You never find what you’re looking for…

I think it is a proven fact that you never find something that you are looking for. Instead, you always find something else. While looking on my harddrive for a particular file, I encountered a little editorial cartoon about the Penn Central. I have absolutely no idea where this came from – the file was made nearly a year ago. I could have scanned it, or downloaded it… either way, I thought it was amusing and saved it. I love the concept of the anthropomorphized train sitting in a hospital bed, alongside a book about the “Golden days of Railroads.”

For the majority of my readers, I don’t really have to explain the significance of the Penn Central… but for the record, when the Penn Central went bankrupt in 1970, it was the largest corporate bankruptcy this country had ever seen.

The cartoon was illustrated by Hy Rosen, an artist with a long history of creating political and editorial cartoons. The first anniversary of his death just passed last week. He was 88 years old when he died. If you like the style, you can see more of Rosen’s work here.

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SmartCat, your guide to the Harlem Line

Several years ago when I really started getting interested in the history of the Harlem Line, and began collecting old timetables and artifacts, I had the grand idea that I would create a “digital museum” for the line. Although I attempted it with the “Harlem Line Historical Archives,” the archives were poorly organized, extremely clunky to find anything, and extremely time consuming to update. In an effort to create something better, I began work on SmartCat last summer. I had been hoping to launch it in the fall, but it never happened. Six months later, and long overdue, I am pleased to finally launch SmartCat.

In SmartCat you will find scans of over 300 artifacts related to the Harlem Line, ranging from 1857 to today. All items are tagged for easier browsing, and the system has a built-in search engine – an important upgrade from the old archives. The overwhelming majority of the artifacts currently available in SmartCat are timetables and postcards. Right now, only the covers of the timetables are scanned. Although it will be a massive undertaking, I hope to scan the insides of some of these timetables and make them available as well.

I’m going to quit talking about SmartCat – because you really need to be checking it out for yourself. You can use the below “guide” to the system, or click here to view everything.

SmartCat Search

Looking for something specific?

View all archived items

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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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Monday Morning Old Photos, Part 3

Ever since we shifted the clocks for Daylight Savings Time, I’ve had difficulties waking up in the morning. Instead of my usual train reading, I’ve been doing more train sleeping. And of course, coming back from the weekend, that is the hardest part. But if I had some good things to look forward to on a Monday morning, well, maybe that would make it a bit easier – like a good collection of historical photos from the Harlem Line. Here is part 3 of our Monday Morning old photos… as previously mentioned, these are all images that I’ve acquired from various places, often by purchase online, or have been sent to me by other people. I’m not sure of who the photographers are, and it is pretty much a mixed bag of year and location. But I do think some of you have enjoyed the challenge of attempting to figure out where the photos were taken. Anyways, enjoy the pictures, I’m going to try and do these posts as many Mondays as I can, or at least until I exhaust my collection of old photos.

If you missed our previous posts of old photos, be sure to check out Part 1, Part 2, and another collection of old photos from the 80’s.











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Monday Morning Old Photos, Part 2

As promised, here are some more old Harlem Division photos to start off your week. There are some photos in this bunch that I really like, including a shot at the old State Hospital station, which along with the Wingdale station, was removed and replaced by Harlem Valley-Wingdale.











If you liked these old photos, be sure to check out Part 1 from last Monday, and this collection of photos from the 80’s. More old photos are definitely on the way….

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Monday Morning Old Photos, Part 1

Have a case of the Mondays? Need something to cheer you up on this crappy weather day? Hopefully some old Harlem Division photos will do the trick. People are always selling old slides and photos on eBay, and I have a little bit of a collection. I don’t always know the location (though they are on the Harlem Division), date, or even the photographer, but I love looking back at the trains of yesteryear – and even the old cars in some of the photos. The next few Mondays I’ll be posting my collection of old eBay-acquired photos… enjoy a little look into the past on the Harlem Division.










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Timetable Art of the New York Central

I’ve certainly mentioned it on this blog before… I’m terrible at finishing things. Oh, I am so brilliant at starting them. I always have the most wonderful ideas for things, for projects. But the majority of the time, they never make it out of my head and into reality. And the few that I do happen to act upon, well, many of them are never completed. I am very bad like this.

At least a year ago, maybe even longer, when I first became interested in railroad timetables, I made a little poster showing some of the New York Central’s system timetables over the years. I had just begun to appreciate the functional art that is a timetable, and the little portion of me that endured many art history classes began connecting the stylistic choices with the events of the time. And probably just like every paper I wrote for an art history class, it was comprised of complete and utter bullshit. It seemed to make sense at the time, at least I think it did. Maybe it makes some sense. Hell, maybe it makes complete sense, and logically explains why there were so many stylistic changes on the timetables over the years. I had every intention of posting it, after it was completed. After I, I don’t know, verified some of the grandiose claims that I made? But I never did that. And this sat. And sat. And sat some more, in the dark little recesses of my hard drive, covered in spiderwebs, with crickets chirping merely to hear their own voices, out of complete and utter loneliness.

Today, however, I am crazy enough to post this, mostly because the former project, which I had high hopes for, was calling out to me for some reason. It wants the chance to see the light of day. I doubt I’ll ever do anything with this beyond this post, but if there are any other art-slash-rail-history folks out there that would like to discuss this, I might enjoy that.

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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…






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Early Harlem Line Timetables, and new timetable catalog

Quite a while ago I started up a minor project, what I called the Historical Archives. My goal was to collect as much old paper history of the Harlem Line and assemble a museum of sorts – timetables, maps, tickets, photos, and news articles – digitize it, and put it online for everyone to view, completely for free. (There are folks in the city that have better collections than I, such as the Transit Museum and the NYPL, but these are kept under lock and key, and you can’t have them unless you shell out the dollars.) Anyways, the more I added to the archives, the clunkier the directory page that listed all the entries got. I wanted to arrange it in a better way – especially the timetables. I’ve been working on just that for the past week or so, putting all the timetables in a special catalog that you can view with a short description and thumbnails. If you see something you like, you can click on it and go to the main entry for that item with a larger image. I think this is much easier.

In honor of the new catalog I thought it would be fun to show some of the earliest timetables that I have in the collection. The first is from 1871, when Cornelius Vanderbilt was still president of what was known as the New York and Harlem Railroad, with his son William Henry as vice president.


Note the first station is 26th Street, the first Grand Central Depot was only opened later in the year. At the time of publication Hartsdale was still known as Hart’s Corners, Hawthorne as Unionville, and Craryville as Bain’s. Bedford did not have the “Hills” added yet, and Purdey’s was the spelling used, as opposed to today’s Purdy’s.

The timetables below are from 1890, 1909 and 1914. The center timetable, from 1909, is important historically because at this time Grand Central Terminal was being constructed, as the older Depot was being demolished. Despite that, train service still needed to go on interrupted, and a temporary platform at Lexington Avenue was used. The timetable makes note of this on the front, directing riders to the temporary terminal.


Name evolution: After the New York and Harlem Railroad was leased to the New York Central, it was listed as the Harlem Division of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. Later the name was shortened to just the New York Central.

The timetables above are from 1922, 1931 and 1940 and list service to Lake Mahopac, a branch of the Harlem that diverged at Golden’s Bridge. Below are timetables from 1958 and 1964. Service on the Mahopac branch was discontinued in 1959, and so the timetable from 1958 is one of the last to list that service.

Not long after that 1964 timetable the New York Central merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad to form the Penn Central. Although the service was not the best, in my opinion the Penn Central had some of the nicer timetables in the collection. But that is a post for another Friday. Enjoy the day, and the weekend everyone!

As an additional note, I thank the Danbury Railway Museum’s library for giving me access to their collection of timetables to digitize. If anyone out there has some timetables that I don’t have listed, I would love it if you could contact me and send me a scan so I can add it into the catalog.

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Lettie Carson, and Old Posters from the Harlem Valley Transportation Association

Reading all about the history of the Harlem Line intrigues me. It was New York City’s first railroad, chartered in 1831, and an early example of a rail horsecar in the United States. As in every story, there are always intriguing characters. People like Cornelius Vanderbilt certainly stand out. But for me I think one rarely mentioned woman stands out the most. Her name is Lettie Carson, and she fought to prevent the closure of the Upper Harlem, a David against Penn Central’s Goliath. As we all know that the Harlem does not extend to Chatham anymore, unfortunately her plight failed, but her story still captivates me.

Lettie Gay was born in Pike County, Illinois in 1901, the youngest of nine children. On the family farm she helped raised livestock of every variety. It may be this upbringing that gave Carson her independent attitude. At age eight she would drive a horse and buggy fifteen miles to the train station to pick up her brother. In the early 1920’s she moved east to the New York area, and in 1924 married Gerald Carson. She held various jobs, including as food editor of Parents’ Magazine. She and her husband had a weekend home in Millerton, along the Harlem Line, which they retired to and became permanent residents in 1951.

If you’re on the north end of the Harlem Line you may be aware of Lettie Carson’s work without knowing it. In 1958 she helped create the Mid-Hudson Library System, which today has more than 80 member libraries across five counties. Brewster, Dover Plains, Mahopac, Patterson, Pawling, Poughkeepsie, and Chatham are a few of the towns whose libraries are members. Carson served as president of the Mid-Hudson for two years, and was on the board for eight.

Lettie Gay Carson later became associated with the Harlem Valley Transportation Association, as vice president, and then as president. The organization was formed in the early 60’s when the New York Central threatened to abandon passenger service on the Upper Harlem. When Penn Central took over they too wanted to end passenger service north of Brewster. The HVTA fought them for many years through demonstrations, public hearings, and in the courts. Ultimately the passenger service was abandoned north of Dover Plains in March of 1972, though the HVTA continued to fight for freight on the line. Eventually that too was abandoned, and the track was ripped out.

Through my research I managed to unearth some of the HVTA’s old documents: papers, posters, surveys and more. I’ve digitally restored some of them for posterity. Below are four of the HVTA’s early posters, as well as their logo and letterhead.




Later in life Carson moved to Pennsylvania, where she too attempted to protect rail service in and around Philadelphia. She died in March of 1992, at age 91.

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