Volunteers at the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum accomplished a herculean task at the end of January as they laid 90 feet of new railroad tracks. The 20 or so volunteers and museum members labored for several weeks to lay over 160 rail spikes by hand to provide the historical Steam Locomotive #35 with a new home once repairs to the old train are finished.
The work had to be done in several steps, beginning with leveling the ground the track would lay on. This was accomplished through using tons of crushed concrete and granite, known as ballast, which would provide a stable base for the tracks and locomotive.
The next step was to lay out the ties, which are the rectangular supports which lie underneath the actual rails. Steve Torborg, one of the volunteer coordinators for the museum, explained that each tie weighed roughly 200 pounds, which took at least six volunteers apiece just to carry.
“Those are all put in by hand, and what we do is we use about six to eight to move each rail just a few feet each time,” Torborg explained. “Everything we do is volunteer labor.”
After finishing this, more backbreaking work followed, as the volunteers worked together to spike the track down. They began by placing the rails on top of the ties, before beginning the arduous process of spiking the rails into them to create the track.
Although the volunteers did use an electric drill to provide an initial hole to drive the spikes in, the majority of the work relied on using heavy sledgehammers to manually do the work. John Specce, the president of the museum’s Board of Trustees, said this was the first track-laying work done by hand on Long Island in nearly a century.
“This was a great coordinated effort,” Specce said. “Everything had to be done not only sequentially, but in an efficient way so that no mistakes were made.”
The tracks will serve as the future home for the historic Steam Locomotive #35, a relic of the Age of Steam and an important part of Long Island’s history. The old train served Long Islanders from the early 1920’s up until the ‘70s and was kept as an attraction at Eisenhower Park for several decades, where it slowly decayed over time.
Now the Railroad Museum is working on repairing the old locomotive, with the goal of having it serve as a centerpiece of their historical exhibits. While the repairs won’t be accomplished for a long time yet and the project is still in the preliminary stages. when it is finally complete, Specce said, the museum will be able to expand their education efforts on the history of Long Island’s trains and railways.
“It’s going to be unlike anything on the island,” Specce said.