Trains & Modern Photography: Stitching and Panoramas

If you’re a frequent viewer of this site, then the subject of today’s Trains & Modern Photography post is something you’re probably familiar with – panoramas. The most generic definition of a panorama is an wide view of an area, in which you can see in all directions. For my Metro-North Panorama Project, I used the definition loosely, featuring at least one photo per station that used the technique of stitching, thus giving the viewer a photo that provided a far wider view than one could capture in a single photo’s frame. Using modern technology like Photoshop, one can take multiple photos around a central axis point – either on a tripod, or by standing in the same spot and rotating your body, while holding the camera at the same angle for each shot – and combine them. This technique is called stitching, and is one of the most common methods of getting high quality and high resolution panoramas.

If this is a technique you’ve always been interested in trying out, or you’re just curious to see how exactly one makes a panorama (especially one featuring a train) – from camera to computer – read on.
(more…)

Read More

Bridges of Metro-North: The Harlem River Lift Bridge

Throughout the entire Metro-North system there are an array of movable bridges – bridges which as of recently seem to be a thorn in the rail system’s side. Much of the infrastructure on these bridges are old and prone to issues. Thankfully, updates are going on to get these bridges in better working order, and we’ll be taking visits to some of the more prominent bridges in the system in the next few weeks.

Today we feature the busiest bridge on the entire system, the Harlem River Lift Bridge. At sixty years old the bridge is not nearly as old as the issue-plagued WALK bridge, but it by far sees the most action, carrying nearly 700 trains per day for all three East of Hudson Metro-North lines. Over the past few months work has been moving along on the bridge – installing new cables that lift the tracks over the river for passing boats, and putting in new wiring, power supplies, and electrical control systems. Below the bridge a circuit breaker room that flooded during Hurricane Sandy and is experienced corrosion will be replaced. Gone will be an old crank control, updated to today’s standards with modern computers. In total, the overhaul has a $47.2 million price tag.

Previous railroad bridge over the Harlem River
The 1867 bridge over the Harlem River, note the construction of a temporary bridge to allow a new 1891 span to be constructed on the main line. Image from the December 1892 Scientific American.

Historically, several previous movable bridges stood at this very spot, carrying the New York Central over the Harlem River. The first bridge over the river was completed in 1841, and stood a mere eight feet over the water at high tide. Made of wood, that bridge was later updated with iron spans in 1867. Later, a four track swing bridge was built in 1891. This bridge connected with the new Park Avenue viaduct, raising the tracks above Harlem and allowing a higher crossing over the river.

(more…)

Read More

Millerton, Revisited & the Harlem Valley Rail Ride

You know how I said I really liked Chatham? Well, I’ve recently discovered that I like Millerton even more. Millerton is quite charming – and if the railroad still ran there I would probably consider even living there (but the commute would probably kill me). My most recent visit was only the second time I’ve been to Millerton, and of course I had my camera. This time I was able to get photos of the original train station there, built in the 1850’s, though it has been moved at least twice since then. Today the former station operates as a florist.

Millerton itself was a town created pretty much around the railroad. The New York and Harlem Railroad ran through, as well as the Central New England. In fact the name Millerton came from the civil engineer tasked with the construction of the rail, Sidney Miller. Though both of those railroads are long gone today, the town hasn’t lapsed into loneliness and disarray. The Main Street area bustles with people checking out the shops, or using the rail trail. So many towns today are filled with chain and big-box stores and are utterly devoid of character. Millerton is the complete opposite – full of family-owned shops, and old-fashioned in a charming way, yet doesn’t feel dated.

Though the rail is no longer there, the converted rail trail is an attraction that brings in locals and visitors from beyond. The other day I read an article discussing options for bikers from the city that wanted to get out, ride, and make a day of it. By Metro-North, one has two pretty good options for spots: Poughkeepsie on the Hudson Line, and Wassaic on the Harlem Line. Although the article knocks the Harlem down in terms of the view on the journey (I know, I know, the Hudson River is beautiful), it ultimately determines that the Harlem journey is probably the best choice for the biker. The Hudson option provides around 5 miles of trail on which to ride, where the Harlem extends for nearly 11 miles, terminating in the village of Millerton. If you ask me, I’d take Millerton over Poughkeepsie any day, no contest.

 
  
 
   
 
   
 
  
 
  
 
  
   
 

In other news, I figured that I would mention the Harlem Valley Rail Ride, which appropriately begins in Millerton and covers some of the original route of the Harlem Division (and of course is now part of the rail trail). The ride will be held this year on July 24th. For anyone that needs, there will be a bus that will pick up riders and their bikes from the city and take them to Millerton. Riders have a choice between 25, 50, 75, and 100 mile routes.

A portion of the fee for entry goes to the cause of supporting and maintaining the Harlem Valley Rail Trail. For more information, be sure to check out the Harlem Valley Rail Ride website.

Read More

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.

Read More

Chatham: Revisited

I’m not exactly sure why, but I have a strange affinity for the village of Chatham. Although it is an adorable place, rather quaint, I wonder what exactly it was like when the railroads ran through here. You might see a freight train, or a passing Lake Shore Limited, but none of them stop. Chatham once serviced the New York & Harlem Railroad, the Boston & Albany, and the Rutland – all of which are long gone. And thus the place is a little bit of a curiosity to me. The many suburbs along the Harlem – Bronxville, Hartsdale, Scarsdale, and even the ones further north, Katonah, Brewster – they were all influenced by the rail. They grew and morphed into the places we know now, and though the rail does not entirely define those places now, the rail still is there, playing a part in the futures of those areas. But Chatham, it is a special case. The single most defining factor of the village has disappeared. It is no longer the terminus of any railroads. The once busy Union Station no longer serves train riders, it is a bank. Chatham has reverted to a quieter version of itself, representing a little portion of historical Columbia County.

Many places across the country have seen transformations, with the things they were built upon playing a part in their downfall. Detroit was built on the auto industry, but as the industry migrated and moved overseas, parts of the city have become abandoned – a true example of urban decay. The small town of Centralia, Pennsylvania was built upon anthracite coal, literally and figuratively. Ironically, it was the coal brought the death sentence of the little town, as it caught fire in the 1960’s and has been burning ever since. There is something about these changed places that intrigues me (high on my list of places to visit is also Pripyat, an abandoned town brought down by the failings of humans). All of these, of course, are radical examples. Chatham lives, it does not decay. Perhaps the once-fundamental core of its being is gone, but it still thrives. But just as one can compare the photos of Detroit’s urban decay with the historical photos of yesteryear, one can bear witness to the radical changes made in just a few scant years (or slightly longer than the years I’ve been on this Earth). There are no more signal towers, water towers, or turntables. The children of Chatham will never board a passenger train in their village to head the one hundred and twenty seven miles to Grand Central. And of course, the Harlem division will never again run this far north.

The time for Chatham as a railroad town has passed. As the time has ticked by it has reinvented itself, and is still reinventing itself. It is not the decline as a railroad hub that has intrigued me about Chatham, but that reinvention. It is a charming and beautiful little village, with a gazebo, clock tower, shops, and restaurants – plus a whole lot of history. The photos below were taken back in October upon my second visit to Chatham, a visit where I actually had time to shop and eat, and enjoy the surrounding history. Perhaps if you too find Chatham to be interesting you will take the time to visit some day…

 
  
 
 
 
  
 
   
 
 

The photos below were sent in by reader John. They were taken in the late 1960’s at Chatham.

 
 
 

For an even further back look, the Library of Congress has an illustrated map view of the village of Chatham from 1886. At this time the “Union Station” had not been built, and the Boston & Albany, and the New York & Harlem each had their own rail stations. For easier viewing I’ve given the B&A station a slight red tint, and the Harlem a blue tint.

Read More

Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Tremont

The next time you’re riding a train out of Grand Central, give a little wave goodbye when you pass Tremont station, at mile post 7.9. For Tremont is a lonely station – it may have four tracks, and it may see every Harlem and New Haven line train pass by, but only a handful of them stop. Like Melrose, Tremont is a Bronx station with somewhat more limited service than most other Harlem Line stations. During non-rush hours, that means a train about every two hours. Tremont is also small – the platform can accommodate only two train cars.

Enjoy this quick look at Tremont station through various panoramas… This pretty much wraps up our tour to the Harlem Line’s more limited service stations. Melrose and Tremont are like the big brothers of the bunch, as their limited service is much more often than the once or twice per day Mount Pleasant and weekend-only Appalachian Trail. These are the final weeks of my Tour of the Harlem Line, as I’ve featured most of the stations so far. Next week we’ll go and visit Crestwood, the last station to be featured that was part of the Mid-Harlem Station Improvement project (all of which have photos preserved in the archives of the Library of Congress).

 
   
 
  
 
 
  
 
 

Read More

Holiday Trains & Old Holiday Timetables

Looking to take the train for the holiday? Metro-North has you covered with pre-Christmas early getaway trains, Christmas eve, and Christmas day service, as well as New Years trains. Check out the Holiday Service page on the Metro-North website, or the Early Getaway Trains schedule on their Facebook page.

And if you’re in a particularly holiday-cheerful mood, check out some railroad holiday/winter brochures and timetables from my collection…






Read More

Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Patterson

When I first began riding Metro-North to the city I was fairly young… and at the time I had always assumed that Brewster North was the end of the Harlem Line. It was my train’s last stop, after all. It is around this time of year that there is an influx of young riders, off to see the city’s Christmas decorations, the tree that will soon be in Rockefeller Center, and perhaps a visit to see the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City (for which I was riding the train). You can always tell who these children are – they come back and board the trains with obnoxious little gizmos that spin around and light up, items that probably cost mere cents to produce in China but get peddled to small children for a significant markup of around twenty dollars. Not only was I the obnoxious child that insisted on having that toy – for God’s sake it actually lit up – but I was that obnoxious child on your train.

It certainly has been a lot of years since then… I’m hopefully less obnoxious on the train, and I know that beyond Southeast – what Brewster North is now called – there still is more to the Harlem Line. The first stop north of Southeast – beyond the electrified tracks, located 60 miles north of Grand Central – is the last stop in Putnam County: Patterson. There is one track here, as well as a platform that will accommodate four train cars. It is a small station, but it does have the amenities we have come to know: automated ticket machines, and a shelter for waiting in the cold (great for days like yesterday).

If the quiet nature of Patterson station is not quite your thing, and you are looking for a bit of adventure, I’d suggest visiting Texas Taco. It is also in Patterson and not far from the station. Adjectives that come to mind when describing the place are colorful, slightly creepy, and “holy crap that lady has purple hair.” But that isn’t a bad thing, is it? Before I had cat hats, I used to have blue hair – but that too was a long time ago…

 
   
  
 
  
 
  

Read More

A little bit of old reading…

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I am a big fan of both Project Gutenberg, and Google Books. Both have available many old books free to read. And who doesn’t like free? If you find yourself interested in the history of the railroads in our area you can check out some of these books (and portions of books) from the 1800’s and early 1900’s.

A nice book about the history of railroads in the United States. The first chapter is a synopsis of rail history, and the second deals with Commodore Vanderbilt, and the New York Central Railroad.

The railroad builders: a chronicle of the welding of the states, Published 1919
Download an excerpt (first two chapters) here, or view the whole thing on Google Books.

For those interested in the Hudson Line, check out this book about the Hudson River Railroad:

Hudson River and the Hudson River Railroad, Published 1851
Click to view on Google Books

I’m currently reading the autobiography of Chauncey Depew, over his 93 years he served as Secretary of State for New York, as well as a senator, not to mention many years working for the railroad. He was the attorney for the New York and Harlem Railroad, and later became president of the New York Central. He mentions in his memoirs that he almost turned down the position when Vanderbilt offered it to him, as he had also just been offered a position as US Minister to Japan which paid more. Vanderbilt told him, “There is nothing in politics. Don’t be a damned fool.”

My Memories of Eighty Years by Chauncey Depew
Download this book from Project Gutenberg

Anyone else have some interesting books saved in their library on Google Books? Let me know! You can view my library here.

Read More

Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Mount Vernon West

As a city, Mount Vernon is well connected to New York through the Metro-North system. There are three train stations in the city: Mount Vernon East on the New Haven Line, and Fleetwood and Mount Vernon West on the Harlem Line. The city is at the south end of Westchester County and borders the Bronx. In fact, from the south end of the platform at Mount Vernon West, you can see the Wakefield station, the first Harlem Line station after crossing into the Bronx. Wakefield and Mount Vernon are also historically linked – both of their names come from plantations associated with George Washington: Wakefield where he was born, and Mount Vernon, where he died.

Mount Vernon West’s current station building was built in 1915 and was designed by Warren & Wetmore. The New York Central later sold the station building in 1959, but retained ownership of the passageway to the platforms, and the platforms themselves. Today the passageway contains automated ticket machines, and hung on the ceiling has an Arts for Transit piece. The glass and ceramic mosaic sculptures were done by artist Martha Jackson-Jarvis, and installed in 1991. When I was there I think I was so caught up looking at the ceiling I never even went out to see the front of the station – so whenever I happen to stop by Mount Vernon West I’ll have to do just that.

 
  
 
  
 
 
 
   
  

Read More