HISTORY OF THE LONG ISLAND RAIL ROAD CLASS N52 CABIN CARS

by Bob Kaelin

THE ADVENT OF THE N52

 

By the early 1900s, the Pennsylvania Railroad and its subsidiary Long Island RR were still using all-wood, four-wheeled

caboose cars, but all of this would soon start to change when the PRR built the first such car with a steel

underframe as early as 1903, even long before such a safety" feature would be mandated by law. Those first steel

underframe cars were known as class ND and some of these became 'precursors of the eight-wheel type when

they underwent conversions that would have two separate trucks instead of the straight four-wheel configuration.

Trains were getting heavier and longer, while locomotives were becoming larger and more powerful and the

caboose had to do more than just "keep up" with the end of the train, as it was often being subjected to terrific

forces when sandwiched between the train and a helper engine pushing behind ft at the rear.

 

Many of the four-wheelers were still relatively new, having, been built as late as 1905. PRR shops throughout lines

west of Pittsburgh dealt with the problem by salvaging the bodies of usable four-wheelers and rebuilding them into

"stretch" versions that would be placed on top of eight-wheel steel underframes that had been prepared for them.

These would become the very well known ND types. In 1914, PRR shops at Altoona built 'the world's first all steel

eight-wheel caboose which would become class N5.

 

Replacement of the four-wheelers on the LIRR began in 1916 with the construction of numbers 33 thru 35 which

were steel underframe, eight-wheel cars patterned after the N5 in dimensions and layout except that they were of

"composite" construction (having an iron-reinforced wooden superstructure) and were designated as sub-class

"N52." Three more of these (numbers 36 thru 38) were built the following year. These six were all built in the LIRR's

own shops. Thus started the gradual disappearance of the old four-wheelers, the last of which was not taken out of

service until ten years later. In the early 1920s, the LIRR started to purchase more of these cars from outside

manufacturers. These were almost identical except for variations in the underframe and endsills and became class

N52A. The first group was a batch of ten built by American Car & Foundry (ACF) in 1922 and these were numbered

39 thru 48. Pressed Steel Car Company (PSC) built 15 more in 1925 and these were given the numbers 16 thru 33

with missing numbers 17, 26 and 32 which were still assigned to three of the remaining four-wheelers still in use.

These three numbers were never reassigned, but the first number 33 built in 1916 was wrecked at Huntington in

February 1924; so this number was reassigned to the last of' those 15 cars that were delivered from PSC the

following year.

 

ACF built a final batch of five in February 1927. These were numbered 10 thru 15 with the exception of number 13,

as that was still on the last surviving four-wheeler that wasn't taken out of service until later that year. This number

13 was never reassigned, either.

 

Thirty-six of these were built in all, but no more than 35 of them were in existence at anyone time due to the loss of

the original number 33. Of this total, three or four more were lost in wrecks or fires over the years. The 30-odd that

survived would remain in service at least until the late 1950s, after which they gradually started to disappear. Some

had been sold, but most of them were scrapped, the last one (and also the oldest of them) being the number 34

which wasn't cut up until 1963.

 

Numbers 12 and 14 were among those sold and they survived over in Connecticut for the next 35 or 40 years. The

14 was brought back to Long Island in 1997 and has since been restored and displayed on a siding at the Railroad

Museum of Long Island in Greenport. Number 12 was brought back to Long Island in the summer of 2002 where it

has undergone a similar restoration and is on display at Oyster Bay.

 

LIRR N52 and N52A CABIN CARS

IN ORDER OF CONSTRUCTION DATE

 

No.   Date Built Builder Disposition

33       (1 st) April, 1916     LIRR Wrecked February 1924

34       September, 1916   LIRR Cupola removed 1959; remained in service until 1963

35       October, 1916 LIRR Scrapped circa 1958

36       December, 1917 LIRR Scrapped circa 1958

37       December, 1917 LIRR Scrapped circa 1958

38       December, 1917 LIRR Used as playroom Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck, Center Moriches, L.I., N.Y.

39 June, 1922 ACF Scrapped circa 1958

40 June, 1922 ACF Scrapped or wrecked prior to 1951

41 June, 1922 ACF Given to Town of Huntington for Park; burned 1964

42 June, 1922 ACF Scrapped circa 1958

43 June, 1922 ACF Burned to trucks Long Island City yard; April, 1963

44 July, 1922 ACF Scrapped sometime between 1949-1950

45 July, 1922 ACF Scrapped 1963

46 July, 1922 ACF Given to family at Remsenburg for playhouse 1963

47 July, 1922 ACF Scrapped 1963

48 July, 1922 ACF Probably scrapped 1947

16 May, 1925 PSC Scrapped circa 1958

18 May, 1925 PSC Scrapped circa 1958

19 May, 1925 PSC Wrecked at Pinelawn, August, 1943 and scrapped on spot

20 May, 1925 PSC Scrapped or wrecked prior to 1952

21 May, 1925 PSC Scrapped circa 1958

22 May, 1925 PSC Moved to Manorville, L.I., N.Y.

23 May, 1925 PSC Scrapped between 1951-1958

24 May, 1925 PSC Scrapped 1960

25 May, 1925 PSC Scrapped circa 1950-1951

27 May, 1925 PSC Scrapped circa 1958

28 May, 1925 PSC Sold to Middletown & New Jersey RR, 1961, burned to frame.

29 May, 1925 PSC Sold to Seashore Electric Railway, Maine, 1962

30 May, 1925 PSC Possible scrapped circa 1958

31 May, 1925 PSC Scrapped circa 1961

33 (2 nd) May, 1925 PSC Scrapped circa 1958

10 February, 1927 ACF Scrapped circa 1958

11 February, 1927 ACF Scrapped circa 1959

12 February, 1927 ACF Sold to Branford Electric Railway, early 1962, to Oyster Bay Railway

Museum 2002

14 February, 1927 ACF

Sold to Branford Electric Railway, early 1962, sold to Bob Seibert at Valley

Railroad in Essex, CT., 1972. Sold to Railroad Museum of L.I. and moved to

Greenport, L.I., N.Y May 1997

15 February, 1927 ACF Scrapped circa 1957

Note missing numbers 13, 17, 26 and 32. These numbers were assigned to four-wheel cabins (class ND)

that were still in service up to 1927, with the exception of No. 17, which was taken out of service in 1925.

LIRR = Long Island Rail Road ACF = American Car & Foundry PSC = Pressed Steel Car Company

 

THE OLD TIMERS

 

Prior to the arrival of the N52 types, there had been a total of 24 little four wheeled "hacks" that looked a lot like the

old ND cabins on the "Penn." Some of these still remained in service up until the end of 1927; this accounts for the

missing numbers 13, 17, 26, and 32 that were never assigned among the N52’s numbered 10 through 48. Numbers

13, 26, and 32 were built as late as 1911 and were among the five of them that actually remained until 1927. The

other two had the numbers 4 and 5, which were not going to be reassigned anyway. Four-wheeler No. 17 went out

in 1925, almost coincident with the delivery of the batch of new "hacks" that would ordinarily have included that

number. Number 17 was never reassigned either.

 

ELUSIVE "GHOSTS"

 

There appears to be quite a mystery concerning "hack" No. 19, which was supposed to have been wrecked at

Pinelawn in 1943 and scrapped on the spot. If it was indeed No. 19, and not another car, there's no question that it

was destroyed; one end of the frame was compressed into a flat S-shape and it ended up on what was left of its

roof with most of the body smashed to bits. However, research photos show a picture of two "hacks" coupled

together in Patchogue in June 1948, and one of them has the number 19 on it! The other "hack" coupled to it is No.

33 in the contemporary livery, but this No. 19 still has the old style "L.I.R.R." in initials on the side. Closer

examination of this photo shows this particular "hack" to have been built in June of either 1921 or 1924. It's difficult

to know for sure, because what appears to be a "21" could actually be a "24," with the point of the digit "four" either

obliterated or hidden in the wood joints. But that doesn't make any difference, because the mystery still remains as

to. where this "hack" came from. None of the other N52 types on the LIRR were built in either 1921 or 1924. Yet we

see a No. 19 in the old style livery - badly deteriorated at that - and it has a repacked stencil that clearly reads

"1948." It also still has arch bar trucks at that late date. One might guess that there were other N52 types in

existence on other roads and that the LIRR might have purchased this one and reassigned the number from the

No. 19 that was wrecked. But none of the listings show the arrival of any more "hacks" of this type after 1927. The

old style lettering and the aged and decrepit appearance of No. 19 in this photo make it look like some sort of a

ghost from the past.

 

There also remains a question as to the fate of N52 No. 48. Some of the existing listings that I have do show a

number 48; while another list does not. According to retired conductor Bob Emery, there was a No. 48, and it was

badly damaged at Glen Cove in 1942. All of these "hacks" took a hell of a beating at one time or another with

sideswipes and so on. We think that it might have been stored in that condition for the next several years before

being scrapped. In any case, it couldn't have lasted very long, because the number 48 was reassigned to one of the

two NX23A converted boxcar cabins as soon as they came over to the Long Island from the "Penn" in 1947. The

other NX23A received the number 49. These, by the way, were designated NX23A, with the "A" suffix because they

had end platforms.

 

CLASS N52 COMPARED TO THE PENN N5

 

As previously mentioned, the original N52, No. 33 of 1916, must have been a direct offshoot of the N5 design. If not

a stepchild of the "Penn" in its plan, it was surely a stepchild in its construction, which was definitely less expensive

than its all-steel counterpart. In a way, this was a decided advantage, and the N52 had the reputation of being a

very comfortable caboose. They were very well liked by the LIRR men and perhaps the very nature of what some

may consider to be "second rate" construction was indeed an asset for one thing in particular - they were easier to

heat. When new, these N52 "hacks" were very well insulated. The inside walls were paneled lengthwise in what

appeared to be wood planking of the same material as the exterior siding. The entire ceiling was planked and

insulated in a similar manner; the transverse roof ribs (known as "carlines") were not visible except under the roof

overhangs of the end platforms.

 

The interior layout was the same as in the all-steel N5. The centerline of the cupola was likewise situated approximately

twelve inches from the center of the car body. In the "short" end were bunks on each side, having cushions

measuring 78” x 30”, the backs of which were hinged to the wall and could be chained to the overhead to make a

double bunk, as in usual PRR practice. In the other end, there was a similar bunk with a hinged back and chain

arrangement on one side. This bunk fell a few feet short of the end wall, which had the usual PRR-style hinged-top

desk measuring approximately 28” x 30” between the bunk and the end wall. Adjacent to this desk, usually on the

sidewall, was one kerosene lamp which was the sum total of the original interior lighting scheme. The train line air

gauge was on the end wall, adjacent to the doorjamb. On the side opposite, there was the usual coal and tinderbox, the standard PRR cabin or "estate" stove, a shelf that served as a table, and a washstand. The washstand and sink

originally had the same 16-gallon water tank mounted overhead as in the N5. A milk can was usually carried in the

hack so that hot water could be hosed over from the engine. When the diesels came into use, a hot water rig was

needed, and I recall having seen in later years an additional tank mounted up inside one of the cupola end walls,

with insulated piping going down to what must have been a heater coil in or near the stove. This was probably a

thermo-siphon system, in which the heated water would circulate up into the overhead tank and as it cooled it

would descend again into the coil to be reheated. Some "hacks" also got a larger cold water tank over the sink at

that time.

 

The cabinet and locker arrangement was again similar to that of the standard "Penn" N5, including a dry hopper

toilet in one of the wardrobe lockers. One feature characteristic of the LIRR N52 type was an upright pipe with a

weather cap adjacent to one corner of the cupola. This was a vent pipe for that toilet. The lockers on the opposite

side had an icebox in the lower center compartment. The tops of the lockers were not cut out into the seats; they

instead ran straight across, forming another 78” x 30” bunk on each side, with the same sort of curved steel

armrests as the N5. The cushions in the cupola were usually overlaid with another stuffed and pleated cushion or

comforter that could be tipped up at the ends to make a backrest. A steel pipe support member about 2 1/2” in

diameter ran lengthwise through the center of the cupola cutout on a level with the roof of the main car body. This

made it handy to swing down from the cupola seats.

 

PAINT JOBS

 

The interiors of the N52's were originally painted in the same mustard yellow color that all "Penn" cabin cars had

and, of course, the same PRR red and lettering style was on the outside. Around 1947 or 1948, however, the

interior paint scheme was changed. As the "hacks" were shopped over the next few years, the interior walls came

out painted dark maroon up to a few inches above the lower sills of the side and end windows, as were the entire

faces of the cabinets below the cupola. Everything overhead was white, including the interior of the cupola, except

for the inside window moldings which were trimmed in maroon. The aforementioned exterior paint scheme still

remained the same as the PRR standard until the late 1950's, when some of the few remaining N52 types were

painted bright orange with the name LONG ISLAND in large blue-grey letters.

 

RETROFITS AND UPDATES

 

Over the years, the LIRR N52 types underwent the same changes, as did the other cabins on the PRR system as

dictated by law or necessity. As first built, they had archbar trucks and "K" brake systems. Some also had "possumbelly”

toolboxes, but these disappeared with the changeover to AB brake installations. Spike mauls, a re-railing

slug, chains and other such items formerly carried in the "possum-bellies" usually ended up inside, stored in one of

the lower bunk boxes or crammed into the seldom-used toilet locker.

 

In the 1940's, other changes included the conversion to cast-steel integral journal box trucks. Some had leaf

springs and others had coil springs. In some instances the trucks were not entirely new; only the side frames would

be changed with the cast-steel replacing the arch bar type. At about that time, these "hacks" also got raised railing

extensions on the end platforms, along with a remote control angle cock shutoff on each end, including two chains:

one for pulling the drawhead pin and the other for disconnecting the air hoses. The angle cock shutoff and chains

were used to cut off a pusher engine "on the fly." The entire operation could then be performed from the relative

safety of the platform.

 

The N52's had a brake wheel and outside retainer valve on one end only, but the cars differed. If you were to thus

identify the end of the car with the brake wheel and retainer valve as the "B" end, you would discover that what

might be the "B" end on one N52 would actually be the "A" end on others. As best I can figure out, all of those built

by ACF had the brake wheel on the shorter (bunk compartment) end of the car. All the others built by the LIRR

shops and Pressed Steel Car (PSC) Company appear to have had the brake wheels on the other end.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

My thanks to Bill Rugen and Bob Emery for furnishing the service dates and disposition data on the N52 "hacks,"

and to Ron Ziel, Ed Minden, Dick Horn and Art Huneke for helping to get the photos together.

© 1987, revised 2002, 2009, Robert “Ducky” Kaelin, used with permission.