THE CENTERVILLE & SOUTHWESTERN LIVES
This story begins as a small For Sale ad in a nationally known railroad publication in November of 1974. "For sale: complete nationally known miniature railroad....Ruggedly built for hard use and long life.... Excellent for research and development.....". Long life indeed, this Cadillac of large scale model railroads. Built on a dairy farm in Roseland, NJ on wooded acres, the Becker family created the "Centerville & Southwestern", a mammoth in realism and appearance, and functional in hard usage. Tourists thrilled to the sounds of clickety-clack and the sights of long passenger carrying trains amidst a world of trestles, trees, stations, signals and a rock ballasted mainline. Originally constructed in 1938, the train ran in a southwest direction into the town of Roseland, originally known as Centerville, hence its name.
"----Bob's Two Page Story----"
In September 1972, the trains made their last runs as the farm had been sold. The steam locomotive went to the Ford Museum in Michigan, but is now in the hands of a private owner. The two diesels, cars, buildings, and a mile and a half of track went into storage in Lincroft, NJ. After no one was found to purchase this gem of a railroad stored in a warehouse of the Monmouth County Park Commission, the equipment languished for years as the Park Commission's plans to relay it on their grounds never came to fruition.
This fan's tale has a happy ending and a very promising conclusion. Enter the Phillipsburg (NJ) Railroad Historians, a small band of caring men and women dedicated to the preservation of our New Jersey railroad heritage. A deal was struck with the Park Commission to acquire the Centerville & Southwestern (note 1) and the New Jersey highway system became a conduit for the large task of transplanting the C&S to its new and friendly home at Phillipsburg. Faithful members refurbished a representative sample of the little giant both cosmetically and mechanically. In 1997, the adults and children interested in railroading can once again thrill to a ride on a C&S freight train on about 500 feet of track at the Historians site at Phillipsburg. The big show is the East-West Conrail (now Norfolk Southern) mainline bulging forth with heavy traffic, especially on weekends where the site is officially open on the first Sunday of every month in good weather (note 2). The site will become home also to a complete representation of vintage full size rail equipment, some of which the Historians already possess, but will be moved to the site as time and circumstances permit. The Phillipsburg Railroad Historians are pursuing the hopes of establishing the State Transportation Museum at Phillipsburg where active railroads, available acreage, and historical structures are in abundance.
Circumstances are pointing in the positive direction for a major extension of the Centerville & Southwestern to Mt. Pernasus and the Delaware River area and possibly a centerpiece to the proposed State Museum site.
The dreams of Henry Becker and all of us older children may yet be realized one day when a C&S train rolls off down the ballasted main, echoing the cheers of thrilled children and adults as the clickity-clack and air horns again return passenger service to Phillipsburg.
Bob Bennington as told to Paul Carpenito
Bob Bennington operated the trains on the last day at the Becker Farm and also operated the first revenue runs at the Phillipsburg Railroad Historians Museum.
Note 1. With the help of the Phillipsburg Railroad Historians, Monmouth County Park Commission conveyed title of the railroad to the Town of Phillipsburg, who subsequently leased it back to PRRH. We are the caretakers and operators of the Centerville & Southwestern.
Note 2. The PRRH Museum is now open every Sunday 10am to 3pm May through September. See our schedule for more info.