Roman: to much, with to little
Words and photo by Telegraphy
A curious looking thirty-something man walks around a children's model train set in a cold dimly lit basement of a 19th century farm house on Detroit's east side. Holding a cigarette in one hand, elbow rested on his hip, and music blaring from the old 1970's stereo resting on a home made shelf above the now decommissioned washer. He pulls a model train by hand along the winding but for the must part straight railroad track." You know this is a GTW record" saying just before taking a slug out of a bottle of Jack Daniels, (GTW pertaining to the railroad train set's name which stands for Grand Trunk Corporation) "This freight has 20 cars and two locomotives, that's a record. It took me all afternoon to put this one together".
This is Roman Sudney, a dark haired single man who's living in this old farm house with his aunt. He's a lawn maintenance technician in the summer time but during the long winter months he's a drinking, pot smoking, basement train set hermit. When asked where he spends most of his time, he takes another swig from the bottle and says, "I spend most of my time here in the basement, setting up trains while I drink and smoke weed". To some people Roman comes off as a wired loner, but if you dig a little bit deeper you will find that he is something more. A renaissance man or maybe a guy that's on a mission. A mission to build the biggest, baddest micro sized logistics corporation on rails. In other words a train company in his basement.
You see, Romans train set has come a long way since he first moved in to his aunt's house back in 2005. "The last place I had was in the basement of an old flat in the cabbage patch. I had no place to put up a train set." The Cabbage patch is an affectionate name given to a small community in Grosse Pointe, a suburb of Detroit, MI.
Waking around this small basement (which by the way isn't really considered a basement, at least not to any city house inspector) is quite difficult if you're a professional basket ball player. That's because it's only five and a half foot tall. So when you move around, you have to dodge the rafters above without hitting your head. You see this basement is actually called a "Michigan cellar" or a "half basement". Call it what you want, it's cold, dark, it's small and very creepy looking. "Oh I got used to it. I know exactly where every rafter is" Roman says while carefully packing a one hitter full of weed
Taking a hit out of the one hitter behind his train set, I notice all of rail yard paper paraphernalia hang by thumb tacks on some rafters above (bad car orders, freight manifest and others). All of these cards Roman picked up at one of the local train yards, as evident of the train companies insignia on then. Roman with blood shot baked eyes says while pointing to one freight manifest card "You see I make up a train just like they do in a real train yard. I also use this bad car forms when one of my rail cars have a problem". Just like a real train company would do in real life. Only he's not moving cars from Chrysler or Ford motor company, or moving grain across the country, or hulling scrape iron from Detroit to a metal refinery somewhere in Pennsylvania. No, he's moving cigarette ashes from his ash tray or small parts from a cigarette lighter. And yes, sometimes a bag of weed.
His train set will not win any awards for cleanliness nor will it pass any industry standard exam. It isn't what you call a "pretty" model train set. Looking around one will find many piles of "scale model junk" lying around. A pile of old used cigarette lighter parts, a collection of warn out rail car trunks (the wheels of rail cars), and a compilation of marijuana beaners. One gets the sense that his not to concerned for tidiness. Others in this hobby will go out of their way to make a train display look like, well a display. Clean and almost life like. When was the last time you saw a train set look dirty and grimmey, just like a train yard in real life? Though there are some patches of serenity on Roman's train set. The small town for an example which consist of a row of merchant buildings, two houses with lush green lawns, a rail road station, and two big factories. That's it. No mountains, no enchanted forests, and no scenic land scapes. Just scale model dirt, grime, and rust. It's as if Roman is mimicking the true landscape of Detroit, rust and all
He's a very intelligent man, but tell that to someone that doesn't know him personally. Ask him about any train locomotive and he will give you all of the specifics about it you never knew existed. Obscure train companies, locomotive performance specs, who owns what part of a rail line, if it's anything to do with trains he knows it. Want to know how to drive a multi-ton locomotive? Roman will tell you how. And that comes from first hand knowledge. You see at age fourteen, Roman actually drove one. Thumbing through a stack of old color film photos, he says in a vigorous excited voice "I was invited by the yard master at the Ferdale/Motern yard up aboard their GP35 locomotive, the engineer was so impressed with my knowledge of the control panel that he let me drive the dam thing for a quarter mile" all the while pointing to a old photo of him driving one for evidence. Keeping up on the ever changing world of the train bizz, he subscribes to various train industry publications where he'll go through and soak up any and everything technical, like a computer hacker on LSD. Train spotting is another way for him to flecks his train knowledge mussels. "I'll go to train hot spots when ever I get the chance" he says as his eyes are glued to the small monitor screen on his cheap digital camera. Thumbing through various video files on his camera of recent trains he's video tape, he shows one. "This is one I shot in Delray, a train hot spot in southwest Detroit. I waited there for forty-five minutes to cache this one. It's a BN SD-45 hulling coal to Zug Island" he says in a muffled voice with a cigarette flopping on the side of his lips.
He presents him self to the world in his own way. Dresses in the latest Roman fashion, which to say is his own style. The character of his train set parallels his unique sense of grooming, spars at best. A friendly person but almost elusive. Questionable but completely sane. A simple man but complex in his own actions. "I always thought that I wanted a girlfriend" contemplating his life as he changes the song on his ipod that he rigged himself to the 1970's stereo system. "But then, what lady could be strong enough to handle me". Deep down inside one sees that the Roman is a special person. A person filled with innocence's, like some who's been shielded from the evil things that run ramped in today's society. Whether you think he's to smart or to dumb, one gains after meeting him a sense that he is Roman in his own way and that's all you need to know.