Veterans Voices

Retired Navy Vice Admiral stays in charge of his backyard railroad

SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) -- You can hear him coming with sounds of a bygone era.

The "chugga-chugga chugga-chugga" increases in volume as a sweet "toot-toot"  echos through the surrounding trees.

Then you see the puffs of smoke as a coal burning steam locomotive appears over a trestle. 

This event takes place almost every other weekend in Suffolk,Virginia. At the throttle is Retired Vice Admiral David Archizel.

"It was back in the day at my grandmothers house and the freight train used to run by everyday. I didn't have trains at the time. That train always impressed me when it went by, and little things back in your childhood come to bite you I guess," said Archizel.

Archizel's trains are 1/8th the size of the real thing and over a mile of track surrounds his home in the Chuckatuck neighborhood. 

Many of the trains were built from scratch by members of the Southeast Virginia Live Steamers. The small group meets at Archizel's home twice a month to work, but mostly play.

"My own railroad, it's fun!" Archizel said. "What more can you want?"

It's a loaded question from a man who has commanded far more than just a backyard railroad in his lifetime. 

Archizel, born in Ogdensburg, N.Y., graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1973. For nearly 40 years, he climbed the ranks.

As a naval aviator, Archizel logged 5,000 flight hours, 4,300 of those hours in the S-3, according to his bio. When he retired in 2012, he was serving as commander, Naval Air Systems Command, headquartered in Patuxent River, Md.

However, it was a ship that leaves him feeling the most proud. Archizel was the the sixth commanding officer of USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71).

"Nothing compares to the commanding officer of a carrier," Archizel said. "It was really a wonderful experience and I loved it. And it was too short."

Archizel never lost his desire to lead. That is where the railroad comes in.

"If I [didn't] step in and do something, then this railroad would have died," Archizel said.

In 2014 the previous owner of the railroad had put the home up for sale, according to Archizel. Original plans called for the railroad to be torn up. 

"She just said 'you're crazy Dave, but if that's what you want to do, okay,'" Archizel said, describing his wife's reaction when he brought up purchasing the property. 

Now, three years later, he wants to turn it into a tool to further strengthen the community. 

"You can actually learn a lot and it can also gives you an idea on what it's like to work with people," Archizel said. "I want children to come out here and learn about how things once were. It's about this community and I think everyone should realize this railroad is here and enjoy it in some fashion. Why have it if you can't do that?" 


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