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Mary (left) and Jerry Kellen pose by a small portion of the model train layout in the basement of their home.

Lismore man's hobby leads to a room with a view

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LISMORE -- Jerry Kellen can't explain his love for trains.

"It's a disease," he said recently from his Lismore home. "Since I was a little kid on, I've liked trains. I can't explain it."

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Kellen has taken his love for trains and created a work of art. In his basement sits a model train layout -- and it's not just a simple train running in a circle on a piece of plywood.

"That's what most people think it is when you say you have a train layout -- it's a four-by-eight piece of plywood," he said.

Kellen's layout features more than 500 feet of track and numerous scenes.

For Kellen, his love of trains started when he was very young, when he and his father would take a trip into Worthington.

"We'd go to Worthington about once a month and I'd make him take me down by the depot and watch them shuffle trains around," he said.

He received his first train when he was still a young boy, but started getting serious about trains in the last 30 years.

"It's just a hobby," he said.

But it's more than that since he and his wife, Mary, bought their house in 1996.

"When we bought the house, the first thing we did was add six feet onto the garage and tore up the cement outside," Mary said. "We moved walls. What was there is different and nothing was finished off. That's why we finished that whole room off before he started his layout."

Jerry claims a big basement wasn't the reason they purchased the house, but, he said, "That's always in the back of your mind when you're a railroad nut."

Before he could place one tree or make one house, the foundation had to be laid.

"You put the base for the track up first," Jerry said. "All that was put down and tracks and trains were put on them before I ever did anything else. I had things in mind that I wanted to do.

"It was probably a couple years before I ever got enough track laid. It takes time to build all those frames to put it on."

Jerry laughed when he thought about how much time he's worked on the extensive layout.

"There's no way to figure out," Mary said.

"It's entertainment," Jerry said. "How much time do you sit in the bar drinking? It's one of them things, you don't keep track."

Jerry, who farms 140 acres, would work on it whenever he could.

"I would work at night on it at different times and on weekends," he said.

"Winter time more than anything because he always farmed his folks' place," Mary added.

The layout starts with a replica of downtown Lismore -- complete with a reproduction of the Kellen house.

"That's all scratch built," Jerry said.

The town of Lismore was where Jerry started, and he spent time to make things look identical to his hometown.

"We had to go to a lot of shows to try to find these things special," Mary said, adding it's impossible to keep up with the changes to the buildings.

There is a gravel mine and an old western town. There is a scene with a wedding and a scene by the lake.

"Some of it is just upstairs," Jerry said of his ideas. "We go to different train meets with our clubs. There are layout tours afterwards. You see something that you'd like to do."

"You see the new things come up like the baseball diamond," Mary said. "The kids bought him the great, big -- I don't know if you were planning on it -- but the kids bought you that building for the gravel pit."

The Kellens have two sons and two granddaughters -- who each have buildings named after them on the layout.

One of those buildings is on the ski mountain.

"I wanted a mountain and I wasn't even thinking of a ski lift," Mary said. "I said, 'Can't we have a mountain,' and the next thing you know we have the whole ski lift and the whole thing. You just kind of get ideas."

Across from the mountain, withs its ski lift that runs on a small motor, is a small western town.

"That old western part, if you ever go to some of these tourist towns, they have train rides and old buildings," Jerry said. "The other side with the lake, that's a resort."

With the buildings and trains mostly complete, Jerry has now been working on adding people and animals.

"He's tweaked a lot of it. All the extra figurines and all that stuff have come in the last year and a half or two years," Mary said. "The western town went in last winter. This winter, I come down and you said, 'I've added a whole bunch of people, can you find them?' So many dogs he added."

Some of the people and buildings come in kits, but Jerry puts his own special touch on each one.

"They might be plastic kits, but you paint them the way you want them to look and stuff like that," Jerry said. "There is very little down there that is bought and put on."

He isn't sure exactly how many people are hidden within his scene, but he estimates somewhere around 300 -- people ice skating, fishing and playing baseball.

At first, the two would make some of their own scenery.

"The grass and stuff, we buy all that," Mary said. "When we first started and we were at the other house, he worked at the lumberyard and we would get shavings, and then I would sift it and dye it green and all different colors. We don't do that anymore; he buys the packages. For what it took me to do, it's not that cheap, but it's not that expensive."

With a seemingly full layout, the question remains, what's next?

"That's what scares me, when they don't have room, they start tearing apart and starting over," Mary said.

"If I really want to start sticking money in, they have little chips you can put into the engines now and it will make sound," Jerry said. "You can run a lot more with it. I have too much old stuff, it's too hard to wire. That's probably where I'm going next."

The two travel to shows at different places in the Midwest to get new ideas.

"That's our traveling. Even when we go for vacation, we went last year and took two weeks and we did a couple of train rides," Mary said.

For Jerry, it's not just about the model trains.

"He's not one of these who gets upset when you have to stop to watch the train go by," Mary said.

Jerry and Mary invite people to give them a call and come and see the train layout. They can be reached at (507) 472-8436.

Daily Globe Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.

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