(this article was published in the
Enumclaw Courier Post in 2015)
Tug'ing on My Heart Strings
The phrase "I have a dream" resonates with us humans. We can be filled with an
inexpressible hope which leads to a reality of either success on one end of the
spectrum or, well, a "crash and burn" on the other. Dreams give us something to
look forward to, a goal to reach, and are down right inspiring.
My brother, Dillon, has a dream, but he has something that hinders him from
bringing that dream to life. Autism. This spectrum brain disorder has made it so that,
in his case, he cannot manage an independent life for himself, though he has a hope
of one day being fixed.
You see, Dillon wants to become a tugboat captain. He spends inordinate amounts of
time (at least from my perspective) reading about machines and boats and the way
things work, so it is only natural that he would want to pursue something related to
But a captain of a tugboat you say? Perhaps that is somewhat of a lofty goal for one
challenged as he is, but then, we all have something that stands in our way from
pursuing our passions. The question is will it be allowed to stop you from reaching
for your dream?
My family believes that Dillon's hopes are important, and so my dad decided to
support my brother as he reached for his dream.
He began by looking up plans for building a mini wooden tugboat, but as he
researched, numerous obstacles began to surface. Building this boat could take
years, and would require large sums of money. We didn't want to give up, but
perhaps this dream would not be feasible after all.
We began to share the story with others resulting in Dillon's own website where
friends could donate to his dream. This was an unexpected delight to allow him to
read what others said to encourage him onward and he, with my dad's help, could
But even then we couldn't see this coming together anytime soon. Then my dad saw
a real mini tugboat for sale down in Oregon - not what we had in mind, but maybe it
would work. Maybe Dillon's dream could still come true.
When my dad decided to buy the tug, he didn't tell Dillon he was bringing it home,
and it was a complete surprise when Dillon walked out the back door.
My brother does not show excitement in the ordinary ways such as I do, jumping and
yelling and racing around like a chicken with her head chopped off. No, he just
begins to talk. And talk. And talk. And before you know it, you have been informed
on exactly how the two silver smokestacks that emerge from the tug are attached,
how they function, and why they are the best things ever.
The tug has been christened "Heart Strings", in honor of the fact that Dillon, and
Dillon's dream, tugs on my dad's heartstrings.
Our little Heart Strings is a 16' log pusher built in 1956, and was actually used in the
lumber industry for transporting logs down the waterways. The classic boat colors of
black and rust decorate its hull, and it's powered by a gas motor that my brother
would be delightedly eager to explain to you in detail should you happen to ask him
This sturdy tug still needs some modifications, but Dillon has already adopted his
role as captain with ease, and the boat hasn't even been on the water yet. One rainy
day a couple of weeks ago, Dillon looked outside and saw that the boat was getting
His wheels began to turn. Wet plus metal equals rust. Rust equals bad for tugboat.
Therefore, the boat must be wiped down.
With this in mind, Dillon turned to my dad. "Are you going to swab the deck or
what?" he said, in complete seriousness. Ah, the fine art of delegation.
Needless to say, my dad wasn't terribly keen on that proposition applying to him, but
still, we got a good laugh out of it.
Dillon also decided the tug must not miss out on Christmas and he wanted to
decorate it with a nativity scene. So we agreed to sign up Captain Dillon and Heart
Strings to be pulled through the Enumclaw Christmas Parade this year. He was very
excited to be able to show off the manifestation of his dream.
Well, it seems the next phase for Heart Strings is to install some safety features, so
we don't have any 'man overboard' incidents. It is not without expense however, and
many people have been very generous in donating funds towards Dillon's dream.
My family has been encouraged throughout this ongoing journey, both by those that
see Dillon regularly and by people who have followed his story on Facebook. We are
very grateful to those people, and it is with their help that we continue to move
forward with Heart Strings' repairs.
Dillon's story is not one without struggle, as autism will continue to be an obstacle
to overcome the rest of his life, but he has not let it stop him from having dreams and
achieving his goals with supports in place!
His dream to be a tugboat captain is becoming a reality - Heart Strings is a real
tugboat and Dillon will be the real captain. He will be able to operate the boat
himself, with dad just standing by and enjoying the ride, with the occasional
swabbing of the deck.
With the help of family, friends, and people who believe dreams are worth pursuing,
Dillon comes closer and closer to putting that tug on the ocean and finally being able
to go Tug'ing on Heart Strings.
As he putts about, give him a shout and a wave. He might even have some life-savers
to hand out (if he hasn't devoured them himself first).
To learn more about Dillon's dream, visit his website:
This article is submitted by:
15 year old Marina Graham, Dillon's younger sister. Passion for creative writing and