Deb Malewski

Contributing Writer

Terry Davis, of Charlotte, is a man of varied interests, from bugs to the Civil War to the trains in Maine. Davis, originally from Jackson, Mich., graduated from Michigan State University in entomology (the scientific study of insects) in 1981. As a student, he spent every hour possible in the entomology lab and was hired full-time there after graduation. 

Davis retired from MSU in 2017 after 38 years. He has kept himself very occupied since retiring. 

His grandparents were Mississippi farmers and were his inspiration for his career in agriculture. The study of entomology allowed him to pursue that interest. 

“It was a good career,” Davis said. 

He authored or helped author over 90 scientific studies as part of his employment. His work involved plant protection, animal health, and entomology research. 

As part of his job, Davis tested different pesticides to develop the biological control of agricultural pests like the Japanese beetle, the gypsy moth, and the emerald ash borer. Sixty percent of his work involved testing chemicals. It was “Squirt and count” work, as he described it, “but it paid the bills.”

More things happened in the lab that didn’t involve bugs. Davis met his wife, Maria, there. 

“It was a lab romance,” he said. 

Maria has been a provost at Olivet College for 26 years.  Their daughter, Anna, recently received her veterinary degree from Michigan State and works for the Michigan Large Animal Association. 

Davis started researching his family’s genealogy and discovered that he had 28 relatives that served in the Civil War: only one of them was from the north. He wrote the history of his civil war ancestors and was asked to present it for the Howell Civil War Roundtable; it was also published in their newsletter. The Civil War has always been one of his interests and he was involved with re-enacting groups and events. 

Railroading was part of Davis’ family—his grandfather was an engineer on the Southern Railway for 50 years. As a child, he loved model trains and he and his brother had a train layout in the basement. His very specific railroad interest is in the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad, which is a two-foot gauge railroad. The US standard railroad gauge is 4 feet, 8.5 inches (Gauge means width between the two rails).

Why the interest in the Maine Narrow Gauge railroad rather than something standard? His brother lived in New York City, Davis explained, and he had a summer house in Maine that Davis would visit. It was near Boothbay Railway Village, which he visited. The historic village was complete with a model railroad exhibit and featured a lot of Maine railroad history, which intrigued him. Maine used the smaller scale engines as they were less expensive.

It’s not just the trains that Davis is interested in. He discovered a talent for building the small structures that are used in model railroading to create towns and villages. With precision and an eye for detail, he creates model buildings in the Maine Narrow Gauge railroad scale. Despite being color blind, he has an incredible talent at recreating tiny period buildings, and he gives precise attention to the tiny details on these buildings. Every shake shingle on a roof is hand-cut and painstakingly placed as precisely as if it was a real full-sized roof. Tiny ladders, with the wood bars not much heavier than a thread, go up the sides of roofs and buildings. He won Best of Show for the North Central Region National Railroad Association for his buildings.

Davis is a member of the Great Lakes HOn30 Module Group, which is a group of model railroaders who model the 2-foot gauge railroads of Maine. He teaches his fellow model railroaders to build these buildings and other railroad accessories. 

Davis is also active in his church, the First Congregational Church in Charlotte. He’s been a member for 15 years, helped re-write the bylaws in 2018, and has served in numerous leadership roles in the church. “They’re really good people,” he said of his church community.

He hopes to do some traveling with his wife in the future.

“There will always be a train involved,” he admitted, “or perhaps a battlefield.”