set. (HO is the most common train model size.) He was so obsessed with it that he broke it trying to pull it off a shelf one day. At age eight, he used a ping-pong table to build a 5-by-10-foot layout with houses and trees, wiring his own switches so one train would stop at a cross while another passed. A couple years later, he was back on a real train with his dad, two brothers and great-uncle, who was in charge of the line running from Orrville to Columbus, Ohio, where Cook grew up. Cook was part of his uncle's impromptu crew when the pickup call came from Killbuck. He'll never forget pulling the throttle that day, even if it only upped the speed to 15 miles per hour in the slow zone. At 14, it took him six months of payments to buy a miniature brass engine. He disassem- bled it the first night he had it, its pieces spread on his dad's workbench, his mother in dismay until he had it all back together hours later. As a transportation major at Kent State, he wrote his thesis on railway transport versus ground trans- port, about how the friction of a steel wheel on a rail is much more efficient than a rubber tire on asphalt. Books like Trains of the Old West amassed in Cook's collection, now displayed in a room at Roundhouse Electric Trains, which opened in Windy Hills in 1983, and which Cook has frequented for parts for forever and has owned for eight years. When Cook bought the place in the Browns- boro Road Shopping Center from founder Tom Bundiak — who has a photographic memory when it comes to postwar Lionel model trains, and who can fix a train before most people can diagnose what's wrong — three other shops like it still existed in town. "We're the last man standing," says Cook, 64. He didn't know then that it'd grow into 10 rooms that unfold like a maze. One room contains stuff to build scenes: fake trees, old warehouses, little cars with working headlights and taillights, tiny people, a sheep. In another: pre-WWII vintage trains and G trains — the big ones that can run outside. Cook throws out a bunch of fractions, says, "If you do your math right, you know that the HO is 1/512th of a G-gauge." In a garage next door, the crew — including Bundiak and a rotating cast of usually retired 50-somethings who want a hobby — builds layouts. e main room has $1,400 locomotives, aka big steamers, like the CSX model that resembles the train that rolls from Frankfort to Louisville during Derby, and the beloved L&N model. In the office, some repairs wait to be picked up. Some trains just needed a "C&L" — clean and lube — while others had wheels replaced. Some light bulbs — marble size, pearl size, down to peppercorn size — burned out, were swapped out. e crew replaces lots of couplers, those pieces that fit the train cars together; kids often bang them together. "Working with trains teaches you so many things," Cook says. "e wiring, mechanical en- gineering. e form, fit and feel of how things go together. How to work with your hands and tools. Game Boys and Xbox don't help anybody. "I call it therapy. You get to build your own world that works here the way you want it to. At your own speed. e real world is pretty messed up at times, but this is a retreat." Roundhouse Electric Trains 4870 Brownsboro Center

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