A park for railroad and history buffs

Posted 9/29/22

PORT JERVIS, NY — The Port Jervis Transportation History Center (PJTHC) opened to the public for the first time on Memorial Day weekend.

It’s a big deal for Port Jervis; it could …

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A park for railroad and history buffs


PORT JERVIS, NY — The Port Jervis Transportation History Center (PJTHC) opened to the public for the first time on Memorial Day weekend.

It’s a big deal for Port Jervis; it could bring plenty of tourists into town, as well as offer a place for locals to congregate.

There is a fenced dog park and a flat area for walking, adjacent to the box car that is home to some of the museum’s collection of smaller artifacts and memorabilia.

The 10-acre park is located at the former Erie Rail Yard, which is now owned by the City of Port Jervis.

The railyard includes one of the last remaining railroad turntables—those were mainly used to change the direction of engines, but were also used for rail cars. The yard has been in continuous use since 1848, and provides a fantastic historic setting for a rail-themed transportation history center. It’s large enough to hold an entourage of train cars and engines in various stages of restoration.

Adjacent to this property is an active rail line, the northernmost terminal of the New Jersey Transit Authority’s passenger train service. The tracks continue to the north as the freight line of the New York, Susquehanna and Western Railroad up the Delaware River Valley to Binghamton.

While visiting the site on Sunday, August, 7, I had the pleasure of speaking with Rudy Garbely and his wife, Carolyn Hoffman, both of whom are deeply involved in several of the partnering organizations for this collaborative undertaking.

Garbely is the chairman of the board of the PJTHC; the group is composed of members representing six additional organizations involved in the project. The Dining Car Society owns all the passenger cars; the Tri-State Railroad Preservation Society operates the museum in the box car; the Outdoor Club of Port Jervis focuses on maintaining the grounds; the Friends of Port Jervis Arts and History operates as a fundraising arm; and the Conrail Historical Society has a couple of sheds on the property available to the PJTHC.

One of the sheds houses a couple of speeder cars. The speeders, needing some electric repairs, are small, powered cars that were used to examine the tracks for any indications of required maintenance.

Garbely has been interested in trains most of his life. He began with model railroading and was a history major in college, doing his thesis on a railroad in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. During a summer break from college classes, he got a job at a local railroad, and ended up staying for six years. He moved through the ranks, first as a “go-for” and then, with his mechanical background, was soon doing the hands-on maintenance work.

Garbely also had some computer background, which he put to use in marketing for the railroad. Eventually, he moved away from his job at the railroad to focus on his business, the Garbely Publishing Company, one of the leading publishers of railroad history titles in North America. Garbely is also the author of nine books on the history of railroads.

Hoffman is president of Operation Toy Train, which operates in conjunction with the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Foundation. Each year, the group collects toys on its train cars, and then gives the 30,000-plus donations to Toys for Tots. Operation Toy Train owns the majority of the train cars at the yard.

With over two decades of administrative and planning experience, she has coordinated successful events for the Port Jervis Transportation History Center, the Dining Car Society, and The Conrail Historical Society. She is the volunteer coordinator for several of the groups involved in the PJTHC.

The couple was quick to point out that Garbely and Hoffman are but two of many people who have worked very hard at making this dream become a reality. “There are a ton of people that are involved in various managerial/administrative capacities from all of the organizations without whom PJTHC would not be possible,” Garbely said. “For example, Mike Ward, president of the Outdoor Club, is the PJTHC’s executive director and manages most of the day-to-day activity on the site, and he also personally handles nearly all of our grounds maintenance. Another one is Frank Eichenlaub, Operation Toy Train’s vice president and a director at the PJTHC, who was the one that not only had the initial idea for PJTHC in late 2019, but has also supervised or personally performed all of the trackwork on site that gave us a place to put all of the trains,” and organized their shipment, he said. “There are probably a dozen more people that I could list here that are absolutely integral to PJTHC’s operations and very existence.”

When asked who the target audience will be, Hoffman said, “Most kids are into anything that is big and moves.” Retired rail workers are bringing their grandchildren, so the kids can experience what railroading is about.

She said she is excited when local visitors react to the project. They say, “This is great! There is something going on and it doesn’t just look like trains rusting to the rails!”

Garbely interjected, “This is a big railroad town. Anyone who has lived here for a generation or two, somebody in their family has worked for the railroad.”

Port Jervis Transportation History Center, railyard, railroad turntables, transportation history


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