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SmartCat Sundays: Milk on the Harlem Division

Milk has long been a staple of the American diet, and since the New York and Harlem Railroad was founded up until the 1950s, it was also a staple commodity carried by rail. Early in New York City’s history, dairy cows were kept and milked in the city proper near distilleries. Often sick cows were kept in cramped conditions, and fed the byproducts of whiskey making – resulting in a blue tinted “milk” that was lacking in cream content and dangerous to drink. Unscrupulous businessmen used additives – including water, sugar, molasses, egg, and even plaster of paris – to give it the appearance of fresh milk and sell it to an unwitting public. This tainted milk led to an increased infant mortality in the city, and was coined the “Swill Milk Scandal” when exposed in the periodicals of the day. The scandal eventually led to regulation of the milk industry, and a push for “pure milk” from dairies far outside the city. Stepping up to transport this milk were, of course, the railroads.

Rut Milk in the 1950s
The famous “Rut Milk” train passes through Mott Haven in the 1950s. The milk trains were eventually replaced by trucks. Photo by Victor Zollinsky.

Milk depots were established at many train depots, and local farmers could bring and sell their milk, which was then transported to the city. One of the Harlem’s most famous freights was the Rutland Milk train, which brought milk to New York City from Vermont – transferring from the Rutland Railroad to the Harlem in Chatham. Every day a swap would occur where a train full of milk changed hands at Chatham, exchanged for the previous day’s empties.

Today’s random tidbit from the archive is a letter from F.T. Hopkins to William Hooker. Hopkins was a milk dealer who operated the Harlem Railroad Milk Depot in New York City. The letter is addressed to Hooker at Wing’s Station – an earlier name for Wingdale.

Milk Depot Letter

Milk Depot Letter

 

Borden on the Harlem Line

Condensed milk promo card
New York Condensed Milk Company / Eagle Brand condensed milk promotional card.

Even if the milk transported by train to the city was considered “pure” and not of the “swill” variety, it did not last very long before spoilage in the days prior to refrigeration. Condensed milk stored in cans, however, could last for years without spoiling. Not only was condensed milk transported along the Harlem, it got its start here.

There are many ways to describe Gail Borden Jr.: a perpetual wanderer, deeply religious (anecdotal evidence suggests that he bought bibles for placement on the Harlem’s trains), eccentric inventor (he scared his friends by taking them on a ride straight into a river in a self-invented amphibious wagon – the “terraqueous machine”), an endlessly stubborn optimist that never gave up. All of those traits led him from his birthplace of Norwich, New York to Kentucky, Indiana, Mississippi, Texas, Connecticut, and ultimately back to New York and the Harlem Railroad to launch his most successful invention – condensed milk.

For some time Borden had been interested in preventing food from spoilage. One of his first food related inventions was a meat biscuit, made from rendered meat and flour or potato and baked into a cracker, which could be eaten as is, or crushed into boiling water to make soup. He also experimented with preserving and concentrating fruit to make juices, and making coffee extract which took up far less space than regular coffee. Despite winning prizes for the meat biscuit, none of those endeavors were commercial successes. After debts forced him to give up on the meat biscuit and sell some of his property to pay creditors, Borden wholeheartedly pursued his milk preservation idea in Connecticut – starting a factory in Wolcottville. He eventually ran out of money and that factory closed, later replaced by a different factory in Burrville. Unfortunately, the Financial Panic of 1857 marked the end of that venture as well.

The first successful condensed milk factory, Wassaic, New York
The first successful condensed milk factory, Wassaic, New York

The original Borden factory in Wassaic today The original Borden factory in Wassaic today
The original Borden factory today, now occupied by the Pawling Corporation, which manufactures architectural products.

A chance encounter on a train ride, however, brought Gail Borden and financer Jeremiah Milbank together, and Milbank found promise in Borden’s idea. With Milbank’s money, Borden founded the New York Condensed Milk Company in Wassaic, New York, right next the the tracks of the Harlem Railroad. Borden’s tenacious spirit had finally paid off this time around, as his product became a commercial success. Another factory was constructed along the Harlem in Brewster to keep up with demand – and condensed milk became a staple for members of the Union Army during the Civil War.

After Borden’s successes he moved back to Texas, but upon death was returned by train to New York. He forever remains next to the Harlem Line, buried in Woodlawn Cemetery with a large monument that bears the following quote:
“I tried and failed. I tried again and again and succeeded.”

Borden's final resting place at Woodlawn Cemetery
Borden’s final resting place at Woodlawn Cemetery

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Best of 2012, a year-end review

2012 has been an interesting year here at I Ride the Harlem Line… we finished up touring the stations on the New Haven, Port Jervis, Pascack Valley, and Hudson lines, as well as visited some places far outside Metro-North’s territory. As if that wasn’t enough, we also began our Grand Central 100 for 100 Project, posting one image every day for 100 days, all to celebrate Grand Central Terminal’s centennial.

As is customary around the end of the year, let’s take a look back at what was most popular on the site this year, based on the number of reads… presenting the top 15 posts of 2012:

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Starting off our countdown at number 15 is a photographic look at the old Milwaukee Road Depot in Minneapolis. Completed in 1899, the old station was renovated and turned into a hotel. An old train shed now offers an ice skating rink. This is one of a few posts on the blog about Minneapolis this year, from my visit there in April. Some of the other stuff from Minneapolis included the Stone Arch Bridge, a former railroad bridge converted to pedestrian use, riding around on the Hiawatha Line, the old and new Minnehaha Station, and the classical music playing Lake Street – Midtown station.

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14th most viewed for the year is our Hudson Line tour to Yonkers. The nicely restored brick station at Yonkers, built by the New York Central, is definitely one of the gems of the Hudson Line.

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There are plenty of hoaxes and tall tales related to Grand Central Terminal, but only one of them made our top fifteen list this year. Coming in at number 13 is the 1929 hoax in the Information Booth. As the story goes, a tricky scammer convinced a fruit seller that the railroad was planning on selling space in the information booth, and that prime space could be turned into a fruit stand. Of course, it was a complete lie, and the scammer skipped town with a nice wad of cash. Amusingly, you can buy apple in the Terminal today – either in Grand Central Market, or in the figurative sense, the Apple store in the main concourse.

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Another Grand Central themed post comes in at number 12 on our countdown – featuring the sky ceiling that nobody really knows about. This painting can be found inside Grande Harvest Wines – it is the last surviving remnant of the 242-seat newsreel theater that was once in Grand Central Terminal.

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Our tour of New Haven Line station Mamaroneck makes the list at number 11. Mamaroneck has a lovely old station that was undergoing a transformation into a restaurant called the Club Car – we managed to get a sneak preview of the place, and shared it along with the station tour.

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The Hudson Line tour of Tarrytown station also makes the list, likely for our coverage of the new and most wonderful Arts for Transit piece by Holly Sears. The 1898 Richardsonian Romanesque-style station at Tarrytown was built by architectural firm Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, who are most known for their stations on the Boston and Albany railroad.

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Ninth most popular for the year was my first foray into 3D modeling, and 3D printing. I decided I would try to model the Harlem Line’s Brewster station from historical photos – basically how it looked when it was first built. The interesting journey  was featured in various places around the internet, including the TinkerCad Blog, Shapeways Blog, Adafruit and Wired.

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One of the more memorable things I got to do this year was to have a brief chat with Metro-North Railroad President Howard Permut. Having been with Metro-North since its inception, the man has a pretty interesting viewpoint regarding the history of the Harlem Line. We talked about Metro-North’s formation from ConRail, Millerton, and other admirable rail systems, among other things.

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Before touring the Port Jervis and Pascack Valley lines, I wrote a brief introduction to the West of Hudson lines, which was the seventh most viewed post on the site this year. The intro included a few maps, time tables, and a look back on the damage Hurricane Irene wrought on the Port Jervis line.

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Sixth on our top 15 countdown is a trip to Metro-North’s Operations Control Center. This is the workplace for the railroad’s Rail Traffic Controllers – one of the most stressful and possibly thankless jobs at Metro-North. The current OCC is certainly high tech, but we also got a glimpse of the old OCC, and an ad for one of the New York Central’s historical towers in Grand Central – which looked quite archaic in comparison!

5

One of the most memorable shots of Hurricane Sandy was this capture of a boat resting on the Hudson Line’s tracks in Ossining, which I couldn’t help but turn into an image macro. In other news, whoever happens to own that boat is probably a big asshole, as it seems to be named after a Nazi warship. I guess the owner never realized his boat would end up on the front page of several newspapers – or top 5 in our countdown.

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Fourth most popular for the year was our April Fool’s prank about Harlem Line service getting restored up to Millerton, complete with two fake timetables and a fake ticket. Rumor has it, some folks in Metro-North’s customer service department hate me even more than they did before after this trick!

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Coming in at third most popular is the Grand Central 100 for 100 project, featuring 100 historical photos of the Terminal in the hundred days leading up to its centennial. By now we’re more than halfway through, so if you aren’t following the project on Facebook, you totally should be!

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It appears that everybody loves Dobbs Ferry station, as our tour was the number two most read post on the site for 2012. Featuring another Richardsonian Romanesque station by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, Dobbs Ferry also has a nice location right on the Hudson River’s waterfront.

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Everybody seems to say that the cat is the internet’s unofficial mascot, and it certainly seems that is true! By far, the number one most read post on the site was about Sadie the Subway Cat, of the New York Transit Museum. In addition to our March photo session with the popular feline, we updated you on Sadie’s subsequent retirement, and a humorous update on her new life outside the museum.

That just about wraps up 2012 – I’m definitely looking forward to bringing you new things in 2013… everybody have a Happy New Year!

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Brewster station – my first 3D model


Brewster station model in Tinkercad

Perhaps you remember back in April I posted about how I was attempting to learn a little bit of 3D by modeling Brewster station. I did finally finish the model, and got it 3D printed using Shapeways a few weeks ago. The folks at Tinkercad (a simple web-based 3D app where I made the model) asked me to do a guest post for their blog, which was posted today. If you’re interested in reading the whole thing, you can check it out here.

On the other hand, if you’re not really interested in reading, some photos might just speak for themselves. There are definitely places where I can improve, but I really love this little model that I created on the computer and now hold in my hand. Though I’ve been rather busy with other things recently, I certainly can’t rule out modeling another station at some time in the future.


What Brewster station looked like in the 1930’s, and the main photo I based my model off of. Postcard from the collection of Steve Swirsky.

Edit: Thanks for all the attention in regards to my first modeling adventure, everyone! We’ve since been blogged about by:
Shapeways: 3D Printed Brewster Station : Pushing the Limits of Browser Based 3D Modeling
Adafruit: Gorgeous 3D Train Station is Railfan’s First Model
and Wired: Tiny Train Station Models the Past With the Tools of the Future

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I swear I am not ignoring you…

I swear I am not ignoring you, I’m just trying to learn 3D. Not bad for a first attempt, eh? The badass part is going to be when I get this thing all finished and 3D printed.

Now here is a silly question… does anyone have any decent photos of the door at Brewster back in the day? It is some glass thing now, but I am assuming it wasn’t always. And since I am kinda going for the historical look on this one, I need some help!

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Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line (Part 7)

Admit it, readers – somewhere in the back of your head you were wondering when I’d get around to showing you more railroad-themed postcards. My postcard collecting addiction has been well documented, and roughly every other month I do a new post full of my newly acquired cards. Today’s lineup includes Amenia, one of the abandoned Upper Harlem stations, and Towners, another abandoned station. There are also a few cards of station buildings still around today, like Katonah, Bedford Hills, and Scarsdale.

Again, I must sincerely thank Steve Swirsky for his wonderful contributions to our extensive collection of postcards. The Dover Plains, Towners, and White Plains cards are all from his collection.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Have you missed any of our installments of “Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line?” Check out all of the old posts here:
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 1
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 2
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 3
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 4
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 5
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 6
You can also view and search the whole collection of postcards through SmartCat.

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Weekly News Roundup, 1/8

A quick news roundup for the week…

Idiots park running SUV on railroad tracks

A stupid couple started off the new year right by leaving their SUV on the railroad tracks just west of Fairfield station. As expected, alcohol played a part in the driver’s complete lack of judgement.

Branchville’s Whistle Stop Bakery

The Connecticut Post had a nice little interview with Lolly Turner, the woman that converted the old, “beat-up” and “falling apart” Branchville station into a successful bakery.

“We’ve taken a piece of history and turned it into a viable business. I think it’s a wonderful thing we’ve done.”

Schumer seeks to restore commuter tax benefit

It is always good to know that Schumer actually fights for something worthwhile every now and again.

The MTA’s App Contest

Hopefully I am not the only one that finds a little bit of amusement in the fact that the MTA is holding an “app contest” for useful transit-related smartphone apps. You know, since back in the day the MTA claimed that train schedules were their own intellectual property, and sent their lawyers after app developers. But it is true – the MTA is holding a contest, and the New York Times had a nice article about it this week.

Commuters get discount at local grocery store

If you commute in the Brewster/Southeast area and need to pick up a few things on the way home, you should definitely check out DeCicco’s, as they offer a 5% discount for Metro-North riders with monthly passes. I believe it applies only to the store in Southeast, right up the road from the station.

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Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line (Part 6)

It has been a while since I last posted some old postcards… so I figured we were due for an update. Two of the cards we’ve seen before, though these are alternate views and in color. And even though some of them are not necessarily railroad related, it is interesting to check out the landscape as it once was. The Wassaic House, right alongside the railroad tracks, is visible in the second postcard of the set. Built in 1851, the Wassaic House was a hotel owned by wealthy local Noah Gridley. Gridley was also a financial backer for Gail Borden’s milk condensery, which in addition to the railroad and Gridley’s own iron works, were the three most influential industries in the history of Wassaic.

Other lovely cards that show the world around the rails is an example from Pawling, with the lake visible alongside the tracks. There is also a nice view of what the village of Valhalla looked like – the train station is partially visible on the left side of the card. And the grade crossing in Bronxville, with the funky old-style railroad crossing sign is a nice old view.

My favorite card of the bunch, however, is the nicely detailed shot of Brewster station. It is the same station we know and love, with some different details – like the New York Central Railroad stenciled above the door. You can click here for a comparison shot of Brewster today. The card of Brewster was sent in by reader Steve Swirsky, a contribution which is much appreciated!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Because you can never get enough postcards, there will certainly be more a 7th part and beyond. You can also check out the old parts, in case you missed any, with the following links:
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 1
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 2
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 3
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 4
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 5

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Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line (Part 5)


A train crash postcard

Imagine that we are in the year 1920. A train has just had an accident. As people rush over to attempt to assist, so too does a photographer. Camera in hand, the photographer takes a couple snaps of the wreck. Not only for event detailing purposes, but for postcards too. I’ve become a crazy postcard-collecting nutjob, and every time I see a train crash postcard, it makes me chuckle a little. Postcards were printed with pretty much anything and everything on them… but I suppose it makes sense, they provided an easy way to share (back before we had this thing called internet, boggles the mind!) Of course, it is just human nature to want to see a train crash, or any crash, period. Any person that has ever been in a car moving past an accident knows exactly what I’m talking about.


And if I wanted to send you a LOLCat back in the day, I’d send you this.

Unfortunately, I’ve yet to discover a Harlem Division train crash postcard. I have found quite a few station images, many of which I’ve posted previously. Today I have a few more of those for you, as well as some more “everyday” scenes: track workers at Dover Plains, a locomotive crossing a road in the snow, and horse carts delivering milk to the train station to be transported to the city. Thrown in the mix is a card of the Harlem Valley State Hospital, with the location of the current Harlem Valley-Wingdale station visible.

Make sure you enjoy this somewhat chilly Friday (where’s my hat?!), and don’t get too frustrated if you see anybody rubbernecking on your way home this evening! Just think, hey, that could be on a postcard!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

If you missed parts one through four, you can find them here:
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 1
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 2
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 3
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 4

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Even More Monday Morning Old Photos, Part 3

Morning, folks. Happy Labor Day. Hopefully you don’t have to work today – I may not have to work my “real job” today, but my second job, this site, never really sleeps. This Monday we’ve got some more great photos from “back in the day.” Today’s collection of photos were taken a few decades earlier than the ones posted in Part 1 and 2. I don’t know the photographers either – these are all from slides I’ve acquired and purchased (did I ever mention I was an eBay addict?). I was at Costco the other day getting these slides processed, and I was definitely wondering how many other idiots other than me actually print from slides!

Anyways, all of the photos date from the late 1950’s, or the 1960’s. We’ve got plenty of trains, and a few Harlem Division places you might be familiar with – Chatham, Millerton, Wassaic, and Brewster. There is also a small collection of photos from the Woodlawn and Wakefield area… some of which have trains just passing through (is that a TurboTrain?) There is also a photo of a the Morrisania 138th Street station that no longer exists. All of the photos are a little bit before my time, which is part of the reason why I love them… and I hope you do too.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Even More Monday Morning Old Photos, Part 2

As we hang out in the aftermath of Irene, stuck with no Metro-North service on this “lovely” Monday, we can at least remember a little bit of history. And even remember a time when our tracks were not covered in mud and trees, there was no flooding, and trains were actually running! As I mentioned last week, here is a “new” set of photos taken in the eighties and nineties, when Metro-North was just a few years old. There are a few more photos of Pawling, more construction in White Plains, and a photo or two of Hartsdale.

 
  
 
 
   
  
 
 

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