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Southwest Orange Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019 2 years ago

Windermere resident lands head job at Strasburg Rail Road

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Tony Gebbia was hired as the general manager for one of the oldest railroads on the planet.
by: Tim Freed Managing Editor

Windermere resident Tony Gebbia said it’s like having his own giant train set — only it’s older than the American Civil War.

Gebbia was hired last month as the general manager for the Pennsylvania-based Strasburg Rail Road — founded in 1832 and currently the oldest operating railroad in the Western Hemisphere.

In that new role, Gebbia manages a team of chiefs and vice presidents while helping the railroad come up with new and creative ways to improve business and provide a special experience for customers.

“Where my office is situated, it’s pretty much in the middle of the property and I have this amazing bay window — if I stand next to it I can look up and down the entire length of the primary operation and there are steam trains outside of my window,” Gebbia said. “The first couple of days, even though it was cold, I opened the window so I could really listen to the trains as they come in and just hear the whoosh of the steam — it’s amazing how quiet they can be and also how loud they can be. It’s like having a big train set — it’s pretty cool.”

The Strasburg Rail Road has three tenets to its business — a tourist train that provides a turn-of-the-century, authentic steam locomotive experience; steam locomotive restoration — working with clients from all over the world; and freight, which has been expanded from 12 cars a year to about 600 cars this year, hauling materials and products.

Gebbia already has made some changes and moves within the company. With a current tree shortage and a longstanding Christmas tree train experience in jeopardy, Gebbia made the decision to partner with Lowe’s to source additional trees to keep the tradition going. Gebbia said he also is encouraging the railroad to create premium experiences for locomotive enthusiasts, such as letting them sit at the throttle and operate the train with supervision.

The recent hire is in many ways coming full circle for Gebbia. He made the choice to apply for the job to be closer to his parents in the Ronks, Pennsylvania, area, but Gebbia has a history with trains. He enjoyed a long career at Disney that included positions in studio attractions, international marketing and program development, but it all started with a job as a monorail pilot.

“I said that when I retire or at some point in my career I want to work with steam locomotives, because here I am working with the high-tech train and going to low-tech when I retire, I thought that would be kind of cool,” Gebbia said. “In my mind, it was over at the Magic Kingdom being one of those old guys in the overalls operating the train.”

Gebbia said he feels grateful to be brought into a company with so much rich history.

“There’s a lot of heritage to this railroad — I was humbled that they selected me,” Gebbia said. “I wasn’t planning on looking for a job. I wasn’t planning leaving my life in Florida. My wife left her job of 20 years at Disney for me to be able to do this. It was an amazing choice.”

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Tim Freed is the Managing Editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Windermere Observer. He previously spent six years covering the Winter Park/Maitland area and is a graduate of the University of Central Florida....

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