The Watchmaker's Gem
by Hector Maclean
The Miniature Locomotive, September-October 1953
You just can't shake railroadin' out of an engineer's son--not even if he grows up to a watchmaker and doesn't follow the elder's calling. J.E. Sikes of Griffin, Georgia, is that sort of a man. For the reason that his active years were spent at a jeweler's bench he had a love for trains, mostly stemming from the fact that his father was an engineer, and the thought was always in his mind that some day he'd be in the old family business.
Long before time to retire from a successful career Mr. Sikes started dabbling in miniature locomotives, working and planning in the hobby. His training and experience as a precision craftsman served him in good stead and for six years he labored in his spare time. the result was a Live Steam engine and tender which ran in the limited space of his backyard. Then, at the suggestion of Griffin's children and parents, the equipment was moved to the local municipal park where the train was operated for some months.
After that it was removed to Grant Park, Atlanta, where it was in service several years before it was sold to an entertainment concession. In one season Mr. Sikes' first train carried a total of 87,000 passengers during those summer months. Georgia people in large numbers more recently have seen this train at Atlanta's Southwestern Fair.
Following his retirement he had time to pursue his inclinations in the way he had dreamed about. He went to work in earnest and at the end of four years the finished product, No. 1950, a 4-4-2, 14 feet in length, emerged. As necessary adjuncts two passenger cars, each 14 feet long, were built to accommodate 24 grown-ups or 36 children.
No. 1950 is finished in standard Southern Railway colors and readers with a knowledge of Dixie would take pleasure in seeing the familiar green livery of the engine and tender. Combination weight is 3,000 pounds and the top of the cab stands 40 inches high. Gauge is 14-1/2 inch.
Mr Sikes' equipment and track have been installed in the Griffin park, the same spot where his first locomotive operated, and he conducts the railroad "in the public interest." Passengers get two trips around the 400 feet of track for a fare much lower than in most amusement parks. There's no profit but a lot of satisfaction, Mr. Sikes says, and that's enough for him. He does admit that he'd hate to depend upon the enterprise for a living, what with 20 percent federal tax, 10 percent to the Griffin municipality for use of the land and three percent sales tax to the state of Georgia. A lot of fun and a pair of greasy overalls are his compensation.
The Sikes railroad is a family affair and on Sunday afternoons--sometimes on Wednesdays in the summer--Mr. and Mrs. Sikes are to be seen at the park station, managing the crowds. Wallace Tjomsland, the son-in-law, acts as engineer most of the time.
Every part used in building the locomotive came out of Mr. Sikes' own shop and he didn't once resort to commercial machine shopes, even when confronted by the most serious problems.
His advice to any man looking forward to days of peace in retirement is to take up the Live Steam hobby--then is when you begin to live, Mr. Sikes is ready to tell you.