12/22/16 6:00am
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. READ

02/28/16 8:00am

On Thursday, we presented Don Fisher, president of the Railroad Museum of Long Island, with our Community Leader of the Year award at a ceremony at Martha Clara Vineyards. This is the video we screened during the ceremony and the original announcement from January.   READ

03/29/13 11:00am
03/29/2013 11:00 AM

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Don Fisher, president of the Railroad Museum of Long Island, with what’s left of the historic Engine 39 in Riverhead.

After sitting in Riverhead for 33 years, waiting to be restored, Engine 39, a steam engine built in 1929 and operated by the Long Island Rail Road through 1955, may be headed for Pennsylvania.

The Railroad Museum of Long Island has signed a contract with the Strasburg Rail Road Company in Ronks, Pa., to essentially split the cost of restoring the steam engine. Strasburg would do the work within three years of receiving the money and the restored train would remain with Strasburg, where it would operate on the company’s property for 44 years.

The deal was bittersweet, according to museum president Don Fisher of Southold.

Train enthusiasts brought Engine 39 to Railroad Avenue in Riverhead on a flatbed truck in 1980, with the goal of restoring it to operating condition and then running tourist trips between the railroad museum’s two locations in Riverhead and Greenport.

But the group and its predecessors never had enough money to finish the job, even after getting an $800,000 grant in 1996. The engine’s boiler and firebox are already in Strasburg, where they were being repaired until the money ran out. Only the bottom part of Engine 39, the wheel assembly, is currently in Riverhead.

“It is a bittersweet thing, because they were people who were hoping to see it running here, but the challenges on Long Island were great,” Mr. Fisher said. “We don’t have a place to get water here, there’s coaling facilities, the museum doesn’t own a service facility, we’re more than 100 miles from the nearest class-one railroad [Amtrak] and there are no more steam-qualified skilled mechanics to keep it running. The challenges against us running it here on the North Fork as a regular service have grown to the point of being monumental.”

The contract with Strasburg, which was signed March 14 after more than five months of negotiation, call for the museum to raise $900,000 in 2013 and transport the locomotive to the Strasburg property. Strasburg, in turn, will contribute about $1.1 million toward the project, Mr. Fisher said.

Once the $900,000 from the railroad museum is raised, Strasburg will complete restoration of the engine in three years and will then operate the locomotive on its property for a period of 44 years, according to the agreement.

While the Railroad Museum of Long Island has 15 years to come up with the $900,000, the contract calls for that amount to increase by 3.5 percent per year, so it’s imperative to raise the money quickly, said Mr. Fisher.

Museum officials originally planned to initiate a fundraising campaign for the entire $2 million. The new deal cuts that number in half, Mr. Fisher said.

The group plans to begin a $1 million fundraising campaign targeting foundations, railroad preservationists and individuals, he said.

“If we can get a million people to give a dollar, that’s a million dollars,” Mr. Fisher said.

Strasburg operates a steam locomotive repair and restoration facility on its property and runs a four-mile “heritage” railroad with five locomotives even older than Engine 39.

The oldest was built in 1906 and the newest in 1926, according to Linn Moedinger, president of Strasburg Railroad.

The Strasburg Railroad is the oldest railroad in the country that’s still operating under its original charter, although it operates mostly within its own property and not on public railroad tracks like Amtrak, Mr. Moedinger said. The trains run throughout the Pennsylvania Dutch Country in Lancaster County, southwest of Philadelphia, he said.

“It’s a shame that it’s been sitting for so long, it’s a nice engine and it will fit in nice right here,” Mr. Moedinger said. “Strasburg presents the best shot for the most number of people seeing it on a regular basis.”

It is very difficult to get permission to run a steam locomotive on tracks used by public railroads, he added.

The last time Strasburg ran on public rails was in 1998 — and that was for the purposes of filming, he said.

Mr. Fisher said the local railroad museum never had a guarantee that the LIRR would allow Engine 39 to run on its tracks.

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08/25/12 7:00pm
08/25/2012 7:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Engineer (museum volunteer) Don Rollik, behind the wheel of the LIRR miniature1964-65 World’s Fair train, giving rides around the property of the Railroad Museum of Long Island in Riverhead Saturday afternoon.

The 13th annual Riverhead Railroad Festival ‘Family Fun Days’ was held on museum grounds at Griffing Avenue across from Riverhead’s LIRR Station Saturday.

See more photos at the Riverhead News-Review.

06/30/12 7:00pm
06/30/2012 7:00 PM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Don Fisher, president of the Railroad Museum of Long Island, stands by what’s left of the historic Engine 39. The boiler is still in Pennsylvania where it being repaired until the nonprofit museum ran out of money.

Back in the late 1970s, a group of railroad enthusiasts began the dream of bringing an old steam locomotive from Stony Brook to Riverhead so they could restore it, and even use it to run tourist trips between Riverhead and Greenport.

Fast-forward to 2012: The restoration of Engine 39, which was build in 1929, still is not complete and a lot more money is needed before the long-held dream ever becomes a reality.

The Railroad Museum of Long Island, which took over the Engine 39 preservation efforts from the Engine 39 Restoration Committee in the early 1990s, received an $800,000 grant for the work in 1996.

But that money was all spent by December 2009 and the group stopped work on the engine, leaving parts of it — including the boiler and firebox — in a restoration shop in Strasburg, Pa., where they remain. Other portions of the locomotive, including the cab and the wheels, are in Riverhead.

“We’re not giving up,” said museum president Don Fisher.

The downturn in the economy has made it difficult to get grants or donations for the job, and he estimates that completing the restoration will require an additional $2 million.

So instead of seeking more government grants, the museum, which has locations in Riverhead and Greenport, plans to go national with its campaign to restore Engine 39, he said.

And it’s going to happen next year.

“Beginning in 2013, we’re starting a nationwide, grass-roots donations campaign to raise the $2 million,” he said. “This is a paradigm shift for the museum. This is a complete turn away from government grants or entitlements. We’re not going to go to the government anymore, because we can’t. The taxpayers, I don’t believe, support preservation and history like they used to. These are tough times. So we’re going to turn to a nationwide campaign.”

The first step for the group is to obtain lists of as many railroad enthusiasts and history buffs as possible, and then try to solicit donations from them, Mr. Fisher said.

“If we can get 2 million people across the United States to send in one dollar, we can get this job done,” he said. “We can get the restoration completed — and without government grants.

“This is not limited to Long Island,” he added. “This has interest to a much wider industrial history group.”

Engine 39 is one of only three locomotives of its type remaining in the U.S., according to Mr. Fisher. During its heyday, it could reach great speeds quickly, travel at more than 80 mph and also stop quickly.

Another steam engine, featured with Engine 39 in the Long Island Rail Road’s 1955 “End of Steam” ceremony in Hicksville, is now at the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum. The third, a diesel locomotive known as Engine 1556, is also at the Railroad Museum of Long Island’s museum and yard at Griffing and Railroad avenues in Riverhead.

There are a number of other old trains and train cars the group has restored, or is working on, as well as a gift shop, an historic Lionel train layout and a working miniature train from the 1964 World’s Fair.

The long range goal for Engine 39, “if we can get $2 million,” Mr. Fisher said, is still to run dinner trains between Riverhead and Greenport and vineyard excursions on the weekends.

He’s hopeful that going nationwide will be the answer.

“If we can’t get the money that way, honestly, I don’t know how we’re going to do it,” Mr. Fisher said. “But we’re not giving up. We’re chartered by the State Education Department as stewards of this equipment for everybody in New York.

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11/29/11 7:41am
11/29/2011 7:41 AM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Members of the Railroad Museum of Long Island in Greenport set up a corner for Santa near an antique Long Island Rail Road hose wagon. Santa is expected to visit the museum this weekend.

The Railroad Museum of Long Island in Greenport will display its newest exhibit featuring 14 original photos of steam engines taken in the late 1880s at its annual Holiday Open House event this weekend.

The photos, which the museum unveiled in May, were donated by the estate of Sandy Bainbridge, an artist from East Hampton who passed away five years ago.

Other photos, paintings and wooden models of steam engine trains will also be featured, including Big Boy and Challenger.

The free event will take place on Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. at the museum’s Greenport location on Fourth Street. Santa and his helpers from the cartoon show Thomas the Tank Engine are expected to arrive at noon. There will be refreshments and gifts for children, as well as dollar raffles. Top raffle prizes include Lionel train sets of Polar Express and O-Gauge models. For more information, visit www.rmli.us.

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04/03/11 7:00am
04/03/2011 7:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO| Lionelville Town, Sawmill and Leigh Valley PA train.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO| Lionelville Town, Sawmill and Leigh Valley PA train.

A historic Lionel model train exhibit will be unveiled April 9 at the Railroad Museum of Long Island’s Riverhead site.

The 7,000-pound train layout was on display for nearly two decades at Lionel’s Chesterfield, Mich., visitor’s center. Lionel is one of the world’s largest model train manufacturers, and before the center closed in 2008, the display attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world.

After Lionel officials agreed to donate the layout to the Railroad Museum of Long Island, museum vice president George Faeth and museum volunteers trekked up north. Using a Sawzall, they sliced the sprawling layout into 15 pieces, each weighing 300 pounds, so they could remove and fit them through the doors of their new home, the Freeman Building, a restored potato barn on Griffing Avenue.

“This is going to help put Riverhead on the map,” said museum president Don Fisher.

The display is modeled after a layout built in 1949 for Lionel’s headquarters on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, where train lovers flocked for decades. When Lionel shuttered its New York offices and moved to Michigan in the early 1960s, the original layout was moved to a New Jersey warehouse. The building later collapsed, crushing the layout and destroying a gem of the toy train community.

Mr. Fisher said the Riverhead museum’s model train layout holds special significance for those who remember the first Lionel layout.

“If you came to New York from California or Texas on business and you had any interest in trains, you would go to Lionel’s office and you would see this layout,” Mr. Fisher said. “[The replica] is important to New York City and Long Island. It’s important to us here in Riverhead as a historic piece.”

Seven trains, smoking and whistling, can run simultaneously on the 14-by-40-foot layout, which has four different levels. Push buttons for 37 interactive stations line the layout’s perimeter, powering electricity-driven miniature wind turbines, elevating bridges and airplanes that hover over an airport.
A cleaning facility washes the rail cars, and oil rigs with derricks move up and down. Push one of the buttons and a little outhouse door opens, revealing a man sitting on a tiny toilet reading an even tinier newspaper.

Museum volunteers added two stations to the layout to represent locations in Greenport and Riverhead and built a trolley that runs back and forth past a make-believe Mitchell Park.

The nonprofit Railroad Museum of Long Island is funded partly through admissions and partly through the sale of collectors’ model rail cars designed by the museum’s Collectors Club Car committee and manufactured by Lionel. Starting in 2005, one car has been released each year. Each design features the logo and graphics of a local or international business, such as Riverhead Building Supply, Entenmanns, North Fork Bank and Atlantis Marine World.

This year’s model, featuring King Kullen supermarkets and scheduled for release in early December, can be ordered until May 12th.

Remy Convery of Lionel said his company was happy to give the layout to the museum, as he believes the Riverhead area to be “a stronghold for Lionel fans.

“There’s a strong fascination with railroads and the toy railroad hobby in Riverhead,” he said.

Museum volunteers worked to renovate the Freeman Building, a potato barn formerly used as the museum’s warehouse, to suitably house the exhibit. A number of local businesses helped out with preparing the site, and Shoreham-Wading River High School shop students helped wire the building.

Shoreham-Wading River technology teacher Dave Driscoll said his students have done a number a projects with the museum. They’ve built model trains for display there, and middle school students will be helping restore a Fairmont Speeder train this fall. Mr. Driscoll said the museum has been valuable in providing hands-on projects for his students outside the classroom.

“The train is a vehicle to teach mechanics,” he said.

And Mr. Fisher is sure the new exhibit will be an educational tool for visitors young and old.

“We want to use that layout to help teach young people about railroading,” he said. Older folks, he said, “can have a little fantasy and step back and remember their childhood.”

A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held Saturday, April 9, at 10 a.m. at the museum’s Riverhead location. The museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. that day and free to the public. Ordinarily, museum admission is $7 for adults age 13 and over, $4 for children ages 5 to 12 and free for children under age 5.
The museum will be open Saturdays until May 30, and Saturdays and Sundays during the summer.

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