Train of thought

Photo by Garrett Monnin
Nurturing a growing interest in photography, Garrett Monnin uses family vacations as a chance to seek out and shoot steam engines. He’s captured dramatic images of the photogenic machines all around Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

(Posted June 29, 2017)

By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer

Kenlee Monnin has a mixed reaction when her parents announce vacation plans for the family.

At first, she is excited by the prospect of going somewhere new, but that enthusiasm is tempered when her old brother, Garrett, opens his mouth.

Having been on many family vacation before, she knows this routine all too well.

Once the family decides on a destination, Garrett marks stops along the way at either train stations or train museums. It seems rather harmless—a few minutes along the way to see something historic—but Kenlee knows that “along the way” often translates to “out of the way.”

“He always takes us three hours out of the way just to look at trains,” she said.

Garrett believes his sister just likes to complain about things.

“She secretly likes it, too,” he countered.

When prodded by their mother, Mary, Kenlee fesses up.

“Ok,” she said. “I like them for maybe 10 minutes.”

Dave, their father, looked dubious at her refusal to admit her interest.

Though train enthusiasm isn’t shared, allegedly, by everyone in the Monnin household, it has been nourished by Garrett, a 17-year-old junior-to-be at Jonathan Alder High School.

Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
Garrett Monnin, 17, showcases a portion of the train layout he meticulously created at his Plain City home. The soon-to-be-junior at Jonathan Alder High School has had an enthusiasm for trains since he was introduced to them by his grandmother as an infant.

His long-standing passion for trains began in infancy when his grandmother bought him a pull-along Thomas the Tank Engine toy. It quickly became his favorite.

“I went everywhere with it,” said Garrett. “I did, however, graduate from that and move onto the real ones.”

It was during a trip to see a Thomas the Tank Engine exhibit in Kentucky that he fell in love with those real ones.

As Mary recalls, the family was wandering through the cute items on display when a 3-year-old Garrett noticed a large, stationary train in the distance. She tried to focus her son’s attention back on the exhibit but without luck.

“I would try to point something out to him about Thomas and he would go, ‘Hmm, that’s nice,’ and turn back to the real train,” she said with a laugh.

After that experience, it was all things trains.

Garrett’s collection began with little items he received as Christmas gifts. Then it became a full blown layout as more and more people gifted him with train paraphernalia and memorabilia.

Like a train itself, the layout was a traveling one.

“It’s been kicked out of every room in the house,” he said.

Currently, his roughly estimated 500-piece layout resides in the basement of his Plain City home with plenty of room to spare, kind of.

Photo by Garrett Monnin
Monnin captured this image of a steam engine while on vacation in Pennsylvania.

“I would love to tunnel through this wall but I doubt my mom will go for that,” he said.

Still, he intends to ask in the future.

For now though, he is content with keeping his trains in working order and synching the pieces up with the latest technology. But of course, model trains are not all he has taken an interest in.

For the past several years, Garrett has been learning the art of photography so he can capture trains in all their glory. So far, he has traveled to several locations throughout the region in order to showcase the unexpected beauty of steam engines. He says he hopes his photographs will leave people as intrigued by steam engines as he is.

“They’re so unique and so different from anything else,” he said.

Naturally, Garrett would like to be a foreman for his future profession. He even made a PowerPoint presentation for his parents discussing the growth of the industry. In the meantime he wants to channel his passion for trains through advocacy.

A portion of his layout will be on display from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. July 9 at the Madison County Fair. Garrett and fellow members of the Buckeye Division of the Toy Train Operating Society are manning the display. He also said he would like to create a train exhibit with the Madison County Historical Society and the Plain City Historical Society.

“There’s so much history one can learn while researching trains,” he said.

For instance, he explained, London was created through its proximity to the railroad and then thrived through its transports.

The station, he said, was a hub of activity.

“I would love to talk about the history of trains here and how it impacted society,” he said.

As his list of train-related wishes grows, Garrett said he will continue to be an “ambassador for trains” and continue to annoy his sister by making his family go out of their way to historic train destinations as they head off to vacation.

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