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Antique Railroad Barge a Floating Link to Brooklyn's Past

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The Lehigh Valley No. 79, a 100-year-old railroad barge, has been repurposed to house a nautical museum in Brooklyn. NY1's Roger Clark filed the following report.

She looks pretty good for 100. The Lehigh Valley No. 79 was a busy railroad barge at a time when 13 railroads served the city.

David Sharps lives aboard the old barge.

"If goods landed in Brooklyn to be bound for California or Chicago, you had to get over to the trunk lines that were going west, which would have been in New Jersey. You couldn't get there from here with bridges and tunnels at that time," Sharps explains.

When that changed, the barges started vanishing. Sharps bought this one for a dollar in 1985 and turned it into a museum. It has been docked in Red Hook since 1994.

"I estimate we have had literally hundreds of thousands of people come down for our open hours, for our shows," says Sharps.

To celebrate the barge's big birthday, a number of events have been planned including the exhibit, "From Shore to Shore, Boat Builders and Boat Yards of Long Island and Westchester." It spotlights 200 years of maritime tradition and the small group of craftsmen and women who keep it going.

"To build a boat from the bottom up is a skill that, if it's not kept alive with our traditional boat builders, would be lost," says Sharps.

It's an appropriate exhibit for the barge, which, itself, is fighting the odds. Sharps and his crew were able to ride out Hurricane Sandy on the vessel with minimal damage. The Coast Guard, though, now wants to take a closer look at it.

"They want to see the bottom of the boat. They want to inspect some of the fasteners," says Sharps. "Maintenance is a very large part of keeping a boat in ship shape and keeping it afloat."

Sharps estimates that towing the barge to the Albany area next year for drydocking and repairs would be a $150,000 project.

"Preservation is a tough fight and we are very proud to be one of the vestiges of the past that is still alive today," Sharps says.

The barge is open for free tours on Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. until July 12.

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