SOUTH GLASTONBURY, CT – The phrase “a man of many talents” has almost become a cliché, and it is not always an accurate descriptor. However, one has to look no farther than a small town in Connecticut to find a man who very much deserves that moniker.
His name is John Cavanna, and this humbly self-described “tinkerer” is so much more than a man who enjoys working with his hands.
For one thing, Cavanna is a tactics expert and dedicated law enforcement officer who works as a SWAT supervisor and Rangemaster Sergeant for the Hartford, CT police department.
Cavanna aspired to be a Hartford police officer from a very early age, when he could see the city of Hartford from his family’s farm. The view was complete with a beautiful gold building which strikingly looked to young John “like a brick of fire” as the sun rose over the Connecticut River Valley.
He told me:
“As a young man, you have wanderlust, and you look at a city like that, and you can just imagine all the excitement that’s going on there and all the things that are happening, and that’s naturally something I wanted to get involved with.”
And “get involved” he did, having served his community in law enforcement for 15 years so far, currently as a Tactical Team Supervisor. Also, as Rangemaster Sergeant, he performs all maintenance on the department’s guns, and he runs the firearms training division.
As if it wasn’t enough to serve as a SWAT supervisor and Rangemaster Sergeant, Cavanna also is badged with the DEA. He is a member of the DEA Clandestine Laboratory Team, which specializes in processing and containment of caustic environments that are toxic to humans.
His dedicated and expert team utilizes self-contained breathing apparatus with pressurized oxygen, and hazmat clothing, to clean environments such as methamphetamine labs and pill press operations.
And then, as if (more than) full-time law enforcement service wasn’t enough, Cavanna also serves as an elected member of the Glastonbury Town Council, overseeing the operations of the town of Glastonbury through a town manager that answers to the council.
But wait… there’s more.
Cavanna and his family also run their family farm, Cavanna’s Farm, a 200 acre working farm that his father’s father’s father purchased in 1903.
The Cavannas, who immigrated from Northern Italy in 1890, first lived in Brooklyn, NY and commuted to South Glastonbury, picking peaches and selling them in Brooklyn until they saved the funds they needed to purchase the land.
Cavanna’s Farm grows strawberries, apples, peaches, pears, cherries, pumpkins, maple trees for syrup, and Christmas trees. The family also has 60 beehives for honey.
The farm also sports a full-size, standard-gauge, working railroad, courtesy of “tinkerer” John Cavanna.
Cavanna is no stranger to restoring and rebuilding heavy equipment. In fact, he rebuilt and restored for the city of Hartford a derelict V-150 Commando amphibious armored vehicle, complete with a hydraulic boom.
As for his interest in trains for the farm, Cavanna chuckled when he told me:
“Well, I guess it’s the result of what happens when you get a toy train set as a child!…
“I’ve always loved trains. I have a mechanical aptitude. I collect antique motorcycles, antique trucks, tractors. I always was fascinated by steam, to the point that for birthday presents when I was little, I would ask for a steam engine, and my dad found one for me! Not a train, but a stationary steam engine.”
Cavanna continued by explaining that he wanted to add another experiential aspect to Cavanna’s Farm, saying:
“Farming, as you can imagine, is a very weather-dependent endeavor. I wanted to diversify the farm with something less weather-dependent, to lean more towards selling an experience, because there’s been a cultural shift in people that I’ve seen in the last 20 years….
“Culturally, you see a shift in what people come to the farms for. When I was a young lad, they would come to the farms to actually pick fruit and jar it, can it….
“And nowadays, you see folks come out to the farm in droves, but they don’t necessarily come to pick a product…. They are here for the experience, almost as if the farm is a disconnect from the modern humdrum of the world, and they are looking for a place to just get out and be outside.”
In keeping with this idea, Cavanna acquired and restored two diesel locomotives and three passenger cars, trucking them in, disassembled, from various places across the country. He also bought a steam locomotive from Canada, which he is currently restoring.
Naturally, the train requires plenty of track, which Cavanna and his team built from scratch. Named for its gray crushed granite ballast, which is quarried and crushed onsite, the Gray Granite Railroad at Cavanna’s Farm right now runs just over three quarters of a mile.
When completed, the railroad will cover two and a half to three miles, and it will allow visitors to see beautiful and historically significant aspects of the property that they could not easily access by tractor or hay trailer.
For example, Cavanna’s Farm boasts the oldest keystone-cut granite dam in the United States, one of only two currently standing. Visitors will soon be able to access and appreciate this 1700s-era dam via the Gray Granite Railroad, and learn of its history as a major forging operation for ship anchors.
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Already quite popular, Cavanna’s Grey Granite Railroad runs special holiday events that attract visitors looking for a way to celebrate.
For Halloween, Cavanna offers guests a spooky ride, complete with chainsaw-wielding zombies, and a trip to “The Butcher’s House.”
For Easter, the Gray Granite Railroad treats kids to a train ride, a meeting with the Easter bunny, and an egg hunt.
And then there’s Christmas, of course.
As a Christmas tree grower, Cavanna’s farm allows visitors to harvest their own handpicked Christmas trees for the season.
But with the onsite train, families have even more of a treat.
The Gray Granite Railroad transports them to the North Pole, which sports a beautifully decorated cabin, complete with a crackling wood stove. Santa greets his little guests with cookies and a listening ear, and his sleigh is also available outside for family photos.
That cabin is only temporary. Upon completion of the railroad, Cavanna also plans to build a permanent North Pole for young visitors to enjoy during the Christmas season. Also, he plans to have live reindeer onsite, and to equip the North Pole with a snow machine.
Cavanna has been able to use his farm and railroad to make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth. Through his work with Hartford’s PAL (Police Athletic League) program, Cavanna is able to host kids at various events at the farm, including a pancake event where the young people get to learn how to make their own maple syrup.
Cavanna told me about the program:
“Good-hearted people can get to at-risk youth when they are very young, and can help prevent a life of bad choices that inevitably are going to lead them down a terrible path….
“If you can give them one experience, one eye-opening experience so they can see that there’s something beyond the city that they grow up in and are unfortunately sometimes stuck in, it gives them an avenue of exploration to work towards.”
Thanks to Cavanna’s Farm and the Grey Granite Railroad, those at-risk kids will soon be treated to a train ride to meet with Santa.
Ever mindful of the policing part of his incredibly busy and varied life, this man of many talents shared with me a message of inspiration for his brothers and sisters in blue. He said:
“I just want the younger cops to remember why they initially joined up, and not to let what sometimes feels to the younger officers as a massive public perception of mistrust and dislike towards them.
“I want to persuade them in their journey.
“They should know that the vast majority of people support us.”
Drawing from his own highly varied life experiences, Cavanna continued:
“And that there’s life after police work, and not to put all their eggs in one basket, and that they should be diversified, save their money, invest it wisely, and keep working hard.”
For more information on Cavanna’s Farm, please visit its Facebook page at this link.
Also, you can find the Gray Granite Railroad’s Facebook page here.
Editor note: In 2020, we saw a nationwide push to “defund the police”. While we all stood here shaking our heads wondering if these people were serious… they cut billions of dollars in funding for police officers.
And as a result, crime has skyrocketed – all while the same politicians who said “you don’t need guns, the government will protect you” continued their attacks on both our police officers and our Second Amendment rights.
And that’s exactly why we’re launching this national crowdfunding campaign as part of our efforts to help “re-fund the police”.
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