Childhood experiences often create lasting memories and make impressions on young boys, especially when they involve their father. Add a really big machine to the equation, and there is the explanation of why Joe Landry of Lewiston has what many might call an obsession with trains.

As a 4-year-old boy, Joe and his father would walk each night to watch the giant steam engines roar into Grand Trunk Station on Lincoln Street in Lewiston.

“They were always on time, arriving EXACTLY at 6:45. We would watch the people get off and my father and I would get to go in the cab and talk with the engineers,” Landry said.

There was a department store that had a Lionel train in the window. One winter, two weeks before Christmas, it disappeared. “Everyone in the neighborhood wondered where it went. Christmas morning, when I came downstairs, it was steaming around our Christmas tree,” he said. He still has the set, sitting on a wall, mixed in with dozens of other models he has collected over the years.

At 15, while at Lewiston High School, he met the love of his life, Irene, and they recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

After high school, he spent two years in the Army as a welder. When he came home, he joined the Local 783 Pipefitters Union and became the youngest person in Maine to get a master plumber’s license, working in mills and atomic power plants. After 20 years of that, he worked at International Paper for the next 26 years until he was ready to retire.

Throughout those years, Landry began collecting trains and building his stations and layouts. “About every 10 years I would tear it all down and start from scratch,” he said.

In 1999, he went to a train show in Massachusetts and, for the first time, was introduced to a new technology: command and control. Instead of having dozens of switches and controls that could only direct one train, the new technology allowed a user to control 99 engines on the same track.

“It blew my mind,” Landry said. “I knew right then that this was the way to go. But I had more than 40 years of trains accumulated.”

He began to make calls and found a train dealer who agreed to buy his entire collection.

“I sold it all, except the one my dad gave me,” he said.

Over the next three years, he began to buy his rolling stock, track, buildings, wiring and thousands more pieces that have gone into a layout that fills nearly every inch of his cellar. The idea of his new layout was to make it look as realistic as possible.

“I was done with the toy look and wanted to make it as modern and present day as possible,” Landry said.

The new layout was started in 2001 and inspired by his son, Joey. It’s nearly complete. During the summer months, Landry is hard at work outside and rarely works on it, but he said once the cold weather comes, “my wife always knows where I am.”

“Most of the time is spent under the table. One look at the miles of wiring, numerous transformers and switches gives you an idea of the amount of work required to make it all work,” he said. “It is a precise endeavour, with little margin of error. Even the temperature and humidity are kept at a constant to ensure everything runs the way it should.”

Landry said, “There is no right or wrong with model train building. Everyone has their own vision and the only limit is the amount of time and money they want to put into it.”

It was Joe’s father who helped model his love of trains. His son, Joey, might have had some of it rub off on him, too; he is a certified train engineer working for Providence-Worcester Railroad. As a train master, he runs the train yards and personnel in a full-scale operation.

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