Special Report: One Track Mind

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OWENSBORO, Ky. (WBKO) -- Born in his parent's home near the Central Kentucky Division Railroad, Eddie James' love of locomotives runs deeper than the tracks next to his childhood home.

"Probably the first sound I ever heard in this world was a steam engine blowing the whistle, because there was a lot of traffic on that railroad," he smiles.

With each passing year, James' fascination with the trains and the tracks only grew stronger.

When he moved to Owensboro in 1956, there was no way for him to predict that the hobby that had become his first love would lead him to his true love.

"One night daddy was kind of bored, and I said go get your book out and see if there's somebody in this area that you can go talk trains to," says James' wife Betty Jean James, as she begins to motion toward her husband, indicating he was the one her father found that night. "It was nightime, about nine o'clock. Knocks on the front door, and that's the end of it. From there they got to be friends."

More than 50 years of marriage later, the couple that fell in love continues to live in the very first home they bought together, along with hundreds of toy trains and railroad memorabilia.

"I don't count them. I don't have any idea how many cars, locomotives or any of this I have," insists James.

Out of all the lanterns, lights and locomotives there is one piece James says he won't let go as long as he's alive, and it's a piece he handcrafted himself.

"It's a little HO Engine, it's number ten, and at that time the K and T railroad was still operating pulling coal and timber out of doors down through there. And number ten became my favorite locomotive."

With a passion for trains stronger than a hundred engines put together, some might say James was destined for a career on the tracks.

"Never worked for the railroads. I volunteered for one of them, but I have never actually worked for the railroads. I always tell people I didn't want to spoil my fun."

Instead he considers himself a historian as well as a collector, going so far as to co-found the Owensboro and elsewhere Railroad Club with seven other locomotive enthusiasts.

"I'm the only one left out of the original eight. When we observed our 25th anniversary, all eight of us were still involved and still living, and since that time over the years they have passed on."

The club now boasts a membership between 55 and 60 members, a few of which travel across Kentucky and nearby states with James to buy and sell collectibles. Twice a year, that brings James to the Bowling Green L&N Depot, a railroad he explains was instrumental during the Civil War as a halfway mark between Louisville, Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee.

"There were many battles up and down that line between the Union and the Confederacy over operation of that railroad. Bowling Green was kind of the central point on that line."

It's a passion coursing through James' veins, and he's convinced it's part of the reason his heart is still beating.

"I've been retired now for almost 17 years, and it keeps me active and keeps me busy. I can spend as much or as little time as I want in this. And when people retire that have no hobbies, or avocation or interest of any kind, whether it's golf, trains or whatever -- fishing, hunting --
then they sit around and do nothing and they don't last very long."

Some call it a hobby, but others say it's a higher calling, one in which James keeps a nation's vibrant railroad history rolling on down the tracks to the next generation.

"Somebody has to let people know what transpired before us and if we don't do that then we are going to lose a lot."

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