Miniature Rail Road makes final stop in Greenport

09/03/2012 12:52 PM |

GRANT PARPAN PHOTO | Tony Cassone, left, and Frank Field in front of their car shop several hours before closing Mr. Field’s backyard rail road for good. More than 200,000 people have hopped on board one of the miniature trains in Greenport.

For 27 years, the Peconic County Miniature Rail Road has operated out of Webb Street Station in Greenport.

Today, the general public will ride the trains for the final time.

“I have mixed feelings,” said Frank Field, who opened the rail road in 1985 after finally completing the track he spent a decade building behind his house.

The reason the track, which ran on summer weekends and holidays, is closing is two-fold, Mr. Field said. For starters, the cost of the public liability insurance the 80-year-old has to pay for through donations from visitors has become too costly. Then there’s also the fact that he and engineer Tony Cassone of Southold are the only volunteers left operating the trains.

“This is the whole crew right here,” Mr. Field said of himself and Mr. Cassone, 69. “Almost all the volunteers we’ve had over the years have passed away.”

Mr. Field said more than 200,000 people have hopped aboard one of his three train cars over the years, including just as many adults as children. He counts former Nebraska Governor Bob Kerrey among the trains’ most famous riders and even said the president of Hershey Park once came to experience the backyard rail road.

More than 700 people rode the trains Sunday, on the eve of the rail road’s closure.

The trains will run for the public from 1 to 4 p.m. today. After today, Mr. Field said he’s going to keep the trains serviceable only for the enjoyment of his and Mr. Cassone’s grandchildren, a move that will enable him to drop his public liability insurance. The insurance cost him $4,000 this year, he said. The rail road typically brings in about $6,000 a year in public donations and the difference is donated to Eastern Long Island Hospital.

Mr. Cassone, who’s volunteered as an engineer on the railroad for the past 17 years, said he, like many of the regulars, is sad to see it have to close.

“This is the greatest thing I’ve ever done,” he said.

Read more about the history of the rail road in Thursday’s issue of The Suffolk Times.