SmartCat Sundays: Restoring a Grand Central to Chatham Roll Banner

Original image of the roll sign Not everything you’ll find in my collection is printed on paper… Admittedly, I have a little thing for roll banners (I own three for the Harlem Division). Long before computers and other technology, these roll banners used to be displayed in Grand Central Terminal at each gate, letting passengers know what stops the train made. Each train had it’s own roll sign, which were stored in cabinets by the gate. The roll banner featured in this post was my third banner acquisition – but it was one I couldn’t resist, as it was originally an Upper Harlem Division banner. Sold by the SONO Switch Tower Museum on eBay as a fundraiser, their original photo of it is at right. As you can see, after the 1972 discontinuation of the Upper Harlem Line, those stops listed were blacked out. All of the banners were actually hand-painted by a real person, and when train names were changed, the signs were modified to fit – in the case of the black paint, some more drastically than others.

With the aid of old timetables, I was able to track the history of the banner, and the trains it once represented. Though the train number changed a few times, for the majority of it’s life, the it was for a Sunday-only morning train from New York to Chatham.

Unknown – 1958: Train 1053, which made a stop at Boston Corners.
1958 – June 30, 1964: Train 905. Ghent was blacked out in 1959 when it was removed as a stop.
July 1, 1964 – November 30, 1968: Train 909.
December 1, 1968 – March 19, 1972: Train 9009. Number was changed after the Penn Central merger.
March 20th, 1972 – unknown: Eliminated stations were covered in black paint, and used for Train 9013, a Saturday and Sunday train.

The lower level of GCT
Early photo of Grand Central’s lower level, showing two departure banners, and the cabinets the banners were stored in when not being used.

After purchasing the banner, I was slightly torn as to what I should do with it. Keep it as is, as a testament to what happened when Penn Central eliminated the Upper Harlem? Or should I restore it, to what it once was, showing all of the original stops? Part of what swayed my decision was that it was obvious that the writing underneath was not completely gone. You could just barely make it out under the black layer of paint, but it was still there. I decided to see how difficult removing the black would be, and to my surprise, it wasn’t that hard. With a little bit of elbow grease, I revealed a line once hidden under black – “Visitors not permitted through gate”:

Black paint slowly disappears

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Dashing Diesels – The Workhorses of Metro-North

While the good majority of service on Metro-North is operated by Electric Multiple Unit cars, the railroad’s dashing diesels handle the rest of the load – largely in the unelectrified territories of the Upper Hudson Line, Upper Harlem Line, and the Danbury and Waterbury Branches. West of Hudson service, operated by New Jersey Transit, is also dieselized, carrying passengers through New Jersey and into New York’s Orange and Rockland counties. Arguably, it is this diesel territory that is likely considered Metro-North’s most beautiful. Spots like Port Jervis’s Moodna Viaduct, views of the Hudson Line from the Bear Mountain Bridge, and the Harlem Line’s Ice Pond all fall into this category.

Here’s a photo gallery of some of Metro-North’s dynamic and dashing diesels, most of which were captured within the past few weeks (although a few are favorites from last year) on the Harlem, Hudson, and Port Jervis Lines of Metro-North. Enjoy!

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Sunsets and Long Exposure Photography on the Rails

Over the past few weeks I’ve spent my evenings exploring the rails, photographing at one of my favorite times of the day – sunset. While one generally loses the illumination of the sun’s rays, you gain a multitude of colors in the sky… and to me, there is just something magical about that.

In terms of night photography – or at least, what railfans tend to think about night photography – one usually uses artificial lights to illuminate a posed, unmoving train. Though it seems to be the en vogue thing to do these days, I see little reason to do so other than “because we can.” Most seem to do it for the novelty, or because all the “cool kids” are doing it. Many that take part look to evoke the work of O. Winston Link, arguably the best night railroad photographer ever (though Jack Delano, whose photographs I featured last week, was also an accomplished night photographer – it was never really his “claim to fame,” however). Unfortunately, most fall flat in their endeavor to “be like Link.” While I can see the merits of photographing steam trains at night (the lower light allows one to capture sweeping plumes of smoke from the engine), I see little reason to do it with modern trains. After dark I find it far more fun to capture not the train itself, but the train’s movement, and its environment.

Because of the low ambient light, long exposure photography allows one to record the movement of the train, rendered as blurs of light. In order to get a proper exposure, your camera shutter is open for longer – in some cases for 15 seconds or more (thus a stable resting place, preferably a tripod, is required). Done right, any moving object in the frame shows up as a blur, or a streak. Modern electric trains, like Metro-North’s M7s and M8s, with their shiny and smooth exteriors and LED lights lend themselves to this, becoming graceful blurs. Instead of artificial light, one uses the “natural” (or as natural as the light off a cityscape could be), and the intense colors of a sunset to evoke a completely different mood. Since I don’t really have a post lined up for this week, I figured I’d share some of my recent photographs taken at sunset, or at night… and maybe convince some of you that there is fun to be had after dark, far away from the now all too common “night photo sessions.”

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The Budd Rail Diesel Car, and more art from Leslie Ragan

If you’ve been following our little series of posts chock full of lovely Leslie Ragan art in advertisements for the Budd company, you may have noticed a few ads featuring Budd’s RDC – or Rail Diesel Car. Today’s post completes our collection of Ragan ads, and focuses on the RDC. The RDC’s were widely used here and around the world – Australia, Canada, Brazil, and even Saudi Arabia all had RDC’s operating at some point in time.

The versatile RDC was an all stainless steel, self propelled railcar that could be operated as a single unit, or multiple cars could be coupled into one longer train. While they operated on all sorts of runs, it was common to see them on lines with fewer passengers, and in commuter service where there was no electrification – like the Upper Harlem Line.

 
Budd-built cars operating on the Harlem Line – at left, an RDC at Dover Plains, at right an SPV-2000, also in Dover Plains. While the RDC was highly successful, the supposed successor SPV was hardly so – acquiring the less-than-flattering nickname “Seldom Propelled Vehicle.”

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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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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 1

Do you love old train photos as much as I do? It has been a while since I last posted some Monday Morning old photos… but I do plan on posting a few for the next couple of weeks. In my endless endeavor to acquire old photos of the Harlem Line, I’ve borrowed and digitized more old photos from Lou Grogan. These are slightly newer than previous photos I’ve posted: at least I was alive when they were captured, albeit a young child. But they are old enough to capture the old platform at Pawling, and construction at White Plains. Though the dates probably vary, my guess is that they are either very late 80’s, or early 90’s – a time when Metro-North Commuter Railroad was a fledgling organization.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I love this one: self portrait of the photographer, at White Plains.

If you missed any of our series of Monday Morning old photos, you can find them here:

Monday Morning Old photos, Part 2
Monday Morning Old photos, Part 2
Monday Morning Old photos, Part 3
More Monday Morning Harlem Division Photos
You can also find more of Lou Grogan’s gorgeous photography here: Trains & The Beautiful Harlem Valley – Never-before-seen Photos from the 80’s.

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Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line (Part 4)

You know addicts never quit… how could I ever stop collecting these postcards? Plus it seems that I love multi-part posts. We’re on number four, folks. In case you missed the others, 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

I’m not much of a psychic, but I have a really good feeling that there will be a part 5. But until then, enjoy more old postcards from various locations along the Harlem Line. This time we have Brewster, more of Chatham, the abandoned Upper Harlem station of Craryville, a view of Croton Falls, Dover Plains, and Goldens Bridge, the station at Hartsdale, a winter scene at Hawthorne, a train pulling into Pleasantville, a view of the depot in Tuckahoe, the Borden Condensed Milk factory – located next to the tracks in Wassaic, and the old station in White Plains.












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Book available for download: The History of the New York & Harlem Railroad

When it comes to the history of the Harlem Line, you can’t beat The Coming of the New York & Harlem Railroad, by Lou Grogan. It is, by far, the most complete history of the line, and full of wonderful pictures. There was, however, another book written on the New York & Harlem, covering the line’s early history many years prior. I had been trying to get my hands on it for a while… I know of only three copies that exist: the one I didn’t win on eBay, one that belonged to Gouverneur Morris, Jr., and is now in the collection of the New York Historical Society, and one that belongs to the Katonah Village Library. The book was written by Clarence Hyatt in 1898, so it is hardly something that bookstores or even internet booksellers have. The only thing I knew about it was that it was quite small, about 36 pages. Beyond that, I knew nothing of what was inside.


Photo of Chatham from the book, taken at some point in the late 1800’s

I finally got off my butt and made the trip to the library in Katonah on one of the days we had warm weather. I’d never been to the library before, so I didn’t know what to expect, or whether the book would even be in a “public” area. The person at the front desk was rather snippy with me when I asked her to help me find the book, despite me saying I had never been there before and had no idea where to look. I told her that I figured the book would probably be in a special section, given the fact that it is over a hundred years old… and she told me to go talk to the reference librarian. Thankfully, the reference librarian was kind and helpful. The book was in a locked cabinet, and I took it to a couch, where I read it in short order.

And then, of course, I digitized it. I would have much rathered to scan it, to get a better quality, but I ended up just photographing each page. The majority of the book is text, though there are a few photographs: two of Chatham, one of Mount Kisco, and another of Chappaqua. It does have some pretty cool little anecdotes about general rail history, and the history of the Harlem.

Did you know that Peter Cooper, other than having absolutely amazing facial hair, was the designer and creator of the first steam locomotive in the US, a locomotive which could only attain a speed of eighteen miles-per-hour? I didn’t.

Amusingly, the book details people opposing railroads, and not for things that at least make sense – like the noise of the locomotives. No, people protested because they thought that railroads would effect animals: preventing cows from grazing, causing hens to stop laying eggs, and railroads would lead to the destruction of birds. But then there were also people on the opposite side of the spectrum: the citizens of “primitive” and rural areas, such as Dover Plains, that gazed at locomotives for the first time with intense curiosity.

In the continued celebration of Harlem Railroad Month, I am happy to share this wonderful book. It is a relatively short read, but an interesting one.

[pdf-ppt-viewer href=”http://www.iridetheharlemline.com/ny_harlem.pdf” width=”600″ height=”500″]

If you’d prefer to download the book (or the above preview doesn’t work), please right click on this link, and choose to save the target as.

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