A Very Grown-Up Hobby Train Set

The fantasy plays out every night, just off the basement floor in homes all over America.

With a set-up - a kid, or, more likely, a grown man - can pretend to be master of his own railroading universe. He can escape to a time and place where life was simpler.

There are no bosses in still shirts. There are no responsibilities - other than making sure the train's on time.

For mort guys, just imagining this world is sufficient escape. But for the Iowa man CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman met, there would be no basement big enough.

About 25 years ago, Jim Halverson started looking for a place to put his toy train set.

"I was looking for a woods, that was the first consideration," he said. It "had to be at least 10 acres."

A big place - for a big set.

A forklift operator by trade, Halverson spent five years of nights and weekends just laying the track.

"People at work thought I was nuts," he said. "And I'm sure a lot of them still do."

He then made an engine out of a '73 Ford Maverick. He found lights and signals at salvage yards, and basically, over the next 20 years, created a toy train set you can climb right onto.

It runs from his garage, along the edge of his property, past the depot he built.

"Got a little bit carried away with it," Halverson said.

"A little bit?" Hartman asked.

It curves pack along the other edge of his property, over a bridge, and back to his garage. A Giant, half-mile loop, which brings us back to the obvious question of "why?"

Jim Halverson is unmarried and has no children … outside of his beagle, Lily, who is surprisingly still alive. Almost no one else has even seen this train set.

Bite "I didn't build it for anyone else. I just built it for myself."

He says a lot of times, he just likes to sit in the depot.

"It's kind of my little retreat away from the rest of the world. I can sit and relax and not think of anything else," he said. "I just totally forget what else is going on."

Although almost no one goes to this extreme, America's basements and backyards are full of old cars and woodworking projects that, men especially, use to forget - to escape their day, their "honey-do" lists … or, most often, just their age.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.