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Working on the Railroad... in Somers

SOMERS, N.Y. - Mike La Gue, member of the Somers Conservation Board, is a landscape designer by profession. When business is slow in the wintertime, though, his landscaping skills miniaturize. La Gue is a model train aficionado, with a spread of O-Gauge Lionels almost as large as its 14’ x 14’ room, including houses, farms, people, automobiles and a number of complicated junctions. “It’s a challenge to get from one track to another,” he explains. “It’s like a Rubik’s Cube.”

La Gue admits that “trains are a guy thing. They’re also a generation thing. I was born in 1951. We had a set of trains in the basement, but it was really my father’s hobby. It was too complicated for me to play with. I wasn’t even 10.

“Every January there’s a big train exhibition in Massachusetts. 25,000 people go. They’re almost all middle-aged guys, practically no women. The guys bring the kids along as an excuse.”

La Gue maintained a lingering but inactive interest in trains while in college and later. About 15 years ago he was invited to a party where “the guy took out his train set. I was impressed. I still had my father’s and I thought, ‘I can do that.’”

He started with a few tracks placed around the Christmas tree. The next year the display was bigger. By the third year, “it took over the floor of my living room. It stayed there for two years.”

Eventually he had to move to a larger condo with three bedrooms: one for himself, one for his office and one for the trains. He has no plans for further expansion however. “I see the layout growing up, not out. I’d like to add an elevated section.”

A while ago someone gave him a gift membership to the Danbury Railway Museum. What could be more appropriate? He began to volunteer there, starting as a conductor and eventually graduating to engineer. “They train you there, and then ex-Metro North people ‘qualify’ you.”

The Danbury Railway Museum is housed at the former Union Station dating to 1903. It has been restored and converted to a museum, where visitors can see the antique equipment and take an old-fashioned half-hour train ride. If you go, watch for Mike La Gue. He is an expert in more ways than one.

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