Blending Passion & Purpose: The Lou Maxon Story

Show Notes

Blending Passion & Purpose: The Lou Maxon Story

My guest is Lou Maxon back for a second conversation 

With a heart for giving back and an eye for design, Lou Maxon has made a name for himself in the world of creative marketing.

Having lent his expertise to organizations like Ronald McDonald House and the city of Carnation, Washington, Lou's work often reflects his passion for community involvement and helping others. His experience with clients such as the Carnation brand showcases his ability to create meaningful stories and foster lasting connections. As an expert in his field, Lou's insights into the world of railroads and how creative spaces can boost imagination make him a captivating guest for audiences interested in exploring the intersection of creativity and railroads.

It's that thing where your personal passion and your work kind of meet for a greater purpose. - Lou Maxon

This is Lou Maxon's railroad story:

Maxon Studio

Photo Credit Aaron Leitz



Lou's unique and imaginative workspace is a custom railroad car, fostering a creative environment for him to create magic for his clients. With a passion for design, architecture, and cars, Lou has built a successful career helping brands with a spirit of giving back. His journey has taken him from working with Ronald McDonald House to Lexus, BMW, Seattle Magazine, Dwell and even starting his own design studio. Lou's creative spirit continues to inspire those around him, proving that when passion meets purpose, remarkable things can happen.

Away from Reality: The Connection Between Trains and Creative Exploration

Creating a space away from reality can be an essential component for artistic individuals looking to tap into their imagination and work on their projects. For Lou Maxon, the railroad car office represented a doorway into an imaginary world where creativity flowed freely, allowing him to unplug and focus on his work. This creative getaway resembles Mr. Rogers' trolley, which transported Lou's mind to the world of make-believe as a child.  Lou openly acknowledged the influence Mr. Rogers had on him and how the concept of the trolley propelled him into an imaginative space. Lou's office represents that successful manifestation from childhood, where the train transports him to a magical, creative space, away from everyday life, to dream and bring ideas to fruition.

Interior of Maxon Studio lower level

Photo Credit Aaron Leitz

This passion project not only serves as an inspiring workspace, but it also connects him to the rich history and excitement of railroads. To achieve this vision, Lou faced various challenges, including learning about trains, rails, and working as a general contractor. However, showcasing persistence and dedication, he managed to build the railroad track he had always dreamt of.  In the conversation, Lou described in detail how he had always been captivated by trains since childhood. He shared his fascination for model railroads with his father and the impact of railroads on the town he lived in. It's evident that Lou's passion for trains played a major role in fueling his creativity for constructing a railroad-inspired office, driving him to continuously be hands-on in the entire building process.

What's Next? Future Plans for a Railroad-Inspired Creative Life

As creative individuals go through a journey of exploration, new avenues and opportunities arise. Lou Maxon's project brought forth fresh creative vectors in his life that he plans to investigate in the days to come. His rail-based workspace has sparked more ideas for projects and initiatives that combine his branding skills and storytelling with his deep-rooted passion for railroads.  In the podcast, Lou hinted at what the future holds for him and his railroad-inspired creative life. The train office has become a launchpad for new project ideas, exploring novel ways to merge his work and interests. Whether it's designing and building more train environments or using his storytelling abilities to share the excitement of railroads, Lou is eager to dive into the next chapter of his creative journey.

The resources mentioned in this episode are:

Learn about Ronald McDonald House and consider supporting or volunteering for the organization.

Explore Carnation, Washington, and learn about its history and connection to the Carnation brand.

Find ways to give back and use your skills to help others, whether it's through pro bono work, volunteering, or simply sharing your expertise.Look for opportunities to collaborate with others in your field, like Lou did with other designers, illustrators, and photographers.

Be open to new experiences and challenges, as they can lead to valuable connections and opportunities for personal and professional growth.

Consider the importance of working with brands that share your values and prioritize giving back to the community.

Use your passion and interests as a driving force behind your work and seek out projects that align with those passions.

Be open to change and adaptation, as it can lead to exciting new opportunities and partnerships.Explore opportunities for incorporating film and multimedia into your projects and collaborations.

Timestamped summary of this episode:

00:00:00 - Introduction: Host Scott Cowan introduces the podcast and welcomes the guest Lou Maxon. He explains that the podcast features conversations with interesting people living in or from Washington State.   

00:01:18 - Volunteering with Ronald McDonald House: Lou shares how he got his first pro bono design job with Ronald McDonald House, which led to a 16-year-long relationship of doing design work for them. He talks about the impact of the organization and the importance of giving back.

00:10:28 - The Story of Carnation Farms:  Lou discusses how he got involved with the city of Carnation and met the family behind Carnation Farms. He talks about the history of the town and how he helped write the positioning statement to create Carnation as a destination brand.

00:13:11 -  Creating a Working Farm Stand: Lou talks about how he worked with the family behind Carnation Farms to create a sustainable programming education about food and farming. They turned one of the old housing bays for workers into a working farm stand that also serves as a living museum.

00:15:23 - Lou's Work as a Designer: Lou talks about his career as a designer, his vision for his work, and his clients. He discusses his ongoing relationship with a health and wellness brand, his work on a magazine, and his interest in film.

00:18:48 - Chance Encounter with Craig Brooks:  Lou talks about meeting Craig Brooks at a shoot and how their mutual love for design, architecture, and cars led to them working together on various projects, including a TV commercial for Zulilly.

00:22:30 - Miniature World Campaign for Zulilly: Lou shares how he came up with the idea for Zulilly's TV commercial after seeing a miniature exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute and being inspired by Wes Anderson's style. He talks about the process of bringing this idea to life and the positive feedback it received.            

00:30:21 - Electric BMW Commercial: Lou discusses the unique approach they took for BMW's TV commercial by partnering with local furniture makers, Gray Pants, to showcase the car's sustainable features instead of just listing them. The spot became an anthem ad and stood out from the usual flashy car ads.            

00:35:39 -                          The Art of Storytelling,                       Lou talks about the importance of storytelling in advertising and how it has become more popular in recent years. He believes that everyone has been telling stories since childhood and that brands need to create an emotional connection with their audience through storytelling.             00:37:22 -                          Family Legacy in Advertising,                       Lou Maxon talks about his family's legacy in advertising, with his great grandfather working as an advertiser in the 40s. Lou's dad also worked in the creative side of the business, and Lou grew up going on press checks and visiting agencies. He found inspiration in magazines like Communication Arts and was drawn to the idea of coming up with the ideas for ads rather than the technical side of things.

00:42:56 -                          Family Compound in Onaway, Michigan,                       Lou talks about his great grandfather's 200-acre compound in Onaway, Michigan, where agency executives and clients would come up from Detroit on the weekends. Lou was fascinated by the idea of getting away from the noise and mess of everyday life and experiencing a different way of living. This idea would later inspire him when building his own house.

 00:47:43 -                         Building a House with Olsen Kundig,                       Lou commissioned Olsen Kundig to design his house, inspired by their work on a project called Chicken Point. Lou wanted his office to be detached from the house, and Tom Kundig pitched the idea of making it moveable, nested in with the house and connected to the woods. The idea was expensive and ambitious, but Lou was excited about the possibility of creating a space for creativity and escape.

00:50:03 -                          Taking Risks in Architecture,                       Lou was drawn to Tom Kundig's willingness to take risks and think outside the box. He appreciated their focus on creating a space based on experience rather than style, and their willingness to listen to the client's needs and desires. Lou sees his house as a way to escape from the noise and mess of everyday life and connect with nature, a place to work and create in a unique and inspiring environment.

00:54:43 -                          Pitching the Idea of a Moving Office to His Wife,                       Lou was excited about the idea of a moving office but knew it would be a hard sell to his wife. He slowly introduced the idea to her, explaining the concept and the potential benefits. In the end, they both fell in love with the idea and were willing to take the risk and invest in creating a unique and inspiring space for themselves and their family.

00:56:21 -                          The Pitch,                       Lou Maxon talks about how he worked on his house for a long time before creating the railroad car studio. He wanted to create a place where he could do his work and the story of the space had to meet the mark of the work that he was going to be doing inside.

01:02:13 -                          Trains and Railroading,                       Lou Maxon talks about his love for trains and railroading, which started when he had a model railroad with his dad when he was a child. He learned about the railroads that came through Carnation, and he also got into garden-scale model railroads, which became his obsession.

01:08:49 -                          General Contracting,                       Lou Maxon talks about how he decided to be the general contractor for the railroad car studio project, despite having no experience in it. He wanted to be more hands-on with the project and had researched a lot about railroads and tracks.

01:12:28 -                          Building the Railroad,                       Lou Maxon talks about how they ordered relay rail from Harmer Steel in Portland, which was part of the Great Northern railroad. They had to order splice bars to connect the rail pieces, and they worked with a building warehouse in Issaquah to get ties made of fir. They ran all the levels right before Thanksgiving.

01:14:29 -                          Building the Railway,                       The track is 110ft long and took three months to build. The crew had to measure everything multiple times and prepare the ground before setting the ties and craning the rails onto them. The rails were sourced from different spots, and the team had to pair them up and connect them with rail clips and splice bars.

01:17:07 -                          Designing the Studio,                       The studio is based on the caboose of a train and is two stories tall with a tower and a cupola. The team used architectural drawings to create a shop drawing for a fabricator, like building with Legos. Everything except for the lighting was custom-made from steel, including the wheels that were fabricated on a custom lathe.

01:22:09 -                          Creating Functionality,                       The studio is an electric train that moves at a low speed of 1-2mph to a high speed of 6-7mph. It has a dumbwaiter - a mini train within the train - that moves by a conveyor belt and a motor from a Sushi restaurant in Japan. The locomotive control panel is a GM EMD electric motor diesel locomotive control panel that operates the train's throttle and direction.

01:27:51 -                          Safety Measures,                       The team had to solve for safety measures, including a positive train control system that stops the train if the engineer doesn't interact with the throttle within a certain time period. The studio has a brake and a wheel stop at both ends, as well as stabilizer bars to prevent tipping in an earthquake.

01:31:23 -                          Working in the Studio,                       The first day of working in the studio was a switch from the function of getting it done to the function of being in it and working. The desk and library were set up with all sorts of things, and Lou's first Mountain Dew was ready to go.

01:32:39 -                          The Beginning of Enjoyment,                       Lou Maxon talks about his excitement for what will be made in his unique workspace, a moving train in the woods. Being at halftime of his career, Lou hopes to continue creating meaningful projects and enjoying the process of making and dreaming.

 01:35:20 -                          Away from Reality,                       Lou compares his train in the woods to Mr. Rogers' trolley that takes him to the land of make-believe. The train is a place to imagine, create and begin the journey for an idea or project. Lou hopes that visitors will be reminded of the importance of tangible things that come from imagination.

01:38:04 -                          Creatively Making and Dreaming,                       Lou speaks about the contrast between making and dreaming, represented by the upstairs and downstairs of the moving train. He explains how the views of the landscape are changing depending on where one is, and how he's intrigued to see what inspires him to work in the unique space.

01:41:47 -                          Pies vs. Cakes,                       Lou reveals that he's always been a pie guy, especially lemon meringue and rhubarb pies. Although he does have a soft spot for a good cake and his wife's carrot and coconut cake.

01:44:28 - What's Next? Lou shares exciting news about securing land behind the railroad track and talks about the possibility of continuing the railway, including putting in a turntable. He leaves listeners wondering what will be next for his unique workspace.

Each episode we will have a chat with someone who has a great story to share about Washington State. From artists, to business owners.  Musicians to athletes. Exploring Washington State will showcase the beauty and creativity here in Washington State.

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