Steve Muscutt loves his son Kyle, and Kyle loves trains.
So just about every Monday night, rain or shine, the two head to the switching yard near Queen Avenue and Highway 99E in Albany.
Most people who see trains at this spot grumble and complain about the delay on their commutes home or elsewhere through town. Kyle, who is 19 and has Down syndrome, cheers for the big machines.
“He gets all shook up. He’ll bounce up and down as soon as he hears the train,” Muscutt said.
Why does Kyle like trains? “They’re big and they’re loud and they rumble as they go through. He also likes the train arms when they go down,” his dad said.
The father and son duo have been watching big freight trains and silver Amtrak trains go past for more than a decade. The Portland & Western Railroad yard’s 1501 engine also is a frequent star as it chugs along the tracks and stacks freight cars together.
Since Kyle watches the trains so frequently, many of the train workers know him, and some wave or stop by to chat, Muscutt said. They’ve even given him a bright yellow Portland & Western safety vest. “He’s almost like their mascot,” Muscutt added. It doesn’t hurt that Muscutt’s brother used to work for the railroad.
Trainspotting is the Muscutts’ quality time together. “It’s our thing. I don’t get to see him all week long,” Muscutt said. He lives in Lebanon and works at a grocery store at night, while Kyle, who used to reside in Albany, lives with his mom, Aileen Muscutt, and with his brother, Jarred Muscutt, in Philomath.
Kyle has a hard time speaking because of a cleft palate, but he often strings a few words and gestures together. The more you are around him the more you can understand his improvised language.
A “bubba-buzz” with shoulders shaking is a long freight train, Muscutt explains — Kyle mimics the sound and vibrations they make.
Kyle has other interests, of course. He loves country music and goes to the Bi-Mart Willamette Country Music Festival near Brownsville every year.
He’s fond of the American flag and only wears muscle shirts, no sleeves necessary.
He likes cleaning house and mowing the lawn.
The pattern of the holidays always brings something to look forward to, with their decorations, parades and other activities, such as Fourth of July fireworks. Kyle really likes Halloween, as he enjoys masks and scary movies such as the “Evil Dead” franchise, Muscutt said.
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He used to wear his hair long, but he cut it short to look more like Sheldon from “The Big Bang Theory,” his favorite TV show.
Kyle knows the geographical layout of the mid-Willamette Valley, and can list all the nearby towns. “He thinks all the trains with logs on them are coming from Lebanon,” Muscutt said.
Trains hold a special place in Kyle’s heart.
“I let him do what he wants to do, and this is what he wants to do all the time,” Muscutt said. “He’d sit out here for three or four hours if you let him.”
On Sept. 17, they had waited for more than an hour for any train activity, but Kyle also wanted to go to Heritage Mall to see if the costume store had opened for the Halloween season.
“Where’s that train, Kyle? Say, ‘Train, hurry up,’” Muscutt said.
“Train, hurry up,’’ Kyle said, smiling, and sitting in his American flag folding chair.
A few minutes later, Kyle heard something from the north and gasped, like he had just jumped into a cold lake. “Here he comes,” Muscutt exclaimed. Kyle was bubbling with excitement.
The 1501 engine chugged into the switching yard, putting together graffiti-covered freight cars to make longer trains. The train whistle blew and the crossing arms descended and dinged, blocking traffic, red lights flashing.
Kyle enthusiastically waved at the engineer.
“I have to admit, after years of doing this, I’ve kind of gotten into it myself,” Muscutt said, mentioning the hypnotic quality of the trains, despite the loud noises.
“It’s like a lullaby or something. It seems like every year, I like it more and more. I don’t know if it’s because I’m watching him have fun,” Muscutt said.
Steve Muscutt loves his son Kyle, and Kyle loves trains. So Steve Muscutt is starting to love trains, too.