Long Island Rail Road Anecdotes
by Mark Smith (Retired LIRR Locomotive Engineer)
Question 1: Would LIRR freights work eastbound making setouts and pickups and then work back westbound doing the same thing on the Montauk branch for example? Model railroaders always like to know this.
South Side Extras were run with DD1's. I know I worked once a locomotive that had an extra car behind with third rail pick-up shoes to help avoiding gaps while servicing sidings. These runs would turn at Babylon and return to Holban Yard on the same day.
Holban yard had a few tracks electrified to allow electric operation.
Just short lengths on either end. Enough to get on the train and leave the yard. On cutting off one day, they sent me down a track to go back to Morris Park. I saw the end of the third rail and stopped thinking they sent me down the wrong track.
I had to be picked up by switcher and taken to the West End of the yard to be put on third rail for Morris Park.
I learned that you were supposed to give a DD1 a shot of juice and coast thru the yard and pick up third rail at West
End. Live and learn.
Question 2:. How often would the large bunker at Oyster Bay and Islip receive coal loads, how many cars?
Question 4: How would the 40+ industries in Patchogue's heyday c, 1920-1940 be handled? Local stored switcher engines at Patchogue or the road engines on the freight detail
Question 5: Any ideas on what types of loads the local team tracks received?
Question 6: Islip had Bayslip Plumbing and Patchogue Red Rose Plumbing and T&S Building Supply. How much freight would this generate in a year in boxcar loads?
Mark Smith: Do not have a realistic answer for you on this.
We were already having a tough time as we left Holban Yard at Hollis on to the main. Had a good old time Conductor which was great help. Worked thru the night to Greenport and returned west after eight hours rest. This was a time when potatoes were a big thing for our railroad. One job was the Riverhead switcher that worked out of Greenport to Riverhead and returned setting cars for the extra freights. I worked this job for week on a hold down. Also, extra freights were called from Holban to Riverhead and returned daily during this period. Can hardly remember these times and amazed that it is all gone and has been for years.
Another train I just thought of was called the BEEF. Cars arrived by float in Long Island City and were set off on the loop track for prompt dispatch to Flatbush Ave. meat sidings just off the station tracks underground, also a siding in Van yard up a ramp. I believe a lot of this was Kosher meat.
Van yard was just East of Flatbush Ave station on the South Side. Van Tower controlled entrance to the yard. As far as I know it is still in use and on trains leaving Brooklyn you would see the opening out of the tunnel leading to the yard. This was a layup for Brooklyn trains during my time. One track in the yard, by making a reverse move, led up a ramp to a meat house siding which I believe was really on Atlantic Ave.
Many times you laid a train up there or picked one up there. These were moves that had arbitrary payments to road men performing these moves. Many times this determined selection of jobs by senior men. Maybe an extra hour or more a day. All straight time. All this changed when we went on the eight hour day. This was better in the end.
[Van yard was at Vanderbilt Avenue in Brooklyn, along the Atlantic Branch, south of the main. It was accessed via a tunnel portal in the wall of the depressed tracks. The yard was at grade. "VD" tower (later renamed "VAN" tower) was built into the wall at that portal and controlled access into and out of the yard.] Info: Dave Keller
I don’t have the date but a number of years ago I was running train 204 to Greenport. This was when we still had mail, Railway Express and baggage handled on many trains. We pulled into Jamaica to load and on the platform was a small donkey, probably from Sears, Roebuck, headed for Farmingdale. Well he did not want to get into the express car because of the gap between the car and platform. After a few minutes delay we left. On arrival at Farmingdale and spotting the car at the high platform to unload him he would have nothing to do with that gap again. Last I saw of him he was on his back being dragged off the train.
The following are three tales of my contacts with commuters involved in
the “Engineer-for-a-Day” program.
As an extra man I did not know if this train used line 2 or line 4 into
New York from “HAROLD” west, as, of course, we ran on signal indication.
The rider still brought up the bump on the way to New York but, of course,
he did not know what line the train went through as he was only a rider.
When I called the Trainmaster, he said that this guy was a pain in the
neck. “I know”, I said, “Thanks a lot for leaving him with me!”
As I was nearing promotion in 1947 I bid on the Greenport freight as Fireman so I could learn the road, East on Monday West on Tuesday plus the same for the rest of the week.
What a week. The first day I told engineer I was not too familiar with the H-10 stoker. He said we would do OK. The first day was not too bad. The second day was a mess. Everything did not work to his satisfaction. We ended up outlawing at Ronkonkoma and deadheading to Morris Park in the hack. In the meantime it started to snow and he laid off so I stayed on the job, otherwise I was ready to lay off sick.
Next day I had an extra man we had trouble but lived with it. The snow kept piling up and we were late by DUNTON on the way to Holban Yard to get our train. We went as far as Ronkonkoma and were told to return to Holban Yard. Then another change and we were told to proceed east to Greenport. The coal was like mud going into firebox. Believe it or not the side curtains were frozen to the cab and we had to chop ice off the steps to get in and out of the cab. THIS WAS ON LONG ISLAND!
one more round trip I was told I had to go up and take my tests for
promotion. I was glad to get off that job! I then rode the rear of the
regular trains to learn the road.
Sometimes you got set back from engineer to fireman as a result of change in traffic, due to various events, such as the coal strike of 1950, which cut a number of jobs and took a while to overcome.
Being set back was not all that bad, as you became senior on the fireman’s list and had the choice of good jobs. During this period of time I worked a Yaphank job which went something like this: You worked all week on the electric DD1s as a helper in and out of Penn Station. Nice and easy. On Sunday it caught up with you. You made a round trip from Jamaica to Port Jefferson and return with a hand-fired G5s, with just enough time to yard the train, return to Morris Park, change engines (luckily a stoker-fired K4s), pick up your train and head east to Upton Junction (Yaphank), lay up there for an hour or two and head west as train #4229.
One day on this job I was running the train west and the extra engineer was firing, a practice we used a lot among the younger men. As we passed the distant signal for “B” tower, I called it “clear” as we could not see the home signal around the curve. Well, a westbound train on the Central Branch went past us on the line to our left, traveling so fast we thought he must have the signal.
The engineer asked me if we had the signal. I said we did, but we slowed down as we thought maybe it was taken away from us. As we rounded the curve, the other train was sitting at the home signal and we had the main. We wondered how he got stopped. He really should have been run ahead of us as his next stop was Jamaica, and we had to make all the local stops. This was before we had traffic control in both directions on both tracks.
He was fuming at us in Morris Park, but, of course, we had nothing to do with it. He told us we did not know how to run a train, amongst other things.
1. Sign in with the Engine
dispatcher to get your locomotive number.
Diesel locomotives and
electric would be the same as above, leaving out items #4, #6 and
part of #7. In addition, you would need to check the oil
in the crankcase on the diesels.
Our electrics did not have any train heat system. Heat from the steam engine cut-off was enough to get to New York and trains were heated in New York from a stationary steam plant and no heat was supplied until the engine was changed eastbound.
We also carried two (2) sets of markers on the electrics as we shoved trains in and out of Penn Station.
These were the years I worked these jobs as a fireman and engineer until the steamers and electrics were gone. Today it is a different operation, with electric heat from the locomotive and, of course, in the motor trains. The “Modern Age!”
In 1945 when I came back from the army I worked this type of job (freight runs on the Montauk branch through Maspeth) to get back in the groove. I worked with an old timer who had a habit of falling asleep. As we came up to “Olivet” he put the train in the “Big Hole” and the first thing I thought we were ready to hit a Trolley car. Guess he just woke up and saw the stop signal and dumped it.
At Olivet, eastbound is going up grade, a pretty good grade. Freights usually had a pusher behind out of Yard A. I worked the pusher as a fireman for a period. My engineer was Bill Cassidy. They called him “Hop-A-Long” because he did not work the locomotive hard enough to be of much help. We stalled on Mt. Olivet one cold night with the cold wind blowing into the cab. Bill said I guess the guy on the head end laid down on the job. He was trimmed by another old timer a day or so later. We discussed the job about not using the locomotive hard enough. His view was to give it all we had and get the job done, return light to Yard A and spot until the next shove in a nice warm cab. Yeah, right.
Later when I was promoted to engineer I was called for the same pusher job off the extra list. Believe it or not I was more relaxed to be running a passenger job. So I thought, well, all I have to do is get behind the train and, when the brakes release, shove hard and get over the line to Fresh Pond and return light to Yard A.
I was fooled. They put me on the east end of the train (lead engine) and I had to figure out how to handle the air, etc. You could easily cause a problem with the brake, break in two, rough up the hack etc. Passenger air handling was easier as the train was more uniform.
Anyway, the next thing was how do I handle this train over the cut-off
thru Bliss, etc.? Work hard out of the yard, then have to slow thru
Blissville and hit it hard again for Mt. Olivet? We were double headed
with another pusher on the rear both with old-time engineers. All of a
sudden it hit me. When we got the Highball to leave the yard I listened to
the stack on the second locomotive and set my controls to meet his. I went
out and all the way to Jamaica like I was an old-timer. I even got a toot
from the old-timer on the second locomotive I passed going back to yard A.
As to the air brake, I just put it in lap and we drifted to a stop.
Our coal was floated into Long Island City as was most of our interchange freight. A float of solid coal hoppers was handled with kid gloves. One side would be pulled half way off, then cut off the engine, go to the other side of the float, pull that track off, couple to center track, cut the engine off, return to first cut and pull it off, couple to the remaining cars and strip the float. At times the corner of the float would be under water during this move. The results of just coupling up and pulling a cut of cars right off the float could create a big problem. The float could just flip over, drop all remaining cars in the river, then flip back with all clear tracks. This was frowned on by the company. A large floating derrick would have to be hired to salvage what they could from the bottom of the river.
Another problem could be hitting the bumping block on the end of a float. This did not always mean that the cars would go in the river at that point. If it was hit solid, the lines holding the float to the dock could snap allowing the float to move out into the river. Anything at the point where the lines snapped would drop into the river, again requiring a call for the large floating derrick.
Another night, on a
stone train to Calverton, while they were building the airport this
happened. These trains were heavy and we used one unit so it was a grind.
As it was during the late hours in the night it was hard to stay awake. We
had just passed Pinelawn siding when, in the eighth notch the train went
"in the hole" [train is in an emergency brake application], the
idiot light came on, and as we were on full power we forged ahead and
before you could think what happened you got a big hit in the rear which
really woke you up. A carrier bar on the head car had fallen and, of
course, this dropped the coupler and parted the air hose. As we were
in full throttle the loco sped ahead, but the heavy train did not stop
that fast. A rude awakening and delay setting out the cripple car.
One of first jobs I was called for as a fireman was the "Scoot".
Hand fired steam, three round trips Patchogue, PD to
I never was furloughed, but during the coal strike in the fifties, when
about fifty trains were taken off, I dropped back firing, but of course
with enough time in to hold a decent job. One job I held was the Montauk
round trip from Jamaica, two days pay plus some over miles and switching
time. You worked six days on and off three to meet the mileage agreements
at that time. All old time engineers and conductors. We worked it
this way, the engineer ran it East and I would take over in Montauk to
turn the train and run it West. At that time these trains had mail, baggage
and Railway Express. Westbound coming into PD the express men would be
standing on the freight house platform with the ramp up ready to drop in
the car door as soon as you stopped. This was on the offside for the
engineer so we had a mark to stop at. As soon as you stopped you could
hear the ramp drop. Once in while you may miss the spot and it would be a
few seconds before you here the ramp drop, at that time the old engineer
used to say to me, "Not so hot today, right." I do
have some old timetables, but do not know if I have the engine numbers for
the above incidents. They were both hand fired G-5s.
I do have some old timetables, but do not know if I have the engine numbers for the above incidents. They were both hand fired G-5s.
last steam trip I made was on July 22,1955. I remember it well because my
oldest daughter was born the next day. Eastbound was the Steamer and the
return trip was a C-Liner that came in on a later train. Complete
difference in the ride and operation. I know the last steam train
was run quite awhile after that, but as an extra man, I just did not get called
for anymore steam runs. Over the years, I ran many steam trips all over
the Island. I really liked them on the Montauk and Port Jefferson lines,
as there was a challenge to get the train over the road on
Many men lost money on these runs ("Race Track Trains") as they would go to the races. I stayed away. I am not being critical about anyone; just stating a fact.
In general, it was the trainmen. They would have cash from fares collected on regular runs and bet with it at the track. Not a sure thing. Monies collected, from fares, had to be turned in within a certain time. Quite often, I would be working a regular train and a trainman would come up to the head end and ask me to stop near his car as he had to make up his losses so he could turn in his cash report. Probably had to play this game until payday when he could catch up.
Sometimes, a second man would come up with the same request. Than I had to say, "I am stopping at car markers as required." Sometimes, Conductors would say, "Stop, whenever you want, I do not need any cash." This was not an everyday thing, and in fact maybe should not be mentioned anywhere. I do not know if there is much cash fare collecting on the trains anymore.
The Engineer (Mark): I hired out on the
Long Island Rail Road
in 1941, beginning my railroad career firing G5
Midway in my career, I stood for an Extra Board
engineer assignment on the Valentine’s
For the evening Special,
I drew eight-year-old ALCo RS-3 #1557 and four coaches, including a bar
car to keep the passengers occupied and happy en route.
As soon as I had platformed
my consist at
The Kid (Art): Walking to and from school, I often passed a
One evening over dinner, Dad announced that he and
Henry had been discussing me and my interest in trains during their ride
to the city that day, and Henry had invited Dad and me along for a ride on
the Valentine’s Special later
that week. Dad would ride in
the bar car, and I’d get to ride in the cab of the locomotive – would
that be OK? WOULD THAT BE
On the appointed day, Dad and I took an electric MU
“motor” train from our home in Massapequa to
The Engineer (Mark): As I look back from now to 44 years ago, this cab ride was a lot
more meaningful to the Kid than it was to the Engineer! I do remember the trip, but really cannot recall too many specifics
this many years later. Apparently,
the Kid was impressed with the cab ride and our friendliness during the
trip. Good-byes were exchanged
after the return to
The Kid (Art): Although I was certainly a railfan before 1963, that cab ride
really ignited an interest in me. After
I became established in a “normal” career, I began to volunteer time
at a local railroad society and on an operating tourist railroad. During most of my working life, I managed to keep a concurrent
“second work life” going in the tourist railroad business. I became qualified as a locomotive engineer on a local tourist
railroad in 1979, early in that second career. In 1991, three friends and I established a common carrier shortline
railroad, and we were off and running passenger excursion trains, dinner
trains and freight service. I
often thought of that cab ride back on
Early in 2007, I noticed some comments from a retired
LIRR engineer named Mark E. Smith posted on a LIRR fan website. The name matched exactly the signature on the orders which Mark had
given me as a memento at the end of the cab ride in 1963, and which I had
saved these many years in my pile of LIRR memorabilia. Through the kindness of Steve Lynch and Dave Keller, I obtained
Mark’s email address and contacted him. E-mails were exchanged, and two months later, Mark and his wife
Marilyn visited me and my wife Debbie in
The Engineer (Mark): Marilyn and I enjoyed a fine dinner aboard the Old Road Dinner Train with Debbie and Art on June 23rd – curiously, the day that would’ve been his father’s 99th birthday! I even got to be the diner who was “killed” during the murder mystery on the train that evening, and they say I hammed it up better than anyone had so far in 17 years of running dinner trains there! When the prime rib was finished, I accepted Art’s offer of a cab ride in the locomotive pulling our dinner train, Adrian & Blissfield RR’s GP-9 #1752. After 31 years of retirement, it felt very good to once again take my place in the engineer’s seat of a passenger train for a few miles! The cab ride privilege which I extended 44 years earlier had been returned in kind, and new friendships made 44 years later. That’s the way it is in the railroad world!
Anecdote provided by: Mark E. Smith and Art Single