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Trains on track to Central America Print E-mail
Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer   
September 17, 2013 08:48 pm

Bob Terault, left, Greg Duncan and Ron Griswald reminisce as they talk about the trains that brought the three together — and that are sent to disadvantaged children, most recently to an orphanage in Honduras. The Pilot/Jane Stebbins
Bob Terault, left, Greg Duncan and Ron Griswald reminisce as they talk about the trains that brought the three together — and that are sent to disadvantaged children, most recently to an orphanage in Honduras. The Pilot/Jane Stebbins
Dr. Greg Duncan of Crescent City has been taking trips to Central America for the past seven years, providing his orthopedic surgical services to kids who live in shelters and orphanages.

Some of it’s routine: a broken leg, a torn rotator cuff.

But when a woman asked him to fix her 9-month-old daughter’s club foot, he was baffled. He didn’t know much about such patients. He spent hours consulting via computer with surgeons in the United States and performed the surgery the following day. Two years later, the little girl walks like her peers.

“He doesn’t like to talk about himself,” said Ron Griswold of Brookings, who met Duncan in 1998 through their mutual love of triathlons.

Duncan would prefer to talk about trains — and in particular the one he brought to a school in Honduras.

“These kids play with Coke bottles, tin cans,” Griswold said, who has provided animals for the circus car. “The train was probably more appreciated than anything. They have nothing.”

Griswold was a teacher in Crescent City who was dismayed when the school closed its shop classes. Left over from the classes were hundreds of wheels — and he knew his neighbor Bob Terault made trains. Terault had been a patient of Duncan’s. The circle was complete.

So when Duncan told Griswold he wanted to bring something back to the children on his annual trek to Central America, Griswold knew exactly where to point him.

The trains Terault built 

Terault, a retired computer troubleshooter, has been making the trains for years to entertain his grandchildren when they asked for a replica of Thomas the Train, a popular toy among the younger set.

His immaculate garage has tools lined on one wall, shelves hold stacks of cedar cars —  engine, caboose, coal tender, circus car, oil tanker, flat cars and boxcars.

In 2004, he and four friends made 14 trains to donate to Toys for Tots.

The next year, Tetrault asked a Toys for Tots organizer how many trains the organization wanted and the reply was, “As many as you can make.”

So Tetrault, with the help of two friends, turned out 31 of them. Other recipients have included students at Kalmiopsis Elementary School, Head Start, Relay for Life, Friends of the Brookings-Harbor Aquatic Center and the Civil Air Patrol for fundraising purposes.

He has built 306 as of last Christmas — and another 50 are in various stages of construction. Laid end to end, that many cars would extend 490 feet. They would have a total of about 1,855 wheels, including “spares” affixed under each car. A train that long represents 5,530 pieces of wood and 6,335 screws.

Terault donates the 12-foot-long wooden choo-choos to charitable causes throughout the region.

He includes self-addressed, stamped thank you notes for the teachers to whom he sends the train — and has folders full of ones that have been signed and returned.

“I wonder where these trains have gone,” Terault said. He knows some are at the Oasis Shelter Home in North Bend, another in London, one in Colorado and another in Virginia. Most, he assumes are in the Pacific Northwest.

“Dear Mr. Train Man,” one letter reads. “I love my train. Please tell my sister to keep her Barbie dolls out of the boxcar.”

“He comes in quietly; makes no noise,” another reads. “He leaves his trains and goes. We call him Secret Santa.”

Terault delights in the fact that one train is as far away as Central America, especially after seeing DVDs of the children playing with it.

The children, Duncan said, were hesitant at first, merely admiring the toy from the doorway. Then a girl jumped forward and began to play; the rest immediately joined her.

“The expressions on the kids’ faces,” Griswold said, smiling. “The enthusiasm of the kids warms my heart. I can tell how much they love this train.”

Duncan, who usually brings medical supplies, socks and caps to an orphanage in Honduras, last month brought one of Terault’s trains — not an inconsiderable prospect, as the cars are bulky and shipping is expensive — to a school in Guatemala.

“That train took two flights, passed customs in Mexico City and Guatemala, traveled by ground across half of Guatemala and now is being used by 700 kids,” Duncan wrote in an email upon his arrival there. “I think the smiles on their faces as they first saw the train tells the story best.”

The school has 700 underprivileged students in a gang-run neighborhood called the Red Zone. The view from the school is a mausoleum. Teenagers armed with rifles protect local storefronts.

Griswold and Terault are impressed that Duncan braves the danger there to offer his services.

Duncan admires his compatriots and their community spirit.

“They’re both retired,” Duncan said. “They’re involved in so many community projects. Both these guys are heroes to me. They don’t have to work, but they do, and they do it for other people.”

Terault smiled as he watched the video.

“I hope they hold up down there,” he said, noting it was the first time he’d witnessed a child playing with his trains. “That’s the kind of use they’re going to get all day long.” 

 

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