Horn Lake Mayor Allen Latimer is making tracks in his spare time — literally.
Make that several yards of railroad tracks and hundreds of railroad cars set up in an outbuilding to the rear of his well-landscaped, manicured back yard. A small graveyard containing the remains of his beloved beagles is nearby.
His miniature train set is a hobby that has developed into a passion, a favorite past time that transports him back in time nearly a half century ago.
"I grew up by the railroad tracks," said Latimer, son of the late Roger and Lucille Latimer, a pioneering couple in the Horn Lake community. "My mother's people worked on the railroad," added Latimer.
One of those ancestors was William Scobee who served in the 3rd Mississippi Cavalry during the American Civil War and who later laid track for the Mississippi Central Railroad.
Mayor Latimer's father, Roger Latimer, was the owner of a longtime store at Bullfrog Corner, the legendary crossroads which was prone to frequent flooding and thus the ubiquitous croaking of bullfrogs in the nearby rain-swollen ditches and ravines.
No doubt sandwiches and cold drinks from his father's store quenched the hunger and thirst of many a modern railroad worker who headed up U.S. Highway 51 to the rail yards in Memphis.
The young Latimer also grew up hearing the stories of railroad men and the machines that powered their lives and imaginations.
"We used to go outside and wait for the trains to go by when I was a kid," Latimer said.
It's no wonder, then, that as a grown man Latimer would create an entire village encircled by a railroad track, with a switchyard, loading docks and grain bins along with handcrafted scenery that includes hills, valleys and hand-painted painted blue skies on poster board.
The track is illuminated by the soft glow of small electric red, green and yellow lights. The shrill whistle of a steam locomotive echoes throughout the miniature countryside as the engine chugs up a hill, its boxcars loaded down with coal and timber.
"This is a Lionel train," said Latimer after unlocking a modest, nondescript garden shed in his backyard that revealed the sprawling miniature city meticulously laid out on a raised platform inside.
"My grandchildren and I have a ball with it," said Latimer, adding that family members are well aware of his love of trains and present him with a new railroad car, engine or other specialty item to add to his collection at Christmas time.
All in all, Latimer estimates that he must have amassed several hundred items over the years, which he painstakingly adds to his collection.
"I have a couple hundred cars and 15 engines," Latimer said. 'My most favorite is an 060 Switch Engine that is lettered with the logo of the Illinois Central Railroad."
Trains now occupy his spare time when he is not solving big money crunch issues for the City of Horn Lake.
"My main hobby was rabbit hunting," said Latimer. "I really miss my beagles. I also used to enjoy re-enacting," added Latimer of his penchant for donning the butternut gray uniform of a Confederate soldier. "Then, I got too old to do all of that. I got more and more interested in trains. It's relaxing."
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at email@example.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.