Look for this 1921 steam locomotive built for a New Mexican coal mining company in this year's Jamesport Fire Department parade July 24. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The Jamesport Fire Department parade always provides a chance for local organizations to strut their stuff before hundreds of spectators and this year’s parade won’t be any different.

One group, the Railroad Museum of Long Island, is excited to show off a special exhibit on display at its Riverhead location: a newly restored, antique steam locomotive built in 1921 by H.K. Porter Locomotive Works built for the Defiance Coal Company in Mentmore, New Mexico.

The 16-ton locomotive was used to pull small “pit cars” from the mine entrance to the coal tipple, which loaded the coal onto rail cars for transport. Its last run was March 28, 1952, the year the coal company closed down.

It was then purchased by Stanley Groman, who had it shipped in January 1953 to Sandy Pond in Sandy Creek Township in upstate New York, which became one of the country’s first operating rail museums, known as “Rail City.” Rail City closed in 1974.

John Degan of Southampton purchased the locomotive from Groman’s estate in the fall of 1982 and began restoring it to operating condition. Degan named the locomotive the “Roy Dunwell,” in recognition of the man who did all the welding and steel fabrication on the locomotive.

The engine and two of the Defiance Coal Company pit cars were donated to the Railroad Museum of Long Island in October 1999. The museum restored the pit cars, work that was completed in 2017, and they are on display on a prototype “coal tipple” at the museum’s Riverhead location.

But the Railroad Museum didn’t have the funds to have the locomotive restored.

Until 2013.

That’s when RMLI president Don Fisher got a phone call from a lawyer who said he represented the estate of Walter H. Milne.

“Mr. Fisher,” the lawyer said, “Walter Milne has left his entire estate to the Railroad Museum.”

Milne, it turned out, was a member of the museum for many years, Fisher said. This wasn’t the museum’s first bequest. Rail enthusiasts and RMLI members will, from time to time, remember the museum in their wills. Fisher gave Milne’s attorney contact information for the museum’s attorney.

Not long afterward, the museum’s lawyer called Fisher to say Milne had actually left his entire estate to the organization — his home and everything, Fisher recalls. “Even a model train collection,” he adds. “We’ve gotten $10,000 or $20,000 bequests, but this was $500,000. I nearly fainted,” Fisher said.

RMLI established a $250,000 endowment, put 20 percent of the request into a restoration fund for another steam locomotive in its collection, Engine 39, and arranged to ship the H.K. Porter to the Strasburg Rail Road Company shops in Strasburg, Pennsylvania in 2014. The $140,000 rehabilitation and restoration project was completed early this year and the 1921 locomotive returned to Riverhead in April.

It will be towed on Main Road during the Jamesport Fire Department parade tomorrow, Wednesday, July 24. The parade is scheduled to step off at Washington Avenue at 6:30 p.m. The grand marshal of the parade this year is Stanley “Whiskers” Zaweski, who is being honored for his 70 years of service in the Jamesport Fire Department.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.