Pine Creek Railroad Keeps Transportation History Alive

By Lauren Wanko

It’s last call for passengers as they board the New Jersey Museum of Transportation Pine Creek Railroad.

“Until the advent of the railroad, most people never lived, gone rather, more than five to 10 miles from their home. Once the railroad came, it opened up in vast areas,” said board member William Megill.

Founded in 1952, the museum has about 20 cars and locomotives. Volunteers collect, restore and seek to educate visitors about railroads.

The New Jersey Museum of Transportation says about 40,000 people visit the Pine Creek Railroad every year. They operate what they call demonstration train rides for the public throughout the year, except from January through March. That’s when volunteers perform most of the heavy maintenance work on the equipment and cars.

Located within Allaire State Park, the museum’s buildings are full of historic equipment.

“We’re narrow gauge, we’re three-foot gauge,” Megill said. What’s that? “Well, it’s the distance between the inside edges of the rail, in our case it’s three feet. Most railroads in the country are what they call standard gauge, which is four feet, 8.5 inches.”

The nonprofit relies on donations and train ticket sales in order to add to their collection and maintain and restore pieces like locomotives.

“The locomotive was built in October 1942 by General Electric for the U.S. Army and was used in Hawaii during World War II,” said Megill.

The passenger coach was built in 1902. The rear compartment was a gentleman’s smoking lounge.

Megill said, “In 1902 only gentlemen were permitted to smoke and only cigars and pipes.”

And then there’s the little red caboose.

“Everyone knows the train isn’t complete without a little red caboose, but ours is a little unusual in that it’s the oldest piece of equipment in operation in the country,” he said. “It was originally built in 1874 for the New Jersey Southern as a box car.”

Eventually it was converted into a caboose, says Megill. Passengers now peer out windows as the train loops around the track, but before eager kids can climb aboard, engineers perform a detailed inspection of both the train and track.

Engineer Richard T. Orne said, “We report up stream to the New Jersey Department of Transportation and ultimately to the National Transportation Safety Board.”

Orne conducts an inspection loop, a dry run to make sure the track is safe and clear. He operates the diesel electric locomotive.

“Loosely translated, what happens is we have a diesel engine that powers a generator. The generator generates electricity that goes to the traction motor that powers the back axle. The back axle is hooked up via chain drive to the front axle so we have traction in all four wheels, both axles,” Orne said.

The museum’s train will start running again this spring.