Every month in Mileposts there is a lovely little section that mentions etiquette for people riding the trains. Keeping your feet off the seat and to refrain from conversations on cell phones are almost always mentioned. Although I don’t think Mileposts has made note of it, nail clipping on the train is generally frowned upon, and seems to be a pretty big pet peeve of commuters. But what if you could do all of those things at once? You would probably be the most obnoxious train passenger ever. Sort of like this:
I’ve always wanted to do this on a train for quite a while, but timing was always difficult. Every time I’ve done a photo like this in the past, I would put my camera on 10 second delay, hit the shutter and run to the spot I needed to be in… relatively time consuming. However, I recently bought a wireless remote for my camera, and realized it would make my scheme a whole lot easier.
As my evening train arrived at Southeast last night, I quickly set the camera up on a tripod and took various pictures of myself in the train car. It took me about four minutes to get all of the photos. If it wasn’t for people liking the photo on twitter, I probably would never have posted it here, as I’m not tremendously happy with how it turned out.
I definitely want to attempt this again when I have the ability to take my time, not rushing through because the train is about to go into the yard. Plus, I think it is hard to notice in some of the pictures I am clipping my nails, and combing my hair. But for the most part, these are the obnoxious things we commuters tend to see every day. And for a couple of moments in time, I was that most obnoxious passenger.
I’ve spent the past few weeks posting some relatively boring photographs of some of the stations along the Danbury Branch of the New Haven Line… Despite what anyone seems to think about me, I really do think that I am more interested in train stations more than the actual machine that is a train. But it is undeniable that train station photography, without any actual trains present, is pretty boring. And most of the Danbury Branch stations I featured were like that. In fact, several did not even have any train service on the days I visited, as signal work was being done and buses were carrying passengers instead of trains. Today, however, the station I am featuring has a whole lot of photographs that do contain trains. At most stations that I visited on the main New Haven Line, there was at least one train going by. Here at Southport, you’ll be able to spot both Metro-North trains, and the occasional passing Amtrak train as well.
Station on the eastbound side in 1966
Not only are the trains pictured captivating – but Southport’s station has a bit of history behind it as well. The original station (on the eastbound/New Haven side) was built in 1859, but burnt down in 1884. A new station was completed in a matter of months (imagine that happening today, it would only take a matter of years!), and is still standing today. Like many of the main line stations, there are station buildings on both sides of the tracks, and they are not directly across from one another. The building on the east (Manhattan-bound) side of the track also had a fire, but much more recently (2008). The fire did not completely destroy the station, and it has since been renovated and reopened.
Southport station is located approximately 49 miles from Grand Central, and is one of two stations (soon to be three) in Fairfield, Connecticut. Although Amtrak trains can be seen passing by, they do not stop at Southport. The two station buildings are still in use – the restored station on the west-bound side operates as a waiting room, and contains restrooms. The east-bound station has been the home to the Italian restaurant Paci since 1996.
Old postcard view of Bedford Station, as it was known at the time
Back in the 1800’s when the New York and Harlem Railroad was steadily marching northward through Westchester County, today’s Bedford Hills station was known merely as Bedford. Later the hamlet where the depot resided was referred to as Bedford Station (but still a part of the town of Bedford). It was only in the early 1900’s that the place was renamed Bedford Hills. Located about 39 miles north of Grand Central, the small station retains much of its old charm. The old depot still stands, and it even has the old style name sign. Unlike many other Harlem Line stations that have been converted into businesses, the station building at Bedford Hills is not used by a coffee shop or eatery. Instead it is occupied by Mark’s Time, which seems like a perfect fit, considering the joint histories of railroading and timekeeping.
If I am not mistaken, Bedford Hills is the last station in Westchester to be featured as part of the tour of the Harlem Line. There are just a few more stations to be featured before the tour is complete. Anybody out there have any suggestions as to where I should go and photograph after the tour has been completed? I think I have a few votes from people who want me to do the same thing I’ve done for the Harlem Line for the New Haven Line. Let me know your thoughts with a comment!
Observant commuters may have noticed something new in Grand Central in November – a little booth by the ticket windows labeled Audio Tours. Or you might have seen it mentioned in the Mileposts, or perhaps in a poster on your train or at your station? Either way there is a new way to tour Grand Central – and I’m not talking about a giant tour group where you have to strain to hear the tour guide. Grand Central now has an official self-guided audio tour. While I was at Grand Central the other day I took the time to give the tour a shot – a review of sorts.
Audio tour booth, Metro North employee Patrick mans the booth during my visit
Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much. I know a lot about Grand Central, and I figured that I wouldn’t learn anything new. But I was a tad curious to know what would be included in a tour of Grand Central, and how it would be described. There are a lot of things I know about the history of the place. And I am also aware that there are folks in the hardcore railfan community that are of the opinion that there have been some… shall we say, anecdotal embellishments added into the lore of the Terminal. But there is just so much that can be said about the history of this building, what exactly do you say to fit into an hour, and what parts do you leave out?
Handheld device for the audio tour
I must admit though, I enjoyed the tour. The technology used is great. If you don’t want to borrow the device and headset for the tour you can download it to your own mp3 player – or at least you’re supposed to. I’ve been unable to purchase it on the website, not to mention it lists the prices only in Euros, which irrelevant if the company that made the tour may be foreign, it just looks poor in a US market. The actual devices that you can borrow for the tour are not only audio devices, they have a small screen in which to show a photo of where you currently are on the tour. I love the fact that it really is a self guided tour – you enter the number of the location you currently are in to hear about it. If you don’t want to hear about it, you can always skip that location. Or you can go in whichever order you please. Plus if you want to learn more about something, you can hit the green button. You can customize the whole thing and do whatever you want to.
Plenty of important places are described on the tour – from the obvious 42nd Street façade, to the clock and sky ceiling to the somewhat lesser known whispering gallery, spiral staircase in the information booth, and the walkways in between the glass panels. I loved that there were mentions of the 20th Century Limited, as well as Jackie Kennedy and the fight to save Grand Central. There were also plenty of things that I thought the tour could mention, but didn’t. Since the tour sends you outside anyways to see the façade, why not make another outdoor stop to see the majestic eagle – older than the Terminal itself – which once stood on the original Grand Central Depot? I also don’t recall hearing anything about William Wilgus. Wilgus was the railroad’s chief engineer, and the conceptual mastermind behind Grand Central. The tour briefly mentions that the Terminal ushered in the era of electric trains, but fails to mention why – and this is important! Would the railroad have undertaken such a massive project if steam locomotives were not banned on Manhattan island? Would the massively expensive project have been considered if not for Wilgus’ concept of air rights, of covering over the formerly open-cut railroad tunnels and building on it to recoup expenses and make money?
The tour does fall more on the side of artistic/architectural than railfan. But just the fact that the purpose of the building is for servicing rail, I think more of that rail history ought to be thrown in. What makes Grand Central a great railroad station, and not just a pretty building? (and I am talking more about dual levels and loop tracks, as opposed to ramps, which were mentioned)
Eagle originally from Grand Central Depot
For the most part the main narration of the tour was great. It was informal, like you were listening to an actual tour guide as opposed to reading one of the many books on the subject of Grand Cental. There were amusing little anecdotes thrown in, like the person asking the person at the information booth where to rent a horse. A lot of the extra details and stories on the “secrets” were recited by Dan Brucker… and I mean no insult to Dan, but there were times where it was tiresome to listen to his voice. He spoke loud and slow, perhaps as one would speak to a non-english speaker, hoping that over-enunciating words will help them understand. “This. Is. Not. A. STA-TION. It. Is. A. TER-MI-NAL. Be-cause trains. TER-MI-NATE. Here.” Now although I’ve never formally met Dan Brucker, I’ve overheard him doing tours. He is animated and it is obvious that he loves this place. But I don’t think that gets through in the tour. (Sorry Dan, please don’t be insulted, I’d still love for you to give me a tour any day!)
One option on the tour, which I believe was called Visual Experience has not been completed yet. The device mentioned that it is being worked on and will include clips from shows filmed in Grand Central. I hope they’re talking about audio clips and not video clips, because even though the device has the capacity for video the screen is so small. And if I had a hard time seeing what was in the tiny picture, then I am certain the little old ladies that took the tour right before me would have a major difficulty. Something on the other hand that might actually work would be a small companion brochure or booklet that accompanies the tour. Right now you just get a big clunky sheet of laminated paper with a map, which you can’t keep. I’m sure tourists would love something that can actually be kept. If cost is a prohibitive issue I’m sure an extra dollar or two could be charged for the nicer booklet.
Well, this certainly turned out to be the long-winded review. Basically it comes down to this: Do I recommend the tour? Yes. The tour is ideal for people that enjoy the architecture and might not know a lot about Grand Central. If you know a lot about the place you’re probably not going to get as much out of it, but you’ll still probably enjoy it. Did I learn anything on the tour? Yes. Somehow I had never even noticed the mural on the ceiling of the Graybar Passage.
Just as Fleetwood will always remind me a bit of the incident with chicken teriyaki, Melrose station will always another incident… as such, I figured it would be best to get it over with and take a tour of Melrose today. Plus it was kind of easy to go through all the photos for Melrose – there weren’t nearly as many as the other stations. But there is something actually new and cool about these photos – they are the first batch of Tuesday Tour photos that were automatically geotagged by my new GPS logger. What exactly does that mean? Similar to the GPS devices you are most likely familiar with that determine your position on the road and give you directions, this GPS logger just tracks my location and at what time I was there, and stores it. Then when I connect it to my computer along with my camera, it looks at the photo’s timestamp and determines where I was when I took the photo. It can also plot a rough map of how I moved around:
The logger isn’t 100% accurate… nor are the google maps that the data has been plotted upon. But it does give the rough idea of me going back and forth on the platform, taking photos, then crossing over on the road to the other side of the platform and doing the same. On my end (meaning you can’t see it on the above map) it lists speed, so I can tell when I was on the train, and how fast that train was going at the time. But the coolest part is to see the photos plotted on a map of where they were taken – like this: Melrose photos on Panoramio.
Back to Melrose though – it, along with Tremont, is one of the smaller stations on the Harlem Line. The platform is only large enough to accommodate two train cars. Service to these stations is also less frequent than most on the line. Like most of the stations in the Bronx it is a nice place to train watch. With four tracks, two of which are devoted to express trains, you are bound to see something pass by quite frequently, even if it isn’t the rush hour.
Anyways, enjoy the photos of Melrose, with a gorgeous blue sky…
This Tuesday we visit yet another Westchester Harlem Line station: Tuckahoe. Tuckahoe is interesting in both an artistic sense, as well as historical. It is one of the few stations on the line that has an Arts For Transit piece, and the old station building still survives. It may not be used for selling tickets any longer, but it is beautifully restored and is occupied by Starbucks.
Tuckahoe itself is village located in the town of Eastchester, in the southern portion of Westchester county. Although the railroad played a significant part in the growth of Tuckahoe and all of the areas located along the line in Westchester (and further north), it was the discovery of marble in the early 1800’s that led significantly to the growth of the village. (The village was officially incorporated in 1902, the marble quarries were shut down in the 1930’s). Tuckahoe marble was used in many high-profile buildings, including St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the city, and the Washington Monument in Washington DC.
Tuckahoe’s station building was erected in 1901 and was designed by architects Reed & Stem. Reed & Stem worked on several stations on the Harlem Line, including Chappaqua, Scarsdale, and most notably, Grand Central. An Arts for Transit piece called The Finder / The Seekers by Arthur Gonzales is present at the station. Companion pieces also by Gonzales are at Crestwood and Fleetwood.
The station is located in a commercial area, and there are a few shops and restaurants that surround it. On Sundays during the summer the station’s parking lot also plays host to a farmers market (which you can see in the first photo).
As a bonus, here are some older photos of Tuckahoe in 1988. The station building looks a bit run down, and although I’m not the biggest fan of Starbucks, I must admit it looks much nicer today.
By now my little photography adventures have taken me to almost all of the Harlem Line stations (the only outstanding stations are Woodlawn, Williams Bridge, Botanical Garden, Melrose and Tremont. I’ve been warned for my safety at the last two). I’ve done a lot of fun things, and gotten to explore quite a bit. I’ve eaten an italian ice in Hartsdale with @kc2hmv, splashed in the river near Crestwood, and munched on good food in Mount Kisco, Valhalla and Tuckahoe. I’ve seen all the Arts for Transit pieces, and other randomly cute things, like the Commuter Rooster in Scarsdale. But despite all this, when I chatted with @bitchcakesny last night and she asked me my favorite station of all, I couldn’t quite answer.
There are so many good things about some of these stations, how could I pick just one? Wassaic and Pleasantville have my favorite Arts for Transit pieces, and I loved Harlem-125th’s art too, not to mention it was a great spot for photography. Bronxville has a unique station, and the shops surrounding Mount Kisco, Hartsdale and Scarsdale are cute and worth exploring. Chappaqua’s restored station building is a beautiful sight, and I’ve always been fond of Brewster’s old station building. What I was able to do though, is narrow it down by asking myself a question: If I had to be stuck at a single station for the entire day (maybe there was a big fire or something, shutting down Metro-North??), which would it be? And that answer is Katonah.
What makes Katonah special? The area around the station is very cute – full of shops and restaurants for eating good food. I will admit though, the Katonah Museum played a part in the decision. If you don’t mind walking the half mile from the station to this art museum, you really could spend the entire day here viewing art, shopping and eating. And if there was still time left you could hang out in the gazebo not far from the station, or go and visit the library which is two blocks away. Katonah is just another one of the nice places located along the Harlem Line, but one that certainly sticks out in my mind.
I’ve been on a little map kick recently – I signed up for Panoramio, so a bunch of the station panoramas from the site now show up in Google Earth. I also made a map on Google of all the locations photographed for the panorama project. Harlem Line stations from the Tuesday Tour have the blue placemarks, and other locations I’ve photographed have the pink placemarks.
I don’t happen to be in a very chatty mood, so you’ll have to forgive me if I post a few pictures and then run. Saturday I went down to Scranton, Pennsylvania for Steamtown’s Railfest. I hadn’t been to Steamtown before, and I enjoyed it – though the smoke from those engines gives me a headache. The coolest thing about working for a camera company is the access to new and cool cameras, so I figured I’d try one of our newer models while there (as I am thinking of getting a new camera before I go to Africa). I also brought our 3d camera, as one of my goals was to get a great shot of a steam train in 3d, which I managed to do.
Here is a question for everyone though, if I printed extra copies of these 3d prints, would anybody be interested in buying them? They are a bit expensive to print though, around $8 to $10 dollars, as they aren’t done here in the US and have to be imported from Japan. They are all 5×7’s and done with lenticular printing. They do have a neat effect and are rather unique, so if anyone is interested let me know.
Anyways, here are some photos. Enjoy the rest of the week, and have a great weekend!
Above is a photo that I’ve found, taken either on the Harlem Line, or in the vicinity of it. It was probably taken at some point between 1982 and 1985. Is there anyone out there that can explain this to me? I’m really curious what the hell a school bus is doing on the tracks.
Edit: The general consensus seems to be that the bus was modified to do maintenance work on the tracks. I still want to know who thought this was a good idea… or at least didn’t think about how hilarious this would look to just about everybody.
My name is Emily, though I am known by many who ride the train simply as Cat Girl, for the hats I customarily wear during the winter time. I am a graphic designer, a former Metro North commuter and lifelong Harlem Line rider. This site is a collection of my usually train-related thoughts, observations, photographs, and travels, as well as my never-ending hunt for intriguing historical artifacts.