His doctor told him if he didn't pick up a hobby, his heart would kill him in a matter of years.
Two decades later, David Elliott, 53, spends more time building, designing and fiddling with his model train sets than he does worrying about his health.
Elliott, a mechanic, stores his custom-built track in a 26-foot race car trailer outside his Oklahoma City home; he doesn't think twice about dropping $500 on a new locomotive engine; and he takes considerable pride in the foot-long trestle bridge — built of basswood — that carries his Union Pacific coal cars from the mountains to the depot in town.
“I'm a single man; I can spend my money any way I want to,” he said, talking trains Saturday with visitors young and old at the Oklahoma City Train Show.
Presented by the Oklahoma Railway Museum, the train show is part sales market, part exhibition, and part meet-and-greet.
Elliott said it takes three men more than seven hours to erect his set for this show — one of four he participates in each year.
Combining carpentry, electronics and computer talents, his 45-foot looped track sits atop a heavy wooden platform about four feet off the ground. He and some friends custom built and painted it.
Four trains — each radio-controlled by a computer chip in the locomotives and guided by voltage that surges through the tracks — travel the tunnels, bridges and curves in the setup.
Elliott's miniature town includes a fire department, pool hall, general store and barbershop.
Tiny plastic people watch the trains pass and a functioning signal keeps miniature cars at bay.
“There are people who when they see trains, ‘They're just stupid toys,' but I don't see it like that,” he said. “It's a hobby, it's fun. To be able to build something like this — oh my gosh!”