Railroad Museum selling submarine-inspired car

04/13/2011 12:14 PM |


In the early 1960s, collectors of Lionel model trains had the rare opportunity to purchase a new flatcar with a working submarine on it.

The Railroad Museum of Long Island, which issues a special collector’s car as a fundraiser twice a year, is using that submarine car as a template for its next collector’s piece. The group is selling a car designed as a tribute to the USS Holland, the Navy’s first commissioned submarine, initially based in New Suffolk.

Railroad Museum vice president George Faeth is part of a three-man crew that has designed 10 collector’s cars since 2005. They are sold to collectors around the world via the museum’s website, rmli.org, or at the museum’s locations in Greenport and Riverhead. The museum will take orders for the USS Holland car from June 1 to Sept. 30.

“Lionel builds the trains after we receive 500 orders,” said Mr. Faeth. “It has to be based on a design that they already made.”

The original 3820 USMC Operating Submarine Car, on which the new car is based, is unique in many ways. The submarine could be removed from the flatcar and propelled through the water with a rubber band, said Mr. Faeth.

But it seems likely that few collectors risked damaging a rare submarine, produced only in 1961 and 1962, that’s difficult to find and can cost more than $150, depending on condition.

The museum’s model train project is the work of three organization members who call themselves the Long Island Toy Train Locomotive Engineers (LITTLE). Mr. Faeth said their work provides about 25 percent of the museum’s annual funding.

Bob Mintz, who lives in Florida, is in charge of designing the trains, which up to now have been primarily boxcars bearing the names of local businesses, including King Kullen, Entenmann’s and the former North Fork Bank. Mr. Mintz suggested that they emulate Lionel’s submarine car.

Al Schwartz, a club car representative from Lionel, takes care of ordering logistics and shipping the trains to buyers.

Mr. Faeth, a former general manager of electronics for the Grumman Corporation, has been involved with the railroad museum since 2002. He handles sales and marketing for the cars. He sends information out to the 30,000 members of the Train Collectors Association each time a new model train car is released. The latest car is expected to cost $72, plus $6 in tax for New York State residents.

Mr. Faeth also did quite a bit of research on the history of the USS Holland during the design process. The submarine was named for its designer, John Philip Holland, who closely oversaw its construction at Crescent Shipyard in Elizabeth, N.J.

The submarine was launched in May 1897 and brought to New Suffolk, where it was stationed with six similar submarines from 1899 to 1905. The submarine was commissioned by the U.S. Navy in 1900 and served as a research and training vessel.

“The Holland Tunnel is even named after him,” said Mr. Faeth. “I learn a lot when I do each one of these.”

Though the original USS Holland was sold for $100 as scrap metal in 1913, railroad car enthusiasts are betting that the new commemorative train car will be treasured by its owners.

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