There's a bit of a secret in Greenport. On Sunday afternoons, those in the know drive down Third Street, hang a left on Webb Street and follow the dirt road to a treasure people have cherished for 27 years: the Peconic County Miniature Rail Road.
Frank Field has operated this scaled-down train in his backyard since 1985, inviting kids and adults to climb into the authentic-looking red-and-black cars for a spin around his 2-acre property. Rides are free, although donations are solicited for the Eastern Long Island Hospital.
Now that he's turned 80, Field says this summer is his last. "I'm tired and the trains are tired," says the Long Island Rail Road retiree, who maintains the train and tracks with the help of a volunteer.
HOW IT STARTED
Field saw a miniature train at an amusement park in 1953 and swore he would get his own one day. Fast-forward to the mid-'80s, when he purchased this train through a trade magazine and started setting it up in his backyard. Word traveled fast.
"I'd get neighborhood kids knocking at my front door asking, 'Are you going to run the train today?' " Field says. "I used to tell them, 'Come down Sunday after lunch.' Then it started getting popular."
Each of the train's four cars holds about 12 people. Rides last one mile -- about 10 minutes.
"My kids love this train," says Kristy Hansen, 32, of Greenport, who grew up a rider herself. "People come from all over to ride it. It's so unique. There's nothing like this anywhere."
The track, which Field laid by hand, travels through woods and is accented by railroad memorabilia such as lights, signs, miniature buildings and a bridge. There's even a depot, dubbed Webb Street Station, where riders often pose for photos in front of the original Greenport railroad station sign.
Jeff Mancini, 41, of Brooklyn bought a summer house with his wife in Greenport five years ago. Part of the couple's summer ritual is taking their 4-year-old son, Paolo, to the train. "He has been riding the train since he could walk," says Mancini. "We come every other weekend. It's so sad they are closing. We'll miss it."
FUN FOR EVERYONE
Field says volunteer track helpers have come and gone over the decades, but Tony Cassone of Southold has been a stalwart for 17 years. "I'm a train nut," explains Cassone, 69, who plays engineer (Field, naturally, is conductor). "I enjoy making these kids' faces light up. Plus, the adults like it as much as the children!"
Tom Sakas, 50, of Fresh Meadows spends his summer weekends sailing to Greenport with his wife and their 2-year-old son, Osher. "He's been talking about choo-choo all day!" says Sakas, who was taking Osher for his first ride.
At the end of the summer season, Field won't be pulling up the tracks but rather just closing to the public. He will still make runs for his seven grandchildren. "I always wanted my own railroad," says Field. "It's been a lot of fun."
WHEN | WHERE 1-4 p.m. Sundays and holidays through Labor Day (weather permitting), Webb Street (off Third Street), Greenport