I don’t do diapers. I’m completely at a loss on how to calm a crying child. Handing them a dollar bill doesn’t always work, but sometimes my lipstick does. Either way, I do enjoy being the hostess with the most-est to visiting friends and family and that applies to all guests even if they are toddlers.
When my pseudo niece and nephew (two and four) came to the North Fork for the first time, I was at a loss. We saw what happened last time I brought young children to a tasting room and I wasn’t up for that particular fight. On a fall day, after the requisite pumpkin purchase and the outrageous admission at the Aquarium, what was I to do with these kids?
The answer? The Railroad Museum of Long Island in Riverhead, NY. Roll your eyes all you want. I did. A small town shrine dedicated to an almost obsolete method of transportation?
Yeah, so? It’s pretty awesome.
For the price of admission ($7 for adults, $4 for kids and nada under 5), there’s a lot to see. Upon first glance, the cedar-shingled structures are a little run down and underwhelming, but that’s part of its charm. As is the gruff volunteer selling tickets in a conductor hat. In the main building, you’ll find a hands on table with dozens of Thomas the Tank Engine characters for the youngest ones to smash around and a well appointed model train with a black locomotive and tenders that will keep the kids busy while the adults take a look at some antiques and the usual merchandise: coffee table books, prints and t-shirts.
Outdoors — inside an oval track stretching 670 feet long — are a wooden play structure (guess what shape) and a 1960s Railroad Caboose stand at the ready for climbing and exploration. On that track sits a restored locomotive and passenger cars from the 1964 New York World’s Fair. The kids didn’t care about the history, but they were excited to ride it and that it was orange. A costumed engineer and conductor fueled the exuberance.
The big wow of the day was the Historic Lionel Layout in the 2nd building. The Lionel Company, from my home state of Michigan, created an exhibit in Manhattan in 1949 that the museum has replicated and restored. Eight mainline train lines (the 4 year old explained what that meant to us neophytes) race around 40-feet of an incredibly detailed set up. The layout came to the museum in 15 pieces and is now reassembled with hand painted trees, quaint scenes and four or five-dozen accessories where the kids could press buttons triggering “something cool” in the model. I missed most of this exhibit because I was at the drug store securing the necessary materials for splinter removal. Note to parents: Your kids WILL get a splinter at this place. Come carrying needles. How often do you hear that regarding an outing with children?
The museum doesn’t offer full size train rides so if the kids are into it, do what we did and follow up your visit on the LIRR to the end of the line in Greenport. Especially if you’re from the part of suburbia where catching a coach is rare.
Those of us who were kids in the 1970s and 80s missed out on the electric set experience with our new fangled Atari and Nintendo, disco records and violent cartoons. While I enjoyed each of those things, it’s fun to join the legions of grandparents and now kids who have a fond affinity for tracks, tenders, locomotives and the rest. Generally, I’d make fun of this sort of nostalgia, but the looks on the kids’ faces are so priceless, I cannot be snarky about it. It’s sweet.
The Railroad Museum of Long Island can be found on Griffing Avenue (near the tracks) in Riverhead. The museum is open Saturday 10 am-4pm now through Thanksgiving. They’ll reopen in the spring. There are additional restoration projects in progress and like any small operation; it depends on funding from the public.