Boy's Dream Won't Be Derailed

JT Robertson, 12, wants to help disabled children ride historic trains.

Sept. 16, 2008 — -- Twelve-year-old John Thomas Robertson has always had an affinity for trains.

"I've been into trains probably from the day I was born," said John, who's nicknamed JT. "When I was very little my grandpa got me a train set. I would just watch it go round for hours and hours."

As JT grew, so did his love for trains. A few years ago he took a ride on a local steam train at the Arcade and Attica Railroad, a historic train station in Arcade, N.Y.

"He fell in love with it," JT's mother Monica Simons said. "He came home one day and told me that he told all his class that he was going to take them on the Arcade and Attica Railroad."

But JT realized a lot of his friends couldn't afford the tickets because they live in one of the poorest counties in New York State. So, for more than a year, JT saved money from bottles and cans he collected — all so he could take his whole class on the train.

It went over so well that he has turned the train visit into an annual event for his friends.

"It never gets boring for some reason; it's just very captivating," JT said. "It really takes people away from the regular stresses of life and lets them remember what it's like to have fun."

Each October he celebrates Make a Difference Day for chronically ill and disadvantaged children.

"We really see pure joy in the children's eyes," JT said. "It's just a marveling sight."

But the trips aren't always smooth, like the time when a group of disabled children ran into a problem.

"John Thomas was devastated to find out that there were children who were handicapped that could not ride," Simons said. "He was outraged to think that kids his own age ... couldn't ride a train because of a handicap."

Because the cars are almost 100 years old, they aren't designed for the disabled.

JT was crushed. "To see my son sit there in the car in tears and not be able to talk to me because he had to turn away kids with disabilities is something I don't think any parent wants to go through," Simons said.

But JT allowed his anger to turn to action and now has a mission inspired, in part, by his favorite TV show, "Extreme Makeover."

"He said, 'We need to do an 'Extreme Train' makeover,'" Simons said.

JT has written to the show in the hopes that its host, Ty Pennington, and the crew will aid his efforts. In the meantime, he's raising money online to get his mission accomplished.

Some of the town's residents are enthused about the prospect.

"It means a lot to me to know that somebody is looking at our life and seeing a way that they can help," said Marie Proudman, who has multiply disabled twin boys. "It's one thing to feel sorry or pity on someone with a disability but completely different to take an active step in changing the lives of people around them."