Retired US Navy Captain, Steve Burnett stands in front of his 3/4 scale replica of a 1903 French locomotive built on top of a 1954 Chevy frame, November 16, 2023.

RITCHEY, Mo. — Figuring out the next mission in life after the military is something many veterans struggle with.

But that hasn’t been a problem for a Newton County man, and he’s shared his second calling with hundreds of area people.

It’s really hard for Steve Burnett to sneak up on people these days, most of the time you can hear him coming from miles away. That’s because he collects planes, trains, automobiles and fire trucks from all over the country.

“We’re all kids at heart, we all had toy trains when we were kids, and we all liked big toys and this is just about as big as the toy gets,” said the retired Navy Captain.

His latest big boy toy is part muscle car and part French locomotive.

“This is a 1954 Chevy frame that has a three quarter scale replica of a 1903 French locomotive built on it and it was built at a vocational technical school in Camden New Jersey and they did an outstanding job.”

He drove it in the Joplin Veteran’s Day Parade this past weekend. But if you missed that, you’ll have another chance – soon.

“These guys had all kinds of noise makers, there are four sets of air horns on this train, there’s a siren on this train, there’s a whistle on this train, there’s a bell on this train and there’s a 10 gauge signal canon on this train.”

It will be in the upcoming Chanute Christmas Parade.

“My son is music teacher in middle school and he’s got the kids learning Polar Express songs, so they’re gonna ride the train and through hot chocolate packets to the crowd singing Polar Express songs.”

And you may notice the numbers ’40’ and ‘8’ in several places on the replica steam engine.

“Meaning 40 men or eight horses, so after world war one the organization started and they built trains and box cars and various kinds of things to honor the French for helping them in WWII and of course the French honoring them for helping them liberate the country in WWII.”

Over the years, he’s collected 45 fire trucks, and 35 planes, trains and automobiles. While the replica train didn’t require much work to get started, engines on other pieces he’s collected over the years have keep him busy and focused to keep these historic pieces from ending up in the scrap heap.

“We’re just the caretakers as you know, we’re all just passing through and so I’m just trying to be a good caretaker for this train and they’ll be somebody behind me as long as I’m a good caretaker and same thing for those fire trucks that we’re working on right now,” said Burnett.