Eric's Heroes: The train volunteers who keep a little depot open
OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Train tracks use to be like cold steel blood vessels pumping life into the places they reached, and into the people they reached, too. Now, sometimes, they transport us back to a time when everything was simpler, or at least, looking back, it seems that way.
The idyllic little Olympia-Lacey train depot near the State Capitol is like that.
It has a timeless look about it, with an old fashioned clock on a post out front and a pitched, shingle roof. It is slow and peaceful until about 12:35 every afternoon when the stillness surrenders to the 513 Southbound rumbling down the track.
It's one of 10 passenger trains that briefly stop here every day. The Olympia-Lacey station is one of the busiest in the state.
And there's something else that sets this depot apart.
There's Fran Harder, Bill Pendergast, Patrick Brennan, Gordon Barnes, and another 50 or so friends who work there. Some are in their 70s. Some in their 80s.
And then there is Ken Lyons. "I'm going on 96," he says, "and all my friends are gone, and there's nobody to talk to. So I come down here to have somebody to talk to."
There is a twinkle in Ken's eye, and you quickly realize that he lives to make people smile.
Ken shows up at the station every Monday morning.
He chats with strangers, shares a few jokes, gives advice and sets things straight.
"It lets me play train, and it keeps me off the streets," Ken says with a grin. "I could get in trouble you know."
Like everyone who works at the station, Ken volunteers his time to keep the Olympia-Lacey station operating 365 days a year. None of them gets paid a dime.
It's believed to be the only Amtrak station in the country manned entirely by volunteers.
The volunteers help with bags. They give directions. They make announcements and explain schedules.
Fran stands out by the tracks and says, "Even when the train is late like at 2 in the morning, one of our volunteers will come out and meet the train."
The stop used to be just a lone bench sitting outside. Then in 1993 volunteers built the new station and donated their time to keep it running.
Ken's been showing up from the start. It reunites him with the very first love of his life.
"I use to ride my bike down to the train yard and sit there a couple of hours and watch, it was very busy then. Of course, those were the days of steam... more glamorous then."
The trains are faster now. Everything is faster now.
Except maybe Ken. He teeters a little on his way to meet the "Coast Starlight." But when the silver steel comes thundering in, Ken is right there at his post ready for action.
"And I know I sent people away laughing. And I know it's an experience they have never had riding a train before. and they will remember Olympia."
At 11:18 am or so Ken sends another group of southbound passengers on its way.
Everything relaxes and a serenity returns to the pretty little station by our state's capitol. At least until the next train comes rumbling down the track.
Editor's Note: "Eric's Heroes" is a weekly series airing every Wednesday on KOMO News in the 6 p.m. newscast. If you have a good story about a good person doing good things for the right reasons, share it with Eric by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.