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updated: 12/20/2013 12:13 PM

Moving picture: Elgin man goes big with trains, Christmas lights

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  • Video: Moving Picture: Big Hobbies

  • The ornaments that hang in Elgin resident Mike Arnold's tree were something that he saw with his wife while driving around looking at Christmas lights. They liked the ornaments and figured out a way to make them out of cups. Every year, they add another ornament to the tree, now totaling 38.

       The ornaments that hang in Elgin resident Mike Arnold's tree were something that he saw with his wife while driving around looking at Christmas lights. They liked the ornaments and figured out a way to make them out of cups. Every year, they add another ornament to the tree, now totaling 38.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Mike Arnold of Elgin sits at his computerized control panel for his model train collection. Arnold still has his original set from his childhood, and it still runs.

       Mike Arnold of Elgin sits at his computerized control panel for his model train collection. Arnold still has his original set from his childhood, and it still runs.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Arnold's layout spans some 1,400 feet of track and encompasses the entire room, filling it with more than 225 engines and 2,500 cars.

       Arnold's layout spans some 1,400 feet of track and encompasses the entire room, filling it with more than 225 engines and 2,500 cars.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Putting up and taking down the Christmas lights is almost a 100-hour process and includes approximately 27,000 lights and 220 figurines.

       Putting up and taking down the Christmas lights is almost a 100-hour process and includes approximately 27,000 lights and 220 figurines.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Most of the 220 figurines that make up Arnold's collection have been updated with LED lights. "There are still a few of the old-fashioned style," said Arnold, who admits that Rudolph's nose just looks better with big red bulb.

       Most of the 220 figurines that make up Arnold's collection have been updated with LED lights. "There are still a few of the old-fashioned style," said Arnold, who admits that Rudolph's nose just looks better with big red bulb.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Arnold expanded his Elgin home in 1983 to add a dedicated train room.

       Arnold expanded his Elgin home in 1983 to add a dedicated train room.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 

If you live in the Fox Valley area, you have probably seen Mike Arnold's elaborate Christmas lights display at his home in Elgin on the 100 block of Monroe Street.

But only a handful of people know that Arnold is also a model train hobbyist.

"They are both passions, because you love doing it," Arnold said. "If you do something to this degree and effort and it's not fun, then it doesn't make any sense."

Arnold says he had a huge train layout at his dad's house when he was younger, and knew he would have to build onto his current house on Monroe Street to make room for the trains.

The Elgin hobbyist added a 20x24-foot addition with 12-foot ceilings to his home to hold his model trains, which are run by a computer. The layout spans some 1,400 feet of track and encompasses the entire room, filling it with more than 225 engines and 2,500 cars.

"Trains have been a big part of my whole life," Arnold said. "I got my first set before I was 5. I still have it, I still run it and it is still in perfect shape. How many kids can say that?"

As for his Christmas lights, Arnold says that he usually starts the 100-hour process of putting up somewhere between 26,000 to 28,000 lights and 220 figurines shortly after Thanksgiving.

"I started from the first year we got here in 1976 and this is the 38th year of doing it," he said. "I didn't ever think that it would grow into what it has."

Around 2005, Arnold started changing to LED lights when they became available and economical to buy. He says he switched because they are hardier and only cost about one third of the regular lights to operate.

The ornaments that hang in his tree were something that he saw with his wife while driving around looking at Christmas lights. They liked the ornaments and figured out how to make them out of cups. Mike cuts the cups and inserts the lights, staples them together and puts a mount on them, adding a new one each year.

Arnold says that he originally told himself he could do the light display for 50 years.

"Well, here we are and it's 38 (years later) and I am almost there," he said.

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