NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — Robert Urquhart loves trains.
In fact, the 75-year-old North Kingstown resident owns several model trains and has a set of tracks laid out in his backyard.
It’s a hobby that has always kept the retired Air National Guard lieutenant colonel going, even when he was younger.
“I grew up on Lionel Trains,” Urquhart said. “When I was 14, I had rheumatic fever and was stuck at home for a year … I was allowed to go into the basement once a day to work on my trains and that kept my sanity.”
Urquhart said for him, playing with his model trains is therapeutic.
“For people who have gardens, it’s the same thing,” he explained. “When you’re in your garden, or with your trains, everything else doesn’t count. You’re not thinking about anything else.”
For Urquhart, the military is a family affair. Urquhart’s father piloted bombers in World War II, and his grandfather piloted a balloon in World War I.
“I wanted to carry on the tradition for all the right reasons,” he said.
But Urquhart wouldn’t learn the true meaning of making the ultimate sacrifice until 1957, when his father was killed in a KC-97 crash.
Years later, Urquhart traveled to upstate New York to visit the crash site.
“It was kind of a closure thing,” he said. “I spent six years trying to locate that particular site. I did a lot of research to find it and I bumped into a woman whose husband was involved in recovering the plane and the bodies … she knew exactly where the spot was.”
Urquhart himself has flown countless missions, including Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
If given the chance, Urquhart said he’d do it all over again.
“In a heartbeat,” he said. “I don’t know if my wife would have [wanted] that, but she was a tremendous help because she was always by my side.”
Urquhart described his wife Virginia, who passed away back in January, as one of his fiercest supporters.
“We were married 50 years,” he said. “She did a great job raising our two kids kids when I wasn’t there. She just hung in there.”
North Kingstown High School is honoring Urquhart’s wife, who worked as a secretary there for years, by creating two scholarships in her name.
Nowadays, Urquhart spends most of his time with his two children and four grandchildren. When asked about the legacy he wants to leave, Urquhart simply hopes to be remembered “as a cool grampy.”
“If I can be remembered as ‘the cool grampy,’ then I’m a success,” he chuckled.
Urquhart said his grandchildren get a kick out of his unique hobby.
“They take the [train] controls away from me so fast when they’re here,” he said.
Urquhart described Veterans Day as a chance for all Americans to stop, reflect and recognize the men and women who have served our country.
This Veterans Day, he encourages everyone to visit a veterans cemetery and honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“That’s all part of understanding the depth of what these wars are all about,” he said.