Ambitious volunteers promote railroad museum’s growth

By Kitty LeShay - ReminderNews
Willimantic - posted Mon., Jul. 8, 2013
(L-r, on the ground) Bill Vooraat and Paul Shamonis with (l-r, on train) Gerry Roy and Andrew Porter, working on an EMD SW-8 locomotive. There is never a shortage of work at the Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum. Photos by Kitty LeShay.
(L-r, on the ground) Bill Vooraat and Paul Shamonis with (l-r, on train) Gerry Roy and Andrew Porter, working on an EMD SW-8 locomotive. There is never a shortage of work at the Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum. Photos by Kitty LeShay.

Travel down a long gravel road, deep into the woods, and at the end a community of dedicated members of the Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum will be busy making improvements to newly-obtained acquisitions and keeping the locomotives, trains and station houses preserved and in working order.

The museum is located at the original site of the Columbia Junction Freight Yard and is open to visitors from May through October on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. While there are many big plans for the future at the museum, there is plenty to see right now.

“Train rides are available mostly on Saturdays and are dependent on the number of people visiting,” said Mark Granville, president of the CERM. In addition, the museum’s collection includes locomotives and cars, vintage railroad buildings and a six-stall roundhouse reconstructed on the original foundation. The most recent acquisition is the signal house from the Niantic Bridge. CERM got a lot of train-related items when the new bridge was built. The signal house was in operation less than a year ago and will be restored 9 feet above the rail, just as it was in Niantic.

“We identified certain items we wanted, and we got them and more,” said CERM member Jean Lambert. Lambert has been coming to the museum for 10 years and she is a regular weekender, often selling tickets and providing information to guests. “I’ve always had a fetish for trains. I have been riding them since the ’50s. They bring back good memories,” Lambert said.

The camaraderie among people from various occupations is evident with a visit to the museum. “We have a core group of people who are here every weekend and also a group who work during the week. We are working on tons of stuff and are always looking for new members who are artistically inclined and who are interested in doing historical research, as well as those who have specialized trade skills,” Granville said.

CERM is working on a visitor’s center which will house historical artifacts and displays, and on a passenger station for the beginning and end of the train rides.

The big event this summer will be the second annual Railroad Day on Aug. 31. In addition to the usual displays, there will be numerous demonstrations throughout the day. “We have invited the Worchester Rail Fan Club, the Railroad Museum of New England, Mass Bay Railroad Enthusiasts and the Essex Steam Train,” Lambert said. Last year’s event was a big success and CERM is hoping to build on that.

The Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum is located at 55 Bridge St. in Willimantic.


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