SAANICH -- Although he’s just “four and three quarters” years old, Jacob says he’s been riding the rails for more than half his life.

“Choo!” Jacob starts making a train sound. “Chugga-chugga-choo!”

It started when he was just two, his mom, Ali, says before showing me a video of her little boy making "choo-choo" sounds around a wooden toy train set.

“He’s a huge train fanatic,” Ali smiles.

When Jacob’s not acting as a train conductor on his grandpa’s elaborate miniature track, he’s being a trainspotter for full-sized real ones.

When Ali’s not singing the Thomas the Train theme song with him, she’s organizing train-themed birthdays at Heritage Acres.

Jacob is a regular at the Central Saanich venue where he can ride on working model trains.

It’s also where he first met Claude.

“He’s a train master!” Jacob smiles, describing the volunteering senior. “He runs these trains that go round in a big loop!”

“He’s just this really loving soul,” Ali adds.

Ali shows me pictures and videos of Claude taking Jacob for rides and showing him how the trains work.

“They formed this really cute relationship,” Ali smiles. “[Jacob] actually dressed-up as Claude for Halloween!”

A picture from that day shows Jacob beaming while wearing overalls and a conductor's hat.

Jacob was hoping to celebrate his fourth birthday there last year, and his fifth birthday next week – but the pandemic dashed that.

Then Jacob heard there was a fire at Heritage Acres earlier this week.

“Fire trucks and smoke bellowing [sic] out of the roof!” Jacob explains after seeing a picture on the news.

“He was really sad,” Ali says. “Like so sad he didn’t want to talk about it.”

But when he finally did, Jacob asked if Claude and the trains were OK. Then he came up with an idea.

“He said, ‘Maybe I can empty my piggy bank and give them my birthday money and they can build a new roof,’” Ali says.

Jacob decided to ask his friends — instead of giving presents to him — to consider donating Toonies to Claude for his birthday.

“It kind of blew us away,” Ali says.

Ali set up a GoFundMe page in support of Heritage Acres and the volunteer-run Vancouver Island Model Engineers with an initial goal of $250. So far, it’s reached almost $3,000.

“It’s really, really surprising,” Ali says, before laughing. “I think he’s probably regretting that he would give it all!”

But Jacob still asked to drop-off all the money on his actual fifth birthday this Monday.

“I think that’s what’s really special about kids,” Ali says. “From the goodness of their heart they want to open up and do something.”

When I ask Jacob how he feels about what he’s done, he replies by pointing past me: “Look! A Squirrel!”

A humble distraction perhaps. Jacob seems to be saying it’s not about him, he just came up with the idea. It's others who’ve raised the money. Like the theme song says — to his beloved toy train, Thomas the Blue — it’s just what you do, as part of a “really useful crew.”