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Skip Knight: the love of trains travels through his veins

March 31, 2008

By Jen Bakken
Staff Writer

There’s a home in Delano that has more than just a couple of Ford vehicles in the driveway.

A train-shaped mailbox catches your eye for a minute as you arrive at the home of Skip and Kay Knight, but you can’t help but stop and stare when you notice a big sign that says, “Delano” in their yard.

The sign is from the old Delano Train Depot, and Skip still chuckles when he tells the story of how it became his.

“When they were taking the depot down, I was watching,” he remembered. “I bet a couple guys I could go to the liquor store and get a case of beer before they could take the sign down.”

Back when there was a liquor store in downtown Delano, this avid train collector hoped he could win the bet.

There was no way he’d skip out on the chance to have a piece of the depot to add to his memorabilia.

His sprint was well worth it, even though when he returned, the men were sitting waiting for him with the sign lying next to them.

Well worth the run, because as he handed them the case of beer, they handed him the sign that is now proudly displayed in his yard.

Trains are something Skip has loved since he was a little boy growing up in England. He used to sit and watch the steam engines race by, and he is still enthralled with them today.

You may wonder how a boy who was fascinated with trains ended up in Delano, all the way from England – the answer to this question leads to yet another one of his interests, World War II.

It was during World War II that his father, a Minnesotan, flew in the United States Air Force and met Skip’s mother, who was a nurse at the time.

“My dad flew every day, but one day, he didn’t,” he laughed. “That’s when I came into the picture.”

Because of his father’s involvement in World War II and the stories he told, Skip began to collect anything and everything related to the war, from magazines to newspaper articles and books.

Eventually, Skip met his wife, Kay (Zyllo), on a blind date, and they have been married for 44 years.

The past 26 years of their marriage, they have lived in Delano as the fifth generation of Kay’s family to live in their house in town.

The couple has two daughters, Diane and Debbie, along with three granddaughters, Laurie, Heather, and Amanda.

“I don’t know how she (Kay) has put up with me all these years,” Skip smiled. “She says I have a lot of junk and calls me a pack rat. I really don’t throw anything away, and I don’t fish or hunt, so I collect things.”

Skip retired three years ago after 32 years of working as a heavy line mechanic for Ford.

He will readily strike up a conversation about cars, especially Fords.

Kay has been employed by Haven Homes in Maple Plain for the past 25 years, and while she is away at work, Skip can be found watching the news or adding to his collections.

Yes, collections.

You see, he didn’t stop at trains or World War II items – in fact, a visit to his home may cause you to question how many different things he actually collects.

Standing in his living room, on the hardwood floor he will proudly tell you he installed himself, you notice a collection of Princess Diana plates, American Eagle statues, airplanes, more than 700 VHS tapes, antique plates and dinnerware, a shelf full of Thomas Kincade condiment containers, ships and Titanic memorabilia, including an actual piece of coal from the ship, to name only a few of the things he collects.

“They kind of overpower the whole house,” said Kay Knight. “But, it’s okay.”

Though he is a modest man, who you practically have to beg to photograph, he is proud of the items he has collected over the years.

His friend, Roy Larson, and fellow Delano American Legion member, suggested the newspaper do a story about him, but Skip doubted the idea.

“There’s not much of a story to tell. I’m kind of embarrassed,” he admitted. “I’m just a guy who collects things and I’m a train nut.”

A train nut, as he calls himself, is a good way to sum up a man who will eagerly show off a piece of the Delano railroad track, switch lanterns, and countless model trains throughout his home.

He even created a 55-foot-long train Christmas display with over 3,000 lights, and has an actual railroad crossing sign.

“One day, a lady pulled in my driveway asking if I was the guy who collected train stuff,” he remembered. “Then she gave me the railroad crossing sign. I’m not even sure who she was.”

It’s difficult to miss a home with train memorabilia scattered about from the mailbox, the yard, the garage. and the house.

When you meet Skip Knight, it is even more difficult to miss that, at heart, he remains a little boy who loves his trains.

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