Wednesday, April 15, 2009

LIRR's wee workhorses to be big museum stars

BY Nicholas Hirshon

Tuesday, April 14th 2009, 10:47 AM

TWO LITTLE engines that could are landing the recognition they should.

To mark its 175th anniversary, the Long Island Rail Road is loaning two diminutive locomotives from a Queens repair yard - where they moved massive passenger and freight cars - for display at a Nassau County museum.

Built by General Electric in 1958, the pair of 51,000-pound workhorses - which often pushed or pulled train cars nearly six times their weight - will be on view at the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum starting in May.

"We're really excited," said museum President John Specce, describing the miniature locomotives as "another aspect of the railroad that many people may not have been aware of."

Rick Williams, a railroad expert at the Historic Railpark and Train Museum in Bowling Green, Ky., marveled at how the "little guys" moved large locomotives up to 300,000 pounds for repairs and maintenance.

"Bigger isn't always better," he quipped.

Officially known as No. 397 and No. 398, the 150-horsepower tiny tuggers - which measure about 18 feet 2 inches long and 10 feet 4 inches high - are called "dinkies" because of their small size.

Ahead of their five-year loan to the museum, the LIRR is running a renaming contest. "We didn't think it was right to send them off without a proper name," said LIRR spokesman Joe Calderone.

Commuters can submit potential names at through tomorrow. The winner gets four tickets to the new Cirque du Soleil show "Kooza" this spring at Randalls Island.

Once shipped to the museum's display of rolling stock on Bay Ave., the dinkies will sit beside a pair of antique cabooses and a locomotive cab that was featured at the 1964 World's Fair in Queens, Specce said.

"They represent part of the history of the railroad," Specce said. "They were the workhorses of the yard."

Officials at the fledgling museum - which opened a preview center last year on Audrey Ave. - hope the exhibit will help them escape the shadow of a competing attraction, ex-President Theodore Roosevelt's home at Sagamore Hill.

"We're working in tandem with the Long Island Rail Road," said museum co-founder Gary Farkash, 47, of Baldwin, L.I. "It does add an air of credibility."

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