Take a Ride with the Country's Most Dedicated Elevator Tourist - Atlas Obscura
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Take a Ride with the Country’s Most Dedicated Elevator Tourist

Nix Hospital Elevator Lobby San AntonioNix Hospital Elevator Lobby in San Antonio. (Photo: DieselDucy/flickr)

Andrew Reams was just a toddler when he went on the elevator ride that launched a lifelong passion.

He was shopping with his mother in the early eighties at the Famous Barr & Co. department store St. Louis, Missouri, a grand building that has since been shuttered. He had never really seen an elevator before she brought him to the one that would transport them through the shopping center. She picked him and instructed him to push a button, which caused the door to open like a “magic wall” according to Reams.

“Ever since then I’ve always loved elevators,” he says. 

Reams has been researching elevators his “entire life” and particularly loves historic ones—he says an antique elevator is anything that has operated since before the 1950s and a vintage elevator hails from before 1980. He loves the detail; the glass roofs, ornate iron castings, art deco styling and other embellishments. Being in an old elevator creates an immediate connection to the past, and Reams likes to think about all of the people who have ridden in a car before him. For years Reams made trips to visit historic elevators, often around his home of Roanoke, Virginia, and throughout the United States.

Me in the elevator  1600 Anderson Road McLean VAAndrew Reams in the elevator at 1600 Anderson Road, McLean, VA. (Photo: DieselDucy/flickr)

Eventually he started taking videos of his trips on a camcorder, and in 2006 he uploaded his first YouTube videos. He says he just let them “sit” and didn’t think about it much. After all, how many people were going to be excited about an elevator ride? Lots, it turned out. His video racked up thousands of views. Commenters begged him to take more.

“I was like, ‘Who’s watching this crap?,” says Reams. “I thought I was the only one that was obsessed with elevators.”

He wasn’t.

Reams’ uses the online handle “DieselDucy” and posts to his YouTube channel routinely rack up tens of thousands of views. A video of an elevator at the Kansas City Marriott from two years ago has 80,189 views. Recent videos include a ride on an elevator at One World Trade Center, a pair of vintage elevators in Columbia, South Carolina, and a freight elevator in Austin, Texas. Reams estimates that he’s shot well over 3,000 elevators. He has made connections with elevator companies, and some of them have provided him with special tours, or donated items to a small elevator museum that he runs out of his home.

And he has tapped into a small but dedicated network of enthusiasts that he didn’t even realize existed before posting his inaugural video.

call station, Smithsonian Castle elevatorThe call station at the Smithsonian Castle elevator. (Photo: DieselDucy/flickr)

A quick perusal of the “related channels” bucket on Reams page reveals ElevExplorings by JimLiElevators, Elevators from Sweden!, and TJElevatorfan, just to name a few. There are elevator fans in Indonesia, Scotland, and Russia.  It’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole (or elevator shaft) of similar feeds from around the world. Reams has made good friends through his hobby, including Jacob Batcha, who runs the The Elevator Channel, which has over 8,000 subscribers. The two often pop up in each others videos.

Reams gets comments on just about every video. “I rode a Series 1 at a hospital and it’s so fast, I got ill,” wrote one fan. “Still was fun!” Others love to evaluate and critique the elevators: “Very cool buttons!” Some make requests, such as the elevator enthusiast who chimed in to ask if Reams could film a ThyssenKrupps elevator “with the grocery store beep and the buzz”. But often fans simply express unbridled enthusiasm: “HOLY CRAP!! :-D Awwesomee!! :-)”.

Schindler 3300 indicator 2 in DCA Schindler 3300 indicator 2 in Washington DC. (Photo: DieselDucy/flickr)

old salem elevator machineAn old Salem elevator machine. (Photo: DieselDucy/flickr)

Reams make appearances in his videos (often sporting a baseball cap), but his calm, twangy voice is the star. He narrates all the action from behind the camera, often issuing forth a string of descriptions and phrases that make perfect sense to his fans. “All right, we’re gonna get to watch this thing in action,” he says in a typical video as his hand comes into frame to prop a door open. “Just an old bottom-drive, Otis traction!” Seconds before he had filmed his ride in an elevator with orange paneling and decorative mirrors, but now he is making his way into the “machine room”, the place where the equipment that makes the elevator run lives. Reams calls his videos “elevaTOURS” because he is a bit of a completest—he likes to shoot the exterior of the building, the machine rooms and even makes guest stars out of building employees. Sometimes Reams has to get creative to gain access to places that aren’t available to the general public.

Andrew’s video of the elevator at the Kansas City Marriott hotel has over 80,000 views. 

“Sometimes it’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission,” says Reams. Although now that he’s becoming well known by people within the elevator industry, he has worked those connections to get easier access. Still, run-ins happen. Once, when documenting elevators in Kansas City, a security guard stopped him and demanded to know why he was traveling all over the building, snapping pictures and taking video. It seemed suspicious, he said. Reams explained his mission and after initial bewilderment (“Let me get this straight, you just came in here to look at elevators?”) the guard told him there was something he should see. It was a service elevator from 1913.

“It’s one of those old ones where you use the lever to make it go up and down, and that was really cool,” says Reams, who names the ride as one of his favorites.

Controller on old sears elevator, San AntonioThe controller on old Sears elevator in San Antonio. (Photo: DieselDucy/flickr)

In addition to the machinery, history, and design, Reams says autism is a big reason he’s obsessed with elevators. Reams has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, and says that a fixation on things is common in people diagnosed with the condition. Reams also enjoys having complete control over a multi-sensory environment—a ride in an elevator provides visual flourishes, but can also include the whirr of an old-fashioned motor or the scent of gear oil—and surmises that others with autism like it for the same reason.

Service elevator open at the smithsonianDoors open on the service elevator at the Smithsonian. (Photo: DieselDucy/flickr)

Elevator buttons: old otis car station. 1800 Professional buildingElevator buttons in an old Otis car station.(Photo: DieselDucy/flickr)

“The whole purpose of elevaTOURS is an outreach to fellow people with autism and all elevator enthusiasts,” reads the introductory text on Reams’ site. Reams has used his channel to connect with people with autism, and families with autistic children often reach out to him. 

Reams dreams of journeying to international destinations—old cities full of old elevators and countries where different regulatory standards mean different kinds of elevator design.

But for now he is content to continue documenting the elevators of the United States, sometimes making very long trips to take very short trips at increments of several hundred feet per minute.