The Cherry Grove Railroad & Fire Island Traction Company
By Jim Kelly
Photos by Bob Mintz
In late 1999, my longtime companion Dan Evans and I purchased a second home on Fire Island, a sandy barrier beach island off the coast of Long Island New York. Fire Island is a beautiful, natural beach paradise, and a part of the National Seashore. We live in Cherry Grove hamlet. All of the houses in Cherry Grove have names. Our house’s name is “Liberty Bell.” We like the name since we’re also Philadelphians. There are no roads or private vehicles in Cherry Grove. Transport is by foot on the Grove’s wooden walkways. Red Radio Flyer wagons provide luggage transport. The beach at Cherry Grove is beautiful and residents have worked hard over the years to insure the health of its dunes, which offer protection from storms.
As a new homeowner in Cherry Grove, I wanted to be able to enjoy my toy train hobby at the beach. But a sandy beach environment is no place for the valuable and fragile antique standard gauge tinplate toy trains that I collect. So when I planned the new garden for our house, I decided to use new G scale toy trains and structures designed for both indoor and outdoor use.
Building a model railroad in the sand is a bit tricky. The track bed must be firm and dead level, yet adjustable given the shifting sands. Large 4′ X 8″ railroad ties were selected to provide a solid foundation, and the track bed can be re-leveled if the need arises. Railroad track consisting of brass rails and molded plastic ties is commonly available and is highly weather resistant. Wooden and plastic structures, such as my models of the Cherry Grove Fire Department and Cherry Grove train station are protected from the weather by a heavy coat of polyurethane varnish. Finally, the model trains themselves, manufactured by LGB, Aristocraft and Bachmann are constructed of weather resistant materials such as plastic, brass, and stainless steel.
The CGRR started in 1999 with a small loop of track, however this year the railroad was expanded and now includes about 70 feet of track in a modified dog bone configuration. The use of split jaw rail joiners and graphite grease on all track connections will insure trouble free operation for many years to come. The track stays down all year while the structures, engines, rolling stock and townsfolk are stored away in a big garden locker during the winter months. Salt spray on the rails does not cause pitting or corrosion because a protective patina forms overnight on the railhead.
The Cherry Grove Rail Road is now in its third year of operation. Earlier this year we announced the extension of freight and passenger rail service between Cherry Grove and a neighboring hamlet, the Fire Island Pines. The Fire Island Traction Company (FITC), a wholly owned subsidiary of the CGRR, has begun regular trolley service between the two beach resorts sharing the single track CGRR right of way.
Comfortable passenger depots have been constructed at both locations, and a new open-sided summer trolley offers comfortable seating and dune view during the short ride between the Grove and Pines. A full summer schedule went into effect over the Memorial Day weekend. Timetables and fare information are posted at the depots. This railroad operates during the summer and fall months in Cherry Grove; a predominatly gay and lesbian community. Anyone who is in the area that would like to visit or just talk trains, please feel free to e-mail me at: [email protected].