The Deep Blue Ridge: Elevator enthusiast with autism uses passion to lift others like him

After 15 years, Andrew Reams was recognized by YouTube for getting his following up to 100,000, elevating autism one lift at a time

ROANOKE, Va. – One Roanoke man living with autism is hoping to elevate others with autism one lift at a time through his passion for elevators.

Andrew Reams, 45, is known as Diesel Ducy on his online platforms including his YouTube channel, ElevaTOURS, which has over 100,000 subscribers. He was recently rewarded the “Secret” creator award, known as the Silver Letter, from the online platform.

Andrew Reams (WSLS)

He also started his own elevator museum out of a storage unit he rents on 4th Street in Roanoke and which he calls the ElevaTOURS International Elevator Museum.

“It started as a small collection of elevator parts that I would play with and enjoy,” Reams said. “I had three or four pieces and because I have a huge following on YouTube, I started getting more pieces and making videos about them. A lot of my followers wanted to come see the collection, so I used to host this museum out of my house but it was getting invasive to bring people to my house.”

That is when he got the storage unit and now that it is on Google Maps, it is still growing in popularity and people from all over the world visit.

Reams has been collecting parts since the 1990s.

Andrew Reams (WSLS)

“I was 20 years old when I started and the first piece I got was in 1997. I wanted elevator buttons, and I was at Maury College and they were upgrading the elevators and I saw them ripping the panels out. I asked them if I could have them and they said sure! Now I have stuff from total modern-day state of the art to stuff dating back to the 1920s and in the 19th century.”

He said it is rewarding seeing his fascination grow into something as special as his private collection.

“It never gets old! This is my passion,” Reams said. “I love elevators. When I open that door, I am like, ‘Wow!’ And then sometimes I am like. ‘I have too much stuff!’”

Andrew Reams (WSLS)

Before his happy life as a successful YouTuber, Reams said growing up with autism wasn’t the best.

“My childhood is a direct reflection of who I am today,” he said. “In some ways, it was a living hell and in some ways it was cool. I was born with autism. You don’t outgrow it. It doesn’t go away. Back in the 1908s when I was growing up, not a lot was known about stuff like this. I was what I would like to call the Ritalin guineapig. I couldn’t behave appropriately when I was younger, and they kept prescribing me different medicine to where I feel it made the situation worse.”

Reams said he was diagnosed with everything but autism.

I was diagnosed with ADHD, OCD, depression, anxiety and they didn’t know what was wrong with me,” he said. “Everything they tried doing didn’t work. At that point, my parents were told I would never be able to lead an independent life.”

Andrew Reams (WSLS)
Andrew Reams (WSLS)

He said when he was 13, he could not function.

“I was thrown out of multiple schools in St. Louis for behavior disorders and by the time I was 14 years old, I ended up in a psychiatric ward for children,” Reams said. “I ended up going to a special school for mentally challenged people in Kentucky and that ended up helping me a lot and in the three years I was there, a lot of my problems were able to be corrected to where I could function.”

Sadly, Reams dealt with bullying while trying to figure out his condition and his love of elevators, which he kept to himself.

“I was told it was stupid and weird,” Reams said. “From elementary school to college, I was bullied for being different. I was called names like ‘Retarded Reams.’ I would be told to ‘Go take your control pills.’”

Andrew Reams (WSLS)
Andrew Reams (WSLS)

Fortunately, in the 1990s, Reams was finally diagnosed correctly with autism and was taken off several medications which helped him a lot.

“I ended up going to college and graduated with a degree in organizational communication which is in the management field, but I never used my degree,” he said. “I have done truck driving and now I work for the railroad. Basically, to someone whose parents were told their kid would never be independent, I think I am doing pretty darn good.”

Like his fixation on elevators, Reams is passionate about trains which is why he goes by Diesel Ducy, the name of a toy train he got when he was a small child.

Andrew Reams (WSLS)
Andrew Reams (WSLS)

He’s been working for Norfolk South Railroad as a locomotive engineer for over a decade.

“Just because you are diagnosed with something such as a learning disability or autism, I don’t even like to use the word disability,” he said. “Just because you are who you are, doesn’t mean you can’t lead a happy and productive life.”

When Reams decided to start his YouTube channel in 2006, he learned there were other people just like him with the same interest.

“YouTube channel has helped me connect with my followers and families of people who have autism,” he said. “A lot of people with autism are sensory-based. Like an elevator stimulates multiple senses. Touch, sound, sight, motion and I think a lot of the reasons us autistic people like elevators is due to the fact that it is a multi-sensory experience. It is not only elevators. A lot of people are obsessed with trains, toilets, fire alarms, door hardware, lighting.”

He was encouraged to share his love of elevators after being a photographer for a while.

“I love photography and would post things on Flickr and then a friend was like I should sign up for YouTube which was basically like Flickr but with videos,” Reams said. “In 2007, I filmed these 1993 elevators and then I put the video on YouTube and forgot about it. Three months later I was getting blown up with comments on my video of the Hilton Hotel in Atlanta. I open the page and it has hundreds of views and my eyes pop out of my head, and I am like, ‘Who is watching this crap?’ I thought I was the only one who liked elevators because I used to be really closeted about my love for elevators.”

That is when Reams started going around Roanoke filming all the parking garage elevators.

“I pioneered an entire genre on the internet dating back to 1993 before YouTube even existed.,” he said. “I have brought a lot of people to visit Roanoke. I work closely with people at Park Roanoke.

“Thanks to my YouTube videos, Roanoke’s parking garage elevators are landmarks in the elevator enthusiast community,” Reams said.

Reams said he is beyond passionate about taking people on a journey when they come through his museum.

Andrew Reams (WSLS)
Andrew Reams (WSLS)
Andrew Reams (WSLS)

“Usually, I get a wow! And then they go crazy pushing all the buttons,” he said. “I have the museum geared toward YouTube followers who have autism and just want to play, and also for a person who knows nothing about elevators so I can explain a little bit of history about elevators to them.”

He also connects to parents to help educate them on better ways to tend to the needs of their autistic children.

“I have talked to these parents about how to deal with what they call their little problem child,” Reams said. “I don’t like to use the word problem, but I was always told I was a problem child and I tell a lot of these parents, don’t shun your child for what you might perceive to be a really weird interest. One of the characteristics of autism is a fixation on stuff. I tell them don’t shun it. Embrace it. Do it with them. It will strengthen your bond. But watch for when a passion becomes an obsession. A passion is okay, but an obsession is unhealthy and for a lot of these people with autism it is hard to moderate that.”

Reams is not only an advocate for people with autism, but he is a major fighter against bullying.

Andrew Reams (WSLS)

“I tell people, ‘You are stronger than the people who are bullying you,’” Reams said. “‘The reason you are being bullied is because these people are insecure about themselves, so they have to go after someone who they think is weaker to make themselves feel big and in reality, you are the bigger man.’”

He had this to say to anyone going through some kind of struggle with who they are as a person.

“I look at it like this, you only live life one time,” he said. “Why waste time being miserable? I hate the word, ‘disability.’ I like to use the word, ‘unique.’ If you have something that makes you unique, embrace who you are. Love yourself. Don’t ever put yourself down and don’t let anyone put you down because you are beautiful just the way you are.”

Andrew Reams (WSLS)

About the Author:

Japhanie Gray joined 10 News as an anchor in March 2022.