'This Is For You, Dad': Greenport Miniature Railroad Rides Again

GREENPORT, NY — It was full steam ahead Saturday as, after years of dedication and dreams, the reborn Greenport Express welcomed its first riders aboard the miniature railroad on Moores Lane.

For years, the Greenport Rotary has been fundraising to breathe new life into the railroad, which so many remember fondly.

The Greenport Express project has included the acquisition of a miniature train with an engine and three passenger cars, the construction of a quarter mile track on land provided by the Village of Greenport, and the construction of a facility with a passenger area, public restrooms and a maintenance area for the train.

Find out what's happening in North Forkwith free, real-time updates from Patch.

The 16 gauge train, circa 1954, has a capacity to carry 36 children or 18 adults; the track will run through the Moores Lane woods on property owned by the Village of Greenport.

“We are working to preserve a piece of our local legacy,” said a fundraising letter from the Greenport Rotary in past years. “The miniature railroad in Greenport was the inspiration of Frank Field, who moved to the Village in the early 1970s. After a long career with the Long Island Rail Rod, Frank retired and began his dream of building a miniature train. In 1984 Frank Field began offering train rides to the public on weekends and holidays. Halloween became the most memorable. The miniature train delighted thousands of children and families until 2012.”

Find out what's happening in North Forkwith free, real-time updates from Patch.

In 2015, the letter continued, Rotarian Joe Cherepowich — resident Heather Walker’s father — conceived of the idea of bringing the railroad back to the village. He met with then-Greenport Village Mayor George Hubbard and the village board soon also expressed support.

Cheropowich presented the idea to the Rotary Club of Greenport and the project commenced.
The Village of Greenport and the Rotary Club formed a partnership with the agreement that the club would purchase the train, and construct the track and facility — and the village would provide the land and operate it on weekends and holidays.

The train will be open to the public beginning on Friday, July 12, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, weather permitting, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., throughout the summer. Admission costs $5.

After Saturday’s ribbon-cutting, Heather Walker said the day was the culmination of her father’s dreams.

The “Joe Cherry Choo Choo,” named after her father, gave more than 450 rides Saturday, she said. “My dad always said, ‘Leave where you live a better place.’ Greenport Village now has an incredible gift that will create memories for years to come. He also said, ‘Persevere in what you believe in.’ The Greenport Rotary did just that for seven years to make his dream come true,” she said,

And Walker said, her father also believed, “‘Do an act of kindness and make someone laugh.’ This train will bring many smiles to many people of all ages!”

To her father, she said: “I am honored to have been a part of this project. This is for you, Dad! I wish you could have been the first aboard.”

Rotarian Rich Israel said the day was “wonderful.” Looking on as the families who took the more than 400 rides laughed and smiled, he said: “It was great to see. I look forward to the community enjoying this for years to come.”

The fundraising project, which spanned seven years, brought in about $1 million, including in-kind service contributions; the Greenport Rotary itself raised a bit over $600,000 in cash, Israel said.

“This was truly a case of the community coming together and everyone contributing to make it happen,” he said. Israel added that the list of all who donated is long, with hundreds of names of people who not only stepped up themselves, but recruited others to join the effort, as well.

The project, he said, epitomizes the true spirit of giving that has long been a hallmark of life in Greenport. “Yes, we have the building and the train that runs around the track— but the real treasure is the people that got it done,” he said.

The community has come forward over the years to support many projects, including the newly unveiled North Fork Arts Center, the restoration of Bug Light, the East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation, the blacksmith’s shop, the lights on the ballfield, and Mitchell Park itself with the carousel as its centerpiece, he said.

“There has always been a force in Greenport that looks to better their world,” Israel said. “People see a need and say, ‘Okay,’ Whether it’s $50 or $10,000. I’m a person who’s always believed that getting $50 from a person you know goes to work every day, works hard to feed his family and on some days, may fall short— that’s more meaningful than $10,000 from a billionaire.”

It’s the spirit of giving, together as a community, that’s always made Greenport so special, he said. “This was done as a labor of love,” he said.

The Rotary can also raise some funds from the railroad that can be given back to help with scholarships or to lend a hand to those in need in the community, Israel said.

Of Saturday’s ribbon-cutting and community celebration, Israel said: “To see the kids smile — it made you understand that you did a good thing.”

Click Here: laois gaa jerseys

(Courtesy Albie de Kerillis)

Albie de Kerillis, first assistant chief of the Greenport Fire Department, said when Frank Field ran the original miniature train on Webb Street, it was “truly special. My daughter Isabella truly enjoyed the Halloween experience — that was 17 years ago.” On Saturday, he said: “I had the opportunity to ride at the grand opening. Even more special is when you take a ride on the train, it makes money for the Rotary — and even better, they give that money to those in the community in need. It’s a win-win situation.”

Former Greenport Village Mayor George Hubbard was also present for the ceremony. “It was great to be on the train again with my daughter and now my grandson got to ride, too,” he told Patch. “So much hard work went into this project and I want to thank the Rotary and the village for all they did to make Joe’s dream come true! It is great for Greenport now and for generations to come and enjoy!”

A groundbreaking was held in 2022 on Moores Lane in Greenport for “The Greenport Express.” For years, the Greenport Rotary has been fundraising to breathe new life into the railroad, which so many remember fondly.

(Courtesy Albie de Kerillis)

During the planning stages, some raised concerns about a fence, part of the project, and how it would impact access to a nature trail in Moores Woods.

But overall, Walker said the project has long touched an emotional chord in many hearts.

“We feel that this project will impact the community in a positive way. We are preserving a piece of our legacy,” she said. “The miniature train delighted thousands of children and families for 27 years. My parents enjoyed taking their children and grandchildren on many Sunday train rides. We created family memories with the time we spent together. My dad was very active in the community and always tried to make it a better place. He believed reconstructing the train would benefit the village and provide a fun activity for generations to come.”

Sadly, Walker lost her father in 2019.

“While it is difficult for me to know my dad was unable to see the fruition of his labor, he was honored having the train renamed the Joe Cherry Choo Choo just prior to his passing. My dad taught me to have perseverance and a relentless belief in your goals. All of our Rotary Club members have used these two attributes for this project.”

A fundraiser was held in 2018, organized by George Giannaris, owner of the Hellenic Snack Bar & Restaurant and a member of the Greenport Rotary Club.

The project resonates deep in Giannaris’ heart.

“Growing up, although all the seasons of my life were always blessed by the North Fork, my fondest memories are of my childhood years growing up out here. The wineries, restaurants and boutique shops are wonderful, but my fear is that there will be less and less activities to attract families with young children. I would hate to see that facet of the North Fork glaze over. I am hoping that the train will inspire other business people to invest in family-friendly, permanent attractions that are closer to Greenport. I think it would make Greenport so well-rounded.”

Hubbard said in a past interview that the village was donating approximately 1.5 acres in village land to the project that had so many enthused.

“This is an attraction in Greenport that every generation talks about. People who are 80 years old say, ‘I remember going to that train with my kids.’ Everyone knew about that train,” he said. “My kids, my grandchildren haven’t had a chance to see it because it’s been shut down now for a few years. This is a way to bring it back to another generation of Greenporters, of North Forkers.”

The miniature railroad can even be a destination for out of town visitors, he said.

When the railroad was operating, it was part of the fun on Halloween, along with a hayride and a visit to the old jail, Hubbard remembered.

“This project has captured imaginations,” Hubbard said. “It’s one of the nice things about Greenport that everyone remembers. It’s coming together and it’s going to be really nice.”

Before he died, Rotarian Cherepowich, who championed the project since first speaking with Field, said the railroad has touched countless hearts in Greenport — and bringing it back was a mission many have embraced.

“We wanted to put smiles on children’s faces as they enjoyed the miniature railroad, as well as to remind the adults of the great memories they have of the railroad,” he said. “This was something that was in the community for 30 years.”

The family friendly attraction will be a way for kids and parents to share old memories and make new ones, Cherepowich said at the time. “It’s always good to bring back treasures from the past that meant so much to our community.”

Get more local news delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for free Patch newsletters and alerts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *