A Kid and his Train: South Georgia boy forms special bond with local conductor

Published: Jan. 12, 2021 at 9:24 PM EST
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THOMAS COUNTY, Ga. (WCTV) - In Thomas County, an unlikely friendship was born out of the COVID-19 lockdowns.

A 13-year-old boy with down syndrome captured the hearts of millions thanks to his incredible love of trains.

What started as a simple video for family and friends eventually turned into a viral hit and, in the process, a special bond formed between a family and two very generous train conductors.

“It’s all about the train or nothing to him,” said Shayne Stephens, the father of Hunter Stephens.

Shayne says it began in March; a trip to the tracks, and then another.

The conductors, like Jamie Smith, began to notice a trend.

“We would come by and see this kid and we would see him more and more,” Smith, a CSX Conductor, explained via phone. “And he would get out there and he wanted to blow the horn for us.

Shayne posted the videos to Facebook, like the one you can watch below, showing Smith and his partner, Wilie, talking with Hunter.

It quickly became Facebook gold.

Posted by Shayne Stephens on Thursday, October 29, 2020

“I’ve been videoing it so our neighbors, friends and family could see it, get a smile out of it,” Shayne said. “Never thought it would explode the way that it did.”

The videos garnered thousands of likes and millions of views.

And, come Christmas time, gifts from coast to coast, nearly all train sets, complete with letters of thanks.

“It put a smile on my face seeing your smile and seeing how much you enjoyed it,” one letter said.

Others sent plenty of swag, like whistles, hats and shirts.

But, he had a surprise up his sleeve, too, making customized Christmas ornaments with his image for his new best friends.

“To bring us something like that with his picture on it, it was amazing,” Smith said. “The joy that we give Hunter is a drop in the bucket for what he does for us. It’s almost magical, if you will.”

For family, they’re moments worth cherishing.

“To stop to say they missed him, they look for him, he looks for them,” Shayne says. “It’s a bond against the grain of the world we live in, there’s no hate.”

And while the return to school means less train time, the family still sets their watches to race out and know a system that’s been reliable for 200 years won’t let them down.

Workers at the CSX Thomasville trainyard say they aren’t used to getting a lot of love; it’s a get-the-job-done kind of place. But during the pandemic, that’s changed with Hunter and others.

After the pandemic, Smith has promised to take Hunter out on an airboat he owns so he can fall in love with yet another form of transportation.

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