By Ron Hollander

From the thwack! of snow balls, to the imperceptible nod of snowdrops, as winter thawed into spring, so the indomitable Tuesday volunteer group at the Lionel Visitor’s Center in Riverhead moved from roundhouse to right-of-way, preparing not only the former Lionel layout but the museum’s outdoor attractions for the 2017 tourist season.

For the 40-foot layout with 83 operating push-button accessories, the bridge crew will be making the biggest impact.  At the west end of the layout, a 12-foot suspension bridge modeled roughly on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge from Brooklyn to Staten Island is expected to be completed this summer.  Constructed courtesy of Craftsman Storefronts & Glass in Bay Shore, which built the overhead track loop above the layout, the bridge will have two arched towers 30 inches high, and 64 vertical support rods ranging from eight to 30 inches.

“It will be stainless steel with a brushed nickel finish,” said Craftsman’s vice president John Sullivan.  “The support cable looping down from the towers will actually be tubing rolled and bent to look like a cable.”

At the other end of the elevated tinplate loop, an eight-foot Hell Gate Bridge will pair with the suspension bridge, similar to how the Triborough (RFK) Bridge mates with the actual Hell Gate, though of course the Triborough doesn’t carry trains as the Visitor’s Center’s will.  Made of half-inch, furniture-grade plywood with no knots or voids in the plies, the Hell Gate was traced onto the plywood from a projected computer image of the legendary Lionel 313 bridge.  But the projection had too much distortion for the end towers, so the Tuesday crew has measured and drawn every detail of the towers to be enlarged on the plywood.

Outside, the hard workers are finishing the second wood and iron coal cart from about 1910 that was used in mines in the Southwest.  Propelled by men or donkeys in the mine, but by a steam engine on the surface, the cart has its original metal straps and wheels that have been cleaned and repainted.  As with the first cart already restored, the second has totally new boards.  A static display will show visitors how the carts were filled with mined coal, then tipped for transfer to rail cars.

The Tuesday crew also has been working on the railroad…literally, though in this case it’s the 1964 World’s Fair train that gives museum visitors free rides past the outdoor standing locomotive and railroad displays.  Resident volunteer electrician Ed Hertling, with the help of the shovel-, pick- and back-hoe-wielding crew, buried cable so that the two blinking crossbucks on the line now will be tripped automatically by the train, reminiscent of Lionel’s iconic postwar 154 highway signal.  An on-off switch projecting up from the ties will be triggered by a rounded plate made in the machine shop and attached to the train.

But even outside, the Tuesday crew is never far from miniature trains.  Just like its real counterpart, the G-scale garden railway is beset by eroding ballast, weeds on the right-of-way, and shifting rails.  So to better secure the rails, Trex composite boards are being installed under the track.  Ballast is being added by Tuesday’s own gandy dancers.  And to give better continuity of circuits, 70-100 jumper cables are being soldered to the rail joints.

Other projects are underway for the summer in the never-ending improvement of the Riverhead site.  But for the moment, the Tuesday crew feels it can give a highball to scheduled and extra runs, alike, confident that there will be clear track ahead.