Andrew Reams taking photos of an elevator.
Andrew Reams has a very unique hobby. He records videos of himself touring elevators — modern elevators, historic elevators, mundane freight elevators rarely seen by the public. You name it, Andrew has reviewed it. He's uploaded more than a thousand tours on YouTube under his username "dieselducy." And before you dismiss his pastime as eccentric, he's got 10,000 subscribers, and over 40 million views.
Andrew has loved elevators for as long as he can remember. He recalled his first ride — he was 3 years old — and the magical quality it had. He's been enchanted ever since, although he says the ride hasn't always been a smooth one. "There were two years of my life when I wouldn't ride an elevator," he explained "I got stuck in one when I was a kid."
He was only stuck for a few minutes, but Andrew says that terrifying experience led him to learn more about how elevators work: "Basically, when I became afraid of elevators, how I conquered the fear, I learned about them."
Andrew also has a high-functioning form of Autism called Asperger's syndrome. One of the common traits of Asperger's is an intense focus on particular topics. For Andrew, those topics are lighting fixtures, locks, and, of course, elevators.
He says that many of his fellow elevator enthusiasts are also autistic, and many of them are kids in search of a community. "A lot of people like me never had any friends in school," he explains. And the elevator enthusiast community provides those social connections.
And the community is surprisingly large. There are hundreds of active elevator reviewers on YouTube, but Andrew is the most prolific, with nearly 1,500 videos and tens of millions of views. The popularity of his "dieselducy" channel has led to a YouTube advertising partnership that he says earns him more than his first full-time job at McDonalds.
Andrew took us on a tour of some of his "wish-list" elevators in the area. First we visited the Smithsonian Castle, to ride a couple of staff elevators that are around 50 years old. These things are tiny with antique buttons and brass gates. It's an old-style Otis, one of Andrew's favorite elevator makers.
Across the mall, at the National Museum of American History, we visited the largest freight elevator in the Smithsonian system. It's huge — as big as a room — and can lift tens of thousands of pounds. The museum has used this elevator to move a revolutionary war gunship, a 19th-century fire engine, and Julia Child's kitchen.
After four hours and six elevators, I am ready to have a seat. But Andrew's already planning his next video. He says he's heading back to the American History museum to shoot some b-roll, and thinks he might stop by the National Gallery of Art -- he's heard good things about their elevators.
[Music: "Elevator" by Cliff Hills from The Long Now]
Video: Otis Hydraulic elevator system at the Newseum