Getting an historic locomotive on track


A dream is coming to fruition for a group of dedicated men who have a passion for steam locomotives. Last Sunday several gathered in Oyster Bay to begin phase one of the restoration of Steam Locomotive #35, which was constructed in 1928. It is the last steam locomotive to operate on Long Island, having been retired in 1955.

Donated by the LIRR to Nassau County, it was on exhibit at Eisenhower Park for years but was later moved to the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum.

Last Sunday several of its moving parts were transported to Steam Operations Corporation in Alabama, where the engine will be restored so the train will be operational. And in the future when it is complete people may come from far away to see it. That’s big news for people like Steve Torborg.

“It will be fully functional,” Torborg said, barely containing his excitement. “It will be an educational operational display. Once it is completely restored the locomotive will be at the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum on the tracks so people will be able to observe it.”

Torborg is on the Board of Directors at the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum, of which he is the founder. When the museum was created the plan was to clean up Locomotive #35 but he said the objective was also always to restore it.

“In the past eight years that became a retainable goal,” said Torborg, who is a LIRR conductor. “We obtained a grant a number of years ago for restoration. When it is complete it will be capable of doing everything a steam locomotive does.”

Ideally, it will take three to five years for the engine’s restoration, but that’s if the funds are available. Torborg said they have $600,000 now but need close to a million. If they get the funding, everything that makes the locomotive move will be either replaced or repaired. Specialized work will need to be done as well to replace the boiler.

There have been several fundraisers to benefit the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum as of late. The station is in ill repair and needs to be restored immediately. The restoration of the locomotive is secondary because, as Torborg said, “without a station no locomotive can operate.” But there are people that are fascinated with the idea of having a working steam locomotive in town. Torborg said there is an option for anyone wishing to donate to ensure that their gift is specifically targeted for the locomotive.

“We actually are hoping that in getting the restoration done at the station that it will inspire people,” Torborg said. “It’s all part of the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum.”

Rob Brusca, of Oyster Bay, is the vice president on the Board of Directors at the Railroad Museum. He said in the last five years he’s gained an affinity for the restoration of the steam locomotive.

“It is a tremendous accomplishment to have the renovation begin,” Brusca said. “For 20 years the incredibly dedicated volunteers have put in countless hours to move this forward.”

He is also certain that the completion of the renovations to the visitors center, train station and turntable location, along with an operational steam locomotive, would add foot traffic to the downtown.

“We are so appreciative of the partnership and cooperative effort with Nassau County and the Town of Oyster Bay in funding this portion for the restoration, acquired from the 2008 Bond Act,” Brusca said, adding that the town entered into an intermunicipal agreement to administer the grant on behalf of the county.

Torborg was also pleased with how well plans are moving forward. With the money in place to start work they’ve found the company to do it at last and the all of the contracts are in place.

“This is very exciting,” Torborg said. “Unfortunately some did not live to see it. We all worked so hard for this.”