Long Island Rail Road
Early in the
1950's, I quit High School and got a job as a Gandy dancer, working out of Hicksville. My mother worked for (3) supervisors, as a
clerk, in the building that was situated between the legs of the Wye. First floor of that building had showers and a locker room for the Track
gangs that worked out of Hicksville. There was two supervisors of track, Glueck and Thompson and George Pack, a supervisor of Railroad crossings
and of the men that worked the gates. If I remember right there was over 800 men that swung gates, on the
roster. Amazing how many jobs have been
lost on the LIRR. Glueck’s son should be familiar to most of you that read these postings,
Thompson's son became an engineer, restricted to
My first day on the job, my foreman, Alfonse Chesare, (Fonz) before your time, sent me with an older black man, about 4'10", “Shorty Thompson. We were to walk track between “Divide” and “Y”. This is about a week after Xmas and it is really cold out. A strong wind was blowing and on and off snow squalls were falling. We packed up our tools (1)hammer, (1)wrench, brakeman’s flag kit( was convenient for carrying the rail bolts as well as the flag and torpedoes). This was at a time that the last bit of civilization we saw between Hicksville and Syosset was a few private homes and then nothing but potato fields with a round running parallel to the tracks about 3/4 mile away. Shorty was carrying the wrench and would tap each angle bar as we walked to listen to see if there were loose bolts. I was walking the other rail carrying the hammer, also tapping the bolts. Shorty stopped to tighten the six bolts in a joint and I walked to the next joint. I see (4) bolts, nuts and washers laying on the ties. (1) bolt is in each side of the joint. One of the bolts that remains is all chewed up around the threads, so I’m going to replace it with one that we brought with us. Remember, it’s cold as hell. I swing the hammer, the same time that Shorty screams Nooooo. The bolt comes flying out and the rail at the joint runs out in both directions. We now have a 21" gap in the rail. Shorty says “you stay here and stop any train that comes along” SURE. He ran across the field to a farm house and used their phone to call Hicksville supervisors office which in turn called Divide. Nothing serious happened but they brought two track gangs out with a couple of bales of cotton waste that was used in journal boxes. (2) 55 gallon drums of “snow oil” Hydrocarbon, the stuff you see burning under switches that don’t have gas or electric heaters. The waste was spread out under the rail as far as it would go, on both sides of the joint and saturated with the snow oil. They kept it burning for six hours before they could get (1) bolt in. Unfortunately that still left a 10" gap. They cut a nine inch piece of rail to fit and bolted it into the gap. A temporary speed restriction was put on it till they could replace a few rails.
I hired on the LIRR in 1953 as a Gandy dancer. The only steam engine that I've been on was, the Rotary plow, assigned by Dick Glueck's father. I was working in one of the Hicksville track gangs and the plow was going east on the Montauk branch. They needed someone to clean switches and I was it. One other time, I was coming to work ahead of time as I always did. The Protect Engine, steam, was always sitting between the legs of the Wye in front of my locker room. Today something was different. Usually, as I approached the engine I was entranced by the sound of the air pump an the engine. Between the sound of leaking steam and the pump, the same circumstance of my daily life. There was NO steam and the pump was not running. I went into the locker room and found the engineer and fireman asleep on the two tables there. They woke up and went into a complete panic and blame placing mode. I do not know the type of steam engine, but it had a stoker and they had left the stoker running. It filled the fire box with crushed coal and smothered the fire. There wasn't enough fire left to create a draft so we gathered up all the Tie Plugs we could find, must of been a thousand or so. They really burn well because they're treated with creosote. Some time previously, there had been a small Hopper delivered to the Syosset team track and some one open the hopper doors and dumped part of the Cannel coal load on the ground.
The track gang was sent there by truck to clear the opening and jack the pocket door closed. We loaded about a half ton of the coal on the truck and brought it back to Hicksville. This was going to be the ingredient that was going to produce some REAL steam. In case you don't know about Cannel coal, it's fastest burning and easiest to start burning coal there is. some homes used it in their fire place on an open grate. You could start a fire with a couple of sheets of newspaper. Anyway, my experiences are tame, I am 5th generation railroad and never saw anything different about railroading, it was a job. I thought that every job I ever had on the LIRR was great! I had a bunch of them.
Do you own a copy of Steel rails to the Sunrise? If so look on page 261,
bottom photo, left side center --- a boy, his mother and the section foreman, ashamed that I don't remember his name. He spoke with an accent
that sounded very Scotch, but I think he was Irish. I can still smell the pipe tobacco smoke. My mother and step-father, George Pack, rolled
me out of bed and drove out to Medford to see a K4 from the bottom up. This was the first time that I would see
"Water Lights". The wreck crew used them as lighting where ever they set up shop. Funny, they had special, (2) handle containers, tapered, about two feet high. They filled them with water and placed a container that had tear away tabs soldered on each end and filled with large pieces (2 inch) of carbide. The canisters produced acetylene gas and it burned
with a bright light. I've never seen the water containers since, but if someone didn't know about them, they probably would have thrown them out. You won't hear any first hand stories about steam from me, TO YOUNG
I had forgotten about all the characters that influenced my life. They were straight out of Damon Runyon. It was summer 1954. I was working in the Extra gang. These were the guys that caught all the crap jobs. One man on the job was named "Moe" and he wasn't able to read or write. I always picked up his check on payday and signed the ledger with" his mark" and Moe would put his X on the line. Moe drove the Rail Truck for a long time. I used to see him all over the Island. Most of the rest of the gang married into the Shinnacock tribe east of the canal. Any time we hit a deer out east, all I'd have to do is call one of the Indians" and they would go and salvage the meat. They all ended up in an east end Gang.
At 5:16 PM. November 9, 1965 the Great Northeast Power Blackout occurred. The commonly told story is that the failure began at the Ontario - New York border, near Niagara Falls (Sir Adam Beck No.2 Generating Station at Queenston, Ontario). Info: Steve Lynch
Again, I don’t know what year, I was running a M1, morning commission
hour, train. Next stop Penn Station. As we came around the curve, going under the Port Wash branch and entering Harold interlocking. I see
something on the tracks about 150 to 200 yards away. I put on the brakes and came to a stop behind a little dog, miniature Poodle type. The rail
Fell for a Montauk round trip, on a winter day that the snow had been
falling before I left my house in Babylon for the drive to Morris Park. Enough snow had fallen to make me wish I hadn’t driven my car. My car
was a VW Beach buggy with Ford 15" tires on the front and Cadillac snow tires on the rear. It would go anywhere you pointed it.
At Morris Park, I picked up my engine (1500 Alco), picked up my train with
out the crew, in the storage yard, and went to Jamaica station
where my crew was to meet me.
The day has really started out bad. Sitting in Jamaica station, without a train crew, it had past scheduled leaving time. It’s snowing like hell and the crew, all in the same car, can’t get to Jamaica. The Hall tower horn is staring to toot and I’m trying to avoid it. Finally 15 minutes after laving time I go to the phone and speak to the operator. Now, it seems, I’m the only one that doesn’t know the crew is not going to make it. The movement bureau (204) sends down an unqualified brakeman to be my flag man and I’m to due the duties of engineer and conductor. “You might pick up a crew at "Babylon”.
At Babylon, a conductor and brakeman climb on and my day as a conductor is over. We’re about a half hour late and it’s still snowing. I start to appreciate how much snow has fallen when we go PD (Patchogue). There are no tracks in front of me, just snow. About a mile west of Speonk, The engine wheel slip protection starts going crazy and the power is reduced and given back rapidly, about five or six times. I reduced the throttle and sort of coasted into Speonk station. I told the conductor to call and tell the Movement director that the “ground relay” protection had kicked out and I couldn’t open the throttle without it kicking out again. The ground relay is like fuse in the circuit of the main generator. You can cut out the control of the ground relay, like putting a penny in the fuse box. The conductor came back to the train and told me, “The superintendent says break the seal on the ground relay cut-out and proceed”. I went to the phone and called myself. The superintendent answered the phone himself and told me to continue east with the ground relay cut out.
I started, real slow, notching it up one at a time. It got up to about 50 mph and we hit a snow drift, about four feet high. The big problem was we were in a cut that went through the middle of some farmers field. The wind blows across the field and dumps all the snow into the cut. The snow gets into the main generator, with no protection and the traction motors short out from the snow. The prudent thing to do is to let the engine go back to idle and wait for someone to come get me. The passengers that we had on the train, all abandoned ship. It was easy to get off the train, the platforms were about a foot below the top of the snow. People got off and walked on top of the snow to the next crossing. Now I’m glad that I’m not the conductor any more, he has to find a phone and tell the superintendent what happened. A half hour later he returns and tells me to stay where I am and they would send the Speonk freight engines down behind us.
Bad move. The double headed 1000 hp Alcos had NO snow plow and the closer they got to us, the bigger the pile of snow in front of them. There was a complete breakdown of the rules. I was never issued a Stand and Stay order and the Road Foreman of engines that was running the double header was never given anything to allow him into the block behind me. He walked the last 2 or 300 feet to the end of our train. He came up on the engine and sat down in the engineers seat and pulled out the throttle. The main generator exploded and sent a 2 foot wide stripe of copper into the farm field. Now they are convinced that It wasn’t going to get out of there on its own. A bulldozer was sent to push the snow away from the rear and open a path along side the train. When they removed the snow from the side of the engine, they found the front wheels of the Engine were 4 inches above the rail. The engine had slid up onto the snow and compacted into Ice. All they had to do was couple up with the double header and pull us back and down.
It was all in all a bad day. A lot of overtime and penalty time slips that the superintendent signed off and I was paid without a question.
Ed ran the Montauk and Greenport trains for awhile. If you've ever wondered what it was to be the first across the fields of white, this memory should evoke some great images. Thanks, Ed!
I don’t know that I can describe, so that you could put yourself in the engineers seat. Snow has always been a challenge to Engineers. I owned the fireman’s job on the Montauk, Greenport relief. Three days Montauk, Three days Greenport and three days off. My recollection of some of the trips remind me of how much I enjoyed what I did for a living. If you’ve been to the ocean and have seen the waves, the long slow rollers, you can imagine what fresh WET snow looks like coming off of the edge of the plow. You have to be the first one thru, or all of the magic is gone. The challenge of running trains out east is that there are few land marks and boredom of beautiful scenery before it snows. While it is snowing, you are expected to make the times in the timetable. If you have a fairly heavy snow, it builds up on the front windows in a 45 degree angle from the roof to the catwalk around the engine. This means for all intents and purpose, you are blind. Believe me, you are not
going to put your face out into a 65 mph wind and snow storm. If, during good weather, you have identified the landscape close to the right of way, you have a chance of doing your job. You already know what the roadbed is, sand, ash or stone. If you were diligent in identifying the texture you might have also noticed the change in color. The easy things are, the underpasses and over passes before each station and the unique difference between insulators on the telegraph wires or the size of telephone poles. Most stations have roads adjacent to them. You can open a side window an inch or two without freezing yourself to death. That little portal to the outside world is thrilling. Do you remember where the distant switch indicators are and the passing siding switches and the Block limits ----of course you do. The moment in time that you own is filled with the sense of the power that you control. About the time you feel comfortable with your position, flying blind at 65 mph, you hit your first snow drift. It is impossible to relate the feeling when you are moving 6 or 700 tons and feel the force of the snow drifts against the engine and know that you are slowing down. Most of the station platforms, out east, are kept shoveled and salted so when you stop in a station it’s like an oasis. I digressed from my opening lines, Being the first train out of Port Jeff, after a heavy wet snow, you get to see something rare. The long slow rollers. I enjoyed the sight of hundreds of pounds of snow pealing off and piling up on the side of the right of way. Early morning, no sunlight, 6 inches of wet snow over the rails and a few commuters waiting for this snow throwing monster coming into Smithtown station at about 40mph so that we could pull 3 cars by the end of platform. I’ve been blowing the whistle since the whistle post east of the station but all it does is make the people turn around and stare at this wall of snow coming at them. Some people were pinned against the back railing of the platform and some managed to make it to the parking lot. My apologies.
"I don't know many people that would understand or want my opinion of these locomotives.
The Fairbanks would be MY favorite engine, not so much the C-Liners as the 1500 hp. The C-liners had a feeling of elegance about
them, but except for a few times, that I remember, they weren't used for freight hauling. They were sitting around for 8 to 15 hours a day being pampered and polished. They were really a BIG mistake being purchased for so little work. Major engine work that entailed any removal of major rotating parts had to contend with the fact the engine was an opposed piston type. It was a maintenance horror. In all fairness, they didn't require major work that often. Because of the mass of material being rotated, the engine was smooth running as opposed to the Alco's, that vibrated and shook when they idled. The 1500 Fairbanks had a "soft" throttle and accelerated like you wanted it to do. The Fairbanks had a Roots type super charger that seemed to make the throttle reaction more
smooth. The Alco had a Turbo that didn't seem to take hold until it was really being made to work. There was one engine we had that I don't remember the specs on, but it had to be the strongest Road Switcher we had, "Baldwin". The throttle took a little getting used to, but it handled freight and passenger trains as long as you didn't need steam for heat. Once you were past the first notch on the throttle, it would accelerate like a sports car. Before we got the 200 series Alco's, we used to MU the RS-1's for heavy freight hauling. They were adequate but
not elegant. The RS3's were like a modernized version of the RS1's, a more sophisticated locomotive but the railroad never bought locomotives that were compatible to MU. Any time we had to MU for horsepower, they would have to figure out which locomotive would work with which. We bought a pair of locomotives that looked like our RS3's, but had to be
manually shifted through the electrical transitions. I know that was changed early on to automatic. They were almost always run as a pair."
Very interesting, thanks Richard! The pair of locomotives mentioned in the last paragraph were the 1519, 1520 ex-D&H RS2s. And I've heard the same comments from a friend who's an engineer with NS, he has 43 years service!
From an era we are unlikely to see again! Ed's turn as a crossing watchman.
BTW, it was not at all unusual for new hires to take a turn in a crossing shanty
when needed. Good training, and chance to serve the LIRR from another viewpoint.
Today, we'd call it experiential learning. Comment: Rich Glueck
Sometime around the late ‘50s or early ‘60s I was furloughed from my most excellent job as a fireman. I say “most excellent” because, no two days were ever the same. It was not boring. The Federal Government said I was allowed to work 15 hours and 59 minutes a day, which I tried to do. I knew I would be furloughed. The Brotherhoods had an agreement with the LIRR that restricted the amount of money anyone in Engine service was allowed to make. It was the most equitable agreement I’ve ever worked under. Everyone was allowed to work up to a point and forced to take time off so that the junior man had a chance to survive. It works well but there is a point when there isn’t enough work for everyone and the junior man goes on vacation. Within the first week of my vacation, A phone call from the LIRR was a
request that I take an extra mans job, swinging gates in Brooklyn and Queens. The area was chosen so that I could get NO influence from my stepfather, George Pack. He was Supervisor of Crossings- East End. I never lost a weeks work.
I was called for a crossing job in Bushwick. The crossing watchman handled (2) sets of gates on (2) roads. I’m sorry, I don’t know the names. The first crossing was at the bottom of the hill (single track from the west yard at Fresh Pond). The other crossing was at the east end of Bushwick yard. It was a winter night and the snow was falling. I relieved the watchman that worked 4 to 12. It's a comfortable little hut that they provide. A little pot belly stove, but no electricity. I got real comfortable when the bell in hut to signal a train coming down the hill. At the same time a fuel oil truck approached the crossing. ( the law says he has to stop at all railroad crossings) Unfortunately the truck started to slide sideways and with the brakes locked up, he slid into the middle of the tracks where he had no traction at all. Andy Tyrell was the Fireman on the switching job that was going to switch out Bushwick for the morning job that would place the cars. He had hired out (5) years before me and was just about invulnerable to be laid off for Christmas. He knew I was working at this crossing and before they came down the hill he picked up a container of coffee and intended to stop on the crossing to give it to me.
Stopping a drag of 25 cars on a downhill grade is tough enough when you know where you’re going to stop. This night the rails were wet and I was, as he, lucky enough to have a friend that was thoughtful. Anyway, he never saw the truck till he stopped. The truck driver had run down the street leaving Andy and I standing in the snow drinking our coffee. Some times it’s the little, kind actions that get you thru life.
Has anyone ever mentioned the incident when a "Drop" of a
Propane Tank Car had the area evacuated.
Assuming you've never seen it done. The fireman was running the engine. The idea is, the placing of a car in a siding with a facing point switch. The train is stopped with ample room to make the move and the engine with the car to be placed, is uncoupled from the train. The angle cock is closed between the engine and car. The air for the brakes on the car is bled off.
One brakeman rides the car, standing at the hand brake. One brakeman (usually the conductor) stands at the switch ready to throw it over. One brakeman stands on the foot board of the engine, ready to pull the pin. It can be done with less man power. The "shake it up sign" is given to the engineer and he accelerates till the brake man gives him a sign for "The Pin".
The brakeman uncouples the engine and the engineer accelerates to move past the clearance point of the siding switch.
When the engine clears the switch point, the brakeman at the switch throws it over so that the free wheeling car will go into the siding. Bad things can happen when you make this move, worse when your handling Propane. If the car doesn't make it into the siding, you've got the engine separated from the rest of the train. It is at this time that you learn what the "Push Pole Pockets are used for. On this day, the fireman, who was running the engine got everything right, up till the time he was supposed to be clear of the side track. He stopped short, The switch was thrown and the Propane car on its way up the siding, hit the locomotive which punched a little hole in the very large tank of Propane. By the time the engineer and fireman realized what had happened, the engine was engulfed in flames. They got out without injuries except to their pride. I have NO answers to any questions about the incident. The Newsday had a big article about the evacuation.
If you like stories that can’t be verified ... Bay Ridge float bridges
in the late 50's early 60's.
There was (2) Float jobs in Bay Ridge and one of them had just stripped a barge and got behind a string of cars to shove them onto a (3) tracker. They were all empties and so it was going to be a straight shove without balancing the load. I forget what the track capacities were but the South side and the middle track had a hand thrown switch between them. After loading North and Middle there should be just enough cars for the South side. While shoving back, a brakeman stood on the side of the barge and gave a sign to back up till the float flat cleared the middle track. This was at a time when the common car was 40 feet long. Noticing that there was a couple of 50 foot cars, the brakeman was cautious and gave the engineer a " to the block" sign. (With your forearms parallel to the ground, the right fist into the left hand palm). They never felt the block so they tied down the drag and pulled off the float and went up to the yardmasters office.
The Bridge tender called the yardmaster and told him that he can see a single truck hanging off of the southwest corner of the float. Everybody that was there got on an engine and went down to see - there was NO bumper block on the south track and there was a brand new truck, from a brand new insulated tank car, hanging over the side.
There are various endings, told about how the incident was handled from ----- how the crews tried to pry the truck off of the barge, to how the tug captain tried to pull it off with a rope. I guess if you didn’t see any part of it, It didn’t happen.
Around the same time...(late 50's early 60's) A switching job was working in the dark switching out Thypin Steel on the Bay Ridge branch.
Three loads of steel to place and no order out for an empty flat car sitting in the siding, that ended at the side walk of a busy Brooklyn street.
In a hurry, the brakeman jumps off 3 car lengths from the car in the siding and gives a " to the block" sign. When they felt the drag couple up, they uncoupled and went home.
It seems that NYC police car was parked between the Block and the empty flatcar.
You hear a lot of stories like these and about the engines or cars that are buried someplace because it was convenient to do it. The only story that comes close and I can confirm was about the M1 that got half way across a switch on the west end of Babylon station. With one truck going one way and one going the other, the car hit the end of the platform. After a little bit of time, the pair of cars was separated from the train and pulled into #3 station, almost. The car wouldn’t clear the platform so it was moved to a place just west of the station and cables from the ground were used to turn it over and free fall it, down the embankment. Quite a sight. It was later removed by truck.
Is there any mention of the "Mexican Labor Camp" in Babylon yard
during the 1940's?
My mother was the Ticket Clerk in Babylon at the time the camp was in use. I spent a lot of my day riding back and forth between the station and the passenger yard.
At that time, if a passenger bought a ticket on the train, when the Ticket Office was open, they paid an extra ten cents, which was redeemable at any Ticket Office upon presentation of the ticket that was punched in special place. I would have to run through the train before it got to the yard and the coach cleaners got on. I made 2 or 3 dollars a day. My father was making 4 or 5 dollars a day. At that time, the rule was that a person could only get one refund a day, except if their mother was the Ticket Clerk.
Back to the "Mexican Labor Camp" - On my very busy day, riding back and forth, I would pause for lunch in the labor camp’s "Mess hall". This was my introduction to Mexicans and Mexican food, which by the way, was not overly spiced. The food faire was mostly rice, beans, tortillas and tomato sauce. I thought it was great and the price was good. They referred to me as the poor little white boy that needed the food. I ate like it was my only meal.
Babylon station was on the ground and there was an overpass that you could use to go to the other two platforms. It was one of those places where a little kid could see a mile east and two or three miles west. You could see trains coming and going, steam & electric. Being up there when a Patchoge, Montauk or Speonk steamer came in was the big thrill. You could stand up there when the Engineer opened the throttle and get and get engulfed with steam and smoke and cinders.
During this time in my life, the Railroad ran what they called the Remittance Train. It had a combine on the head end and when they stopped at all the stations, the Ticket Agent would bring the days receipts, usually in an Inter Office envelope, and turn it over to a clerk that was riding in the combine. Where it went to from there, I never saw. But on one day, I got on the west car of a train that arrived from the West end, and walked my way through, looking for my redeemable tickets. I got to the head end before the train left the station, for the yard, and walked up to the engineers cab. It was a little closet in a much larger room that carried newspapers for delivery all along the Montauk Branch. Behind the Engineers cab, I saw a cigar box. I kicked it and the box flew across the baggage compartment and showered the area with money. It seems that the clerk on the Remittance Train that ran earlier that day had left it behind. The Engineer and I picked up the money and put it back in the cigar box. The Engineer told me to get off and give the money to my mother, the Ticket Clerk.
My mother received a letter of reprimand from the PRR , via the LIRR, for permitting me to ride on the trains to the yard. There was a lot of good and memorable things that happened to me, this wasn’t one of them. Being one of five generations of railroaders, I’ve heard all sorts of bad things that the PRR did to their employees, none of them first hand but this one incident.