As a boy, Kevin Ruble dreamed about trains.
“I’m a fourth-generation railroad man and an avowed ‘foamer,’” says Ruble, referring to that class of individual who bursts into a lather at the mere sight or sound of a diesel locomotive. “Railroads have always been my passion.”
Born in Champagne, Ill., Ruble’s freight-hauling fancies spent long years parked on a siding as his father’s job carried him to 11 different temporary homes across the Midwest and Texas. It wasn’t until Ruble graduated from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville that his boyhood ambition started working up a head of steam.
“I followed my life’s passion right out of college,” explains Ruble, a fit man with a quiet, friendly demeanor. “I got a job with the Katy Railroad.”
Officially titled the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad and affectionately known as “Katy,” the historic Dallas-based line had been burning track since 1865 and offered the young enthusiast a priceless trial by fire.
“I worked in every department, and I got a perspective of not just the railroad, but the company,” Ruble recalls. “At 22 I had a knowledge of railroads that a lot of people don’t have in their 50s. I was really fortunate that happened.”
After a few years with the Katy, however, fresh ambitions diverted Ruble onto new track. He earned an MBA from the University of Dallas and went into the lending and venture capital line. It was as a graduate student moonlighting as a consultant for a young Southwest Airlines that Ruble discovered he had a second passion.
“Southwest was still pretty small at the time, and I found that the culture of the company was the secret to its success,” he explains. “It was how they treated their people. Love is a better way to run a company than fear. I became an evangelist for employee ownership.”
When he wasn’t working in finance, Ruble was consulting small companies – many of them railroads – spreading the good news about employee ownership and helping them develop that proven employee-centered model. And it was in the mid-1980s that Ruble’s two passions linked up to make Ruble’s childhood dream a grown-up reality.
“The major railroads were spinning off their branch lines to short line operators, and I started helping put those deals together. In 2005 I decided to put my money where my mouth is. I got some investors together and bought a railroad.” Specifically, Ruble bought 130 miles of track north of Grand Rapids, MI, and all the rolling stock – and headaches – that came with it. He called his new company Marquette Rail, and among his first actions as founder and CEO was to implement an employee stock ownership plan that gave Marquette’s rank and file a 60-percent stake in the game.
“I was practicing what I’d been preaching, and it worked.”
Marquette Rail prospered under Ruble’s principles, but anyone who imagines that the line’s chief executive officer reclined behind an oaken desk issuing wise pronouncements and bestowing favors doesn’t understand the short line railroad business, or Kevin Ruble. He was everywhere, from the switching yards, to the maintenance sheds, to the accounting room, to the cab of a thundering locomotive, working at all hours and under frequently adverse conditions.
“It was my dream come true,” he smiles. “When you’re pulling a mile of freight behind you and coming to a hill, you really can’t think of anything but what the train is doing and what you have to do next. Everything else just goes away. It’s very therapeutic.”
Somewhere along those singing rails a third passion began to dawn in Ruble’s chest, and by 2009 he was ready to follow his heart west.
“I’d known for some time I was meant to live in Colorado,” he says. “I couldn’t tell you specifically why, but I knew that’s where I needed to be.”
A thriving enterprise, Marquette Rail found no shortage of eager buyers, and Ruble officially turned over the throttle in 2010. After spending months sampling the Front Range between Colorado Springs and Denver, a friend suggested he give Evergreen the once-over. One look was all it took.
“The first time I came into town I saw the lake, I met some really amazing people, and I found out I could get a real Chicago-style hotdog on Main Street. I felt like I was home.”
And, as of Labor Day weekend, 2010, he really was home. He bought 36 acres of piney ridge-top south of Conifer and a 1.5-acre homestead off of Buffalo Park Road.
“I can walk to the lake concerts, I can walk into town, and any time I want to take a hike I’ve got 770 acres of park in my back yard. I really can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
Ruble shares his home with his son, Killian, and a chocolate Labrador retriever named Diesel. His daughter, Meghan, lives on Capitol Hill in Denver. When he’s not traipsing Alderfer/Three Sisters, you may find Ruble driving a snowboard. And because every passion is best when indulged to the fullest, Ruble is pleased to apply his heart and hands to local nonprofits like the Mountain Area Land Trust, the Evergreen Area Chamber of Commerce and Blue Spruce Habitat for Humanity.
Still, you never forget your first love, and a big barn is rising on Ruble’s modest Evergreen acreage. A really big barn. The 1,850 square-foot ground floor will feature stalls for horses, and a tack room, and all of your standard barn-like amenities. Upstairs, though…
“The upstairs is really why I’m building it,” Ruble laughs. “It’s a big open room with no posts or obstructions. I’m going to have an eighteen-hundred-square-foot model railroad.”
And another dream come true.