Sunday, September 9, 2012

NJ: Model Steam Tuckerton Railroad Park Gets a Boost With Grant

From the SAndpaper,net:  Model Steam Tuckerton Railroad Park Gets a Boost With Grant 

New Gretna in Bass River Township is a whistle stop of a town: Route 9 goes through it and ends at the entrance to the Garden State Parkway. Its most recognized edifices are the giant concrete wine bottle at a dead man’s curve in the road and the “Jaws” shark head jutting out of Allen’s Clam Bar, a low-key, yet must-stop restaurant for the seafood lover. A recent addition to the oddities is a giant T-rex that used to hover over the wall of a mansion complex just before town, but recently the dinosaur has turned its toothy grin away from traffic.
But on most weekends, a sign on Route 9 directs traffic down Oak Lane toward a little-known free, fun activity.
The Tuckerton Railroad and Steamship Co. has been running a ride-able model train loop in Bass River’s “Woods of New Gretna Park” for six years now, giving rides to all who stop by, only asking for a small donation. Local schoolchildren know about it because the Bass River Elementary School students get a ride on the “Polar Express” around Christmas time and have a chance to enjoy a yearly “Pumpkin Run,” where they get a scavenger hunt and a ride.
The TR&SC members have been promoting live steam model railroading throughout Southern Ocean and eastern Burlington counties for about nine years now; the park has been their home for six years.    
Tim Lovingham, president of the nonprofit Jersey Shore Live Steam Inc., said it’s been a bit of an uphill climb for the 20 or so hard-core members dedicated to 1½ inch scale model railroading. Just a year ago they thought they might have to pack it in, but then came good news: The Burlington County freeholders awarded the park a $75,000 grant that has rocketed the group into the second phase of building the park. Now the TRS&C is able to run electricity to the park, dig a well, and put in septic for a soon-to-be-built restroom. Ten thousand dollars of the grant is earmarked for signage.
“The signs will be three-fold,” said Lovingham. “First they will give a history of the 15 Tuckerton Railroad stations; second, they will have a history of New Gretna; and third, they will inform about the environmental importance of the forest. There are Native American Indian artifacts, and indigenous plants and animals. Did you know there are 40 different types of mushrooms on the site? 
“We’ve just renewed our five year lease (with the township), and it’s wonderful that we’re being taken seriously enough to apply for and get grants,” said Lovingham.
The 65-acre wooded park itself is open daily for walking, trail bike riding and soon, horseback riding on the 20,000 feet of trails. 
“Township leaders, Mayor Debbie Cope and (former deputy mayor) Rich Bethea and (former) Councilman Gary Smith were instrumental in getting us the grant,” said Lovingham.
The nonprofit group, with help from Eagle Scout Troop 1, local Boy Scout troops and West Point cadets, has worked hard to clear trails and has completed a 350-foot loop of track for the train to wind through the oak and laurel forest. Part of the grant helped pay for Greenwood and Adams Tree Service to groom the trails and cut 50 dead trees from the grounds.
Recent additions include a small Tuckerton Railroad station that had been used as a shed in someone’s back yard. “I think it was in Ship Bottom and was moved to Tuckerton. A Little Egg Harbor police officer donated it to us.” The barrel-type arched roof marks it as railroad-type construction built to resemble a train’s caboose.  Lovingham has installed a pot-bellied stove in the station, which now serves as the office. “(Member) Brett Kaplan donated 10 tons of coal that had been sitting in his Absecon basement; it’s 50-year-old coal.”
On Sunday, three other members of the group were on hand to assist Lovingham in maintaining the ride. Boiler specialist Pete Fiore drove all the way from Old Bridge and was busy testing the pea-size coal in the engine’s boiler. Vice President Vinnie Lutz came from Carteret, and Frank Amerman drove from East Hampton; both men don’t mind the drive, they said. As Fiore stoked the boiler, steam rose from the 1½-inch scale model “Baldwin” engine, and to any model railroader, it was a thing of beauty.
“Our motto is if it’s not fun, don’t do it,” said Lutz.
The TRS&C owns two other trains; one runs on gasoline and the other on electricity. On Sunday, the electric battery-run Tuckerton Railroad was in service for the 15-minute ride around the tracks. It can hold up to 20 people, adults and children, and although it can move along at 30 mph, 5 mph is the norm for park rides.
Before anyone takes a ride, the Tuckerton Railroad and Steamship Co. will ask people to sign up as members for the day as this helps maintain the group’s nonprofit status. “We’re not an amusement ride,” said Lovingham. “What makes us a historical museum is that we are re-creating the Tuckerton Railroad in small scale. Eventually we hope to have all 15 stations as stops on the bigger loop; 3,000 feet of track is planned.”
The next big event is a first-ever Haunted Halloween run through the forest. On Monday, Lovingham got word from New Gretna Volunteer Fire Co. Chief Tom Wetmore that members had voted to assist in that endeavor. “We had $2,000 worth of Halloween decorations given to us.” Lovingham also plans a milder Halloween Run for autistic children. These events, as well as a Christmas Run through a decorated park, will be announced as plans unfold.
“Our point is you don’t have to go to a Hershey Park or Stroudsburg, Pa., to see a steam engine; we have it right here on a smaller scale,” said Lovingham.
To join the TRS&C, volunteer or for more information, call 609-234-6218 or visit

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