Miniature railroad appears back on track elsewhere in Greenport

12/22/2016 6:00 AM |

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Four years ago, Frank Field decided to stop running the Peconic County Miniature Rail Road on tracks he had built adjacent to his Greenport home. Before that, the retired railroad employee had offered train rides for nearly three decades, much to the delight of children of all ages.

Now, there’s a chance Greenport will once again have its own miniature railroad.

Mayor George Hubbard Jr. said he and representatives from Greenport Rotary Club, the village and the Railroad Museum of Long Island met with Mr. Field last Wednesday to discuss the possibility of purchasing some of his surplus equipment — including a locomotive, passenger cars and tracks — to create a new railroad.

Rotarian Joe Cherepowich said the idea was brought up when he spoke with Mr. Field at an October fundraiser.

“He said Rotary would be a good fit for the equipment, and I think there are some Rotaries that do operate a miniature rail,” Mr. Cherepowich said.

The Greenport Rotary named Mr. Field a Paul Harris Fellow winner in 2006 for running the railroad and for donating all proceeds from the venture to Eastern Long Island Hospital.

“He put a lot of smiles on a lot of the faces of children and grandchildren and parents and grandparent alike,” Mr. Cherepowich said.

After speaking to Mr. Field in October, Mr. Cherepowich said, he mentioned the idea to Mayor Hubbard the next day when he saw him at a football game.

“The mayor said, ‘That’s great. I think we can find a place to locate this,’ ” he recalled.

If the proposal comes to fruition, Mr. Cherepowich said, the Rotary would purchase equipment from Mr. Field and the village would find a location. Mayor Hubbard said that while no specific location has been identified, someone suggested a village-owned property near the Moore’s Lane skate park.

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Frank Field, owner of the former Peconic County Miniature Railroad, in 2012. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder, file)

Mr. Field, now 84, ran the miniature railroad from what he dubbed “Webb Street Station” on Sundays and holidays from 1985 to 2012. Four years ago, he told The Suffolk Times he had received “mixed reactions” about his decision to halt operations.

At the time, Mr. Field said many of the people who had helped run the train rides over the years had since died and that it now was down to himself and longtime volunteer Tony Cassone.

“It’s just become too much,” he said in 2012. “If one of us gets sick, that’s it.”

Mr. Field, who couldn’t be reached for comment this week, had also cited growing insurance costs as one of the reasons he closed the railroad. Four years ago, he estimated that more than 200,000 people had taken rides on his miniature trains over the years, including adults. Sometimes, lines extended to the end of Webb Street and wait times exceeded 45 minutes.

Mr. Cherepowich estimates that it could cost a combined $250,000 to buy a locomotive, three passenger cars and about a half-mile of tracks, plus pay for construction. The train’s operators would also need to be certified and insurance would have to be paid.

“It would be a very challenging project for our Rotary Club alone,” Mr. Cherepowich said. “We’ll be looking for offers of partnering or capital funding from foundations and independent donations. That’s a big number. We’ve never done anything of this magnitude.”

To date, Mr. Cherepowich said he has received positive feedback on the idea.

“I’m very optimistic,” said Don Fisher, president of the Railroad Museum of Long Island, which has museums in Greenport and Riverhead and operates a miniature railroad at its Riverhead location.

“The Greenport Rotary is really driving this and Joe reached out to us for advice,” Mr. Fisher continued. “Rotary asked if we think this was something they and the village could do and I said, ‘Absolutely.’ Everyone would love to see one of Frank’s trains run again. And the village has done such a fantastic job with the carousel in Mitchell Park that I’m very optimistic they could run this.”

Mr. Fisher said RMLI couldn’t operate a miniature rail in Greenport since it has its own in Riverhead, but that they can offer the Rotary advice.

The miniature rail cars in Riverhead were actually made by the same company that designed Mr. Field’s trains and the Greenport carousel, Mr. Fisher said. The Allan Herschell Company was based in North Tonawanda, N.Y., near Buffalo, and is where the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum is located.

Mr. Field’s trains are about 63 years old. The Railroad Museum of Long Island’s locomotives are about 52 years old and were made for the 1964-65 World’s Fair, Mr. Fisher said.

The annual cost to maintain the museum’s trains is about $2,000, Mr. Fisher said. That figure doesn’t include gasoline.

Last Thursday, Mayor Hubbard discussed the proposal during a Village Board meeting.

“It’s going to be a community effort,” he said. “There’s no real particulars on it yet. I just wanted to let the board know it’s in the works and it could be a real neat addition. With Rotary’s help, it could be a really good thing.”

Village resident Chatty Allen expressed support for the idea.

“Even as an adult, you love going on that miniature train,” she said.

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