Over the years Oliver's students at the private school have also built a 50-foot arched steel bridge and a gazebo for the school's 1,300-acre campus. Not to mention a working locomotive, a flatbed car and a passenger car, which, linked together, run along a half-mile track. "I don't want to build birdhouses in here," says Oliver, a railroad buff.
A Georgia native who has taught at the school since 1972, Oliver, 61, designs his projects to give his kids tools other than hammers and handsaws. "I really want them to learn how to think, to plan and to organize," he says. "I want them to learn self-discipline."
To build the locomotive, Oliver had to scrounge, scavenge and rely on imagination. He and the kids used a stainless steel bowl for the headlight reflector, took the air brakes off an old school bus and powered the whole thing with a 1970 Pontiac engine. On Oliver's to-do list next year: skateboarding ramps on campus. And if there's any doubt about the efficacy of Oliver's methods, just visit the two-bedroom ranch house he shares with his wife, Jackie, 58, a retired X-ray technician. It was built by one of his former students.