Michigan hobbyist builds 800-foot mini train track
HOWELL TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — About 3,000 railroad ties are held down by about 10,000 screws.
A Howell Township miniature train enthusiast has spent countless hours over the last six years building an 800-foot track for his collection of rideable gas-powered miniature engines, train cars and cabooses.
“Every blinking moment of my life is trains,” Dan Kalis told the Livingston Daily Press & Argus . “I’ve always loved trains. It’s right here in my heart all the time.”
The track, which Kalis, 30, built in the front and back yards of his parents’ home where he lives, is not technically open to the public. However, he said he is more than happy to offer train rides to people who are interested.
His collection of train cars will number 36 soon, once some custom orders arrive, he said.
A yellow train engine made by Virginia-based Titan trains and powered by a 16-horsepower V-twin Briggs and Stratton engine — like you would find in a riding lawn mower — is his favorite.
“Some of the cars we’ve made ourselves. Some we’ve bought from others or friends have made them for us,” his mother Sharon Kalis, 60, said.
She said it can be a pricey hobby and some cars go for thousands of dollars each, although the family has saved some money buying some of them used.
“I don’t necessarily want people coming and knocking on the door all the time, but if he’s out, he’s more than willing to give rides,” she said. “I don’t mind an occasional visitor as long as it’s not all the time.”
She said the train is a big hit with adults and children who come to their yard sales, which they hold twice a year.
“The adults are just as interested as the children, if not more so,” she said.
Dan Kalis also takes his trains to a track at the Steam Railroading Institute of Owosso and runs them there.
“I did it at Howell Melon Fest one year, took a section of track, and people loved it,” he said.
Little by little, the rideable scale train setup has grown and become more elaborate over the years, Dan Kalis said.
“When I started six years ago, it was just one circle, oval in the backyard,” he said. “I added more and more and changed the layout.”
It winds around both the front and back yard. He added switches that allow the train to travel in different directions. He installed railroad crossing signs and lights.
“Last year, I found a playhouse at an estate sale. It was pink and purple and I brought it home and he painted it red and made it into his train depot,” Sharon Kalis said.
The track also features a miniature conductor at the depot, a couple of dollhouses and a water tower.
Dan Kalis works for his father’s hauling company and sets his own hours, which affords him the opportunity to work on the train setup nearly every day, he said.
Several of his longtime friends help him build and maintain his trains and tracks.
Two friends assisting him recently, Sarah Ryan, 35, and Justin Kenney, 28, agreed that they are nearly as excited about trains as he is.
“It is interesting and also a neat hobby that helps you kill time with the work,” Kenney said. “The reason I got into it is because I’m his friend and I was willing to help, and I love it.”
Dan Kalis said his girlfriend Laura Call and friend Jeff Sexton have also been invaluable assistants.
He expects to have a much longer train track in five years or so. The family is planning to move to a larger property in northern Michigan.
“We just bought 20 acres up north, so I have plans to build an even bigger one once we’re up there,” he said.
He said a major source of inspiration is Train Mountain, a 36-mile miniature railroad through the Ponderosa pine forests of southern Oregon. A major event for model train enthusiasts is held there every three years.
“That one is the largest and where I wish I was right now,” he said.
Information from: Livingston Daily Press & Argus, http://www.livingstondaily.com