Bill Durell: Inventor, Train Man…Plus

He’s an award-winning inventor, a retired pilot with 33 years of service with United Airlines, a husband of 45 years, father of two, grandfather of five and the man who helps make the trains run on time at Bellagio’s Conservatory & Botanical Gardens when G-scale trains are part of the action.

Bill Durell transformed a second garage into a machine shop.
Photo by Diane Taylor

He is Bill Durell, formerly of Barrington, IL and since March of 2005, a resident of the Centennial Hills section of Las Vegas. Durell and his wife, Jan, have a home with two garages….or make that one garage and one almost-fully-equipped machine shop.

Durell says he can build anything except molds and gears. Durell’s business card for Durell Laboratories, Inc. names him as a ”consulting inventor”. Ten patents have been issued in his name, and he is a former winner of R&D Magazine’s R&D 100 award. Wife Jan says her husband is so mechanically gifted and so up for a challenge that, “For a long time, I never got anything new! Bill was able to repair or build parts for any of our appliances that broke.” Durell was a business major in college, but his lifetime aptitude has been that of a design engineer.

This is just one of the G-scale trains at Bellagio's Conservatory
and Botanical Gardens for the 2005 holidays.
Durell worked on wiring for the display.
Photo by Bill Durell

Clearly, Durell is the man to know if you need a custom designed solution to a difficult mechanical problem. However, this reporter met Durell because he is also a “train man”. While still living in Illinois, Durell became an engineer at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Train Garden. Durell worked with Dave Rodelius, former photographer for the employee magazine I once edited, and now the man in charge of keeping the train garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden in good repair. Rodelius and Durell became instant good friends, both admiring the “genius” of garden railroad designer Paul Busse. The now famous 7500-square-foot Chicago Botanic Garden’s Train Garden features 17 garden-scale (G-scale) trains that run simultaneously on 1,600 feet of track weaving among garden scenes all featuring natural plant material.

Durell checks out and repairs any G-scale trains
called upon for Bellagio garden displays.
Photo by Diane Taylor

At age 60, Durell met the FAA’s mandatory retirement age for airline pilots, and he and Jan, who have visited most parts of the country, decided to escape snow and taxes and move to the desert. Not long after moving, Rodelius mentioned to Durell by phone that designer Busse was in Las Vegas working on a Garden railroad project for Bellagio’s Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Not one to be shy, Durell went to the casino/hotel, contacted Busse and asked if he needed help. When Durell mentioned Dave Rodelius’s name, Busse immediately put Durell to work. “I did all the wiring for the Christmas 2005 train display; nobody bothered me; I guess they could tell I knew what I was doing,” Durell recalled.

Durell became part of Busse’s team whenever Busse was given a job at Bellagio. Durell was involved in both setting up train garden displays and tearing them down. When Busse was not available for subsequent jobs at Bellagio, Busse told Bellagio representatives to “Call Bill”. In time, for smaller jobs involving trains, Durell worked with Bellagio designers to provide G-scale train displays. He also handled maintenance and repairs when trains needed fixing. How has it been working with the folks at Bellagio? “They have been great,” says Durell. “They tell me what they want; I submit a design for approval; they give the O.K., and we get to work.”

In 2009, Bill Durell helped erect this Busse-designed
train garden Bellagio display.
Photo by Bill Durell

Calls from Busse or Bellagio still leave Durell plenty of time for other activities. He’s an avid reader of science-related publications such as Discover Magazine and Science News. He reads about advances in all the sciences because solutions to problems he’s working on could come from anywhere “and sadly, the scientists in various disciplines don’t always talk to one another,” he says.

Durell is called by a variety of customers these days, some from the casino industry. He will design and build specialized machinery, but can’t talk about proprietary projects. “I’m not always the cheapest,” Durell says, “but my clients always get my very best work.”

One of Durell’s own current projects is the design of a variable view arthroscope for use by the medical profession. Durell designed and built the prototype and designed and built the precision machinery necessary to assemble it. “The technical aspects were overwhelming to this novice as well as to most of the industry,” says Durell, “This was a project deemed impossible to do.” Durell is clearly proud and confident of the future of the device.

Abby Durell and her grandfather's gift.
Photo by Bill Durell

A project that was somewhat easier to understand was a Durell-designed and hand-built dollhouse for granddaughter Abby. As with all his projects, Durell first made drawings of every piece of the dollhouse, saw how it all fit together, then made the parts by hand …and thrilled one little girl.

“I always believe in planning a project,” says Durell. “With today’s design programs, you can actually see the various parts of a project on a computer monitor before you begin building. I can examine a structure front and back, top and bottom. I can also look inside and see the mechanical parts as they relate to one another.”

Once the drawings are done, the craftsman and his machine shop eagerly get to work.

The experts suggest that retirement can be a time to pursue the things that you love. Bill Durell, consulting inventor, is doing just that.


6 responses on “Bill Durell: Inventor, Train Man…Plus

  1. I was lucky enough to meet both Bill and Dave. All I can say they were two of the most interesting people I have ever met. Thanks again Diane.

  2. Really enjoying getting to know you both. Funny the family hasn’t been together growing up, but there’s something about those powerful genes. Mark is an enginous mechanic and machinist(said by all who know him). He can make a missing part for an old car or machinary that no one can find a part for. His brother, Jim is the same way.
    I found this article interesting.

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