An impressive multi-level, HO-scale model train display that fills the entire air conditioned garage of Doug Finn’s Buttonwood Bay home is the result of two and a half years of effort by the hobbyist.
“It is still a work in progress,” said Finn of the 21-foot-by-8-foot platform that contains 20 steam and diesel engines, tunnels, freight yards, loading docks, gas stations, antique cars and rolling hills, complete with fall foliage, which he modeled after Pennsylvania in the 1950s.
“HO is the most popular gauge; they are half the size of an O gauge. You can do more in a given space,” explained the retired General Motors industrial engineer who got his first train in 1946 when he was only 7 years old.
“He has had (trains) ever since I’ve known him, since he was a first lieutenant at Ft. Knox,” said his wife, Mary Jo, of the man she met while he was serving as an infantry company commander at the Kentucky Army base.
“He had a little layout in his room, and every place we’ve moved to he’s built one,” she remembered.
Finn, his wife of 45 years, and their son, Michael, moved from Fenton, Mich., to Sebring 12 years ago after visiting friends who live in the area.
Mary Jo is active with their resort community’s water aerobics group, leading year-round classes for about 18 men and women.
The youngest of the couple’s six children, Michael, shares his father’s passion for trains.
The 34-year-old, who has Downs Syndrome, was eager to point out his favorite steam engines and the digital command control system that allows an operator to run each engine individually.
“Michael rides with the Heartland Horses and Handicapped program and serves mass at St. James almost every week,” said Doug with pride. “He is a good kid.”
For the past five years, Finn and his son have been members of the Sebring Model Railroad Club, a group that holds monthly meetings and sets up exhibits at events throughout Highlands County.
“We just finished an event at the mall on March 17,” said Finn, the vice president of the club.
He said that members show off their hobby by setting up modular layouts at the mall three times a year and during the Civilian Conservation Corps annual celebration the second week of November at Highlands Hammock State Park.
“Doug is very involved with the club. He is a fantastic guy that has helped out several members with their layouts. And Michael is a very good helper when we set up our displays,” said Gene Archer, the former president of the model train club.
“(Doug) does a lot of charity work. He helps everyone he can.”
Finn, who earned a degree in business administration from the University of Dayton, has a history of giving back to the community. He coached football for 25 years at his children’s Catholic school and helped with the finances of the grammar school for over 30 years.
“It is satisfying to know you’re really helping someone,” said Finn, who donates time to St. Vincent De Paul of St. James Catholic Church in Lake Placid.
St. Vincent helps those facing hardships with rent, utilities and financial assistance.
Finn also serves as vice president of the board of Manna Ministries, a non-denominational organization that operates their Lake Placid store at 416 Kent Ave. Mondays through Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“We provide food and clothing for people in need,” said Finn of the charity that services approximately 600 families a month. “It can get busy, especially the last three or four years the way things have been.”
But for today, this conservative, soft spoken humanitarian is content to be showing off the trains he loves.
Finn doesn’t have to go very far to enjoy his hobby. With a look of satisfaction reminiscent of a child on Christmas morning, his eyes spanned his collection, and he said, “I can walk out of my kitchen and run my trains anytime I want, which I do almost every day.”