LIRR Steam Days at Southampton, Part II


Jules P. Krzenski


     I’d like to tell of how I came to have the first opportunity to visit the cab of a Long Island RR H10s, followed by my first-ever ride on that engine...on the eastbound Montauk Freight.  The memory of that day will be with me always.  For the reader who was born too late to experience working steam on a common-carrier railroad, my words may, I hope, create a mind’s eye picture of what it was like.  I personally will NEVER forget what it was like!  May the reader smell the smoke and feel what I felt beneath my feet.  Hopefully, maybe the reader’s ears may even be mine were...when the ride is over!


     Shortly after that day in late summer of 1946, when I had been so completely grabbed by the sights and sounds of that H10s leaving Southampton, my mom and dad had made the trip to Riverhead for some reason that I don’t now recall.  I went along for the ride.  School had reopened, but it was Saturday...and school was not on my mind!  On the way back, they decided to stop at a restaurant in Hampton Bays because it was early afternoon and we hadn’t eaten lunch yet.


     As we entered the eatery, I saw five men sitting at the far end of the counter.  They were all dressed basically alike...and I recognized them immediately.  It was the same crew of the Montauk Freight that I had watched on that earlier Saturday in Southampton.  They were all there except the short fat man with the jolly face...the engineman.  When we sat down at a table, I whispered to my dad, telling him who they were.  He glanced at them as the waitress arrived.  We only ordered sandwiches, which were quickly brought to the table.  Before we began eating, my dad got up and walked over to where those guys were sitting.  The one that he spoke to pointed to the man with the white stubble.  As my dad spoke to him, he turned on the stool and glanced at me.  I had no idea what my father was saying, but when he returned to the table, he told me to hurry up and finish my sandwich...because I was going to ride the engine to Southampton.  I can remember almost choking on that grilled cheese sandwich!!


     Pretty soon, the crew got up from their stools and as they walked past us to the door, white stubble stopped at our table and, looking at me, he said, “You all set?  Let’s go.”  He smiled at my mom and dad, and I saw him wink at my dad.  I remember that my legs almost felt like rubber as I walked with those guys from the restaurant, across Montauk Highway, around the corner, and towards where the engine was standing a short distance away.  It was on the siding, west of the station, with a short string of cars and a caboose.


     The guy that I recognized as the fireman from that other Saturday asked me, “You know what kind of engine that is?”  I lied and said I wasn’t sure.  It was a lie because I had no idea what kind of engine that was!  He said, “It’s a 2-8-0 Consolidation.  It’s classified as an H10s and it used to belong to the Pennsylvania Railroad, but it’s a Long Island engine now.  We’ve got 18 more just like it.”  That was my first railroad lesson.  It was given by the man who eventually became my friend, tutor, and role model.  His name was George Bohne.  Incidentally, George was the only man in the crew who didn’t wear the common railroad style hat.  He always wore a brown corduroy baseball style cap.


     When we got to the engine, George said, “Follow me and be careful” and then pulled himself up the side and into the cab.  I followed him up, and I remember that I was surprised by how easy it was...going up those vertical engine steps, while pulling at arm’s length on the long vertical handrails.  I will forever cherish the memory of the first couple of minutes after stepping onto the deck of that engine.  Over on the opposite side was the short fat man with the jolly face, sitting sideways on his seatbox, with one leg folded and tucked under him...and using a spoon to eat a can of cold baked beans.  He glanced up when I appeared and stopped the spoon in mid-air.  George explained, “We’ve got a rider as far as Southampton...Russ ok’d it.”  “Russ,” I shortly discovered, was Russ Jacobs, the conductor.  White Stubble now had a name!


     With that explanation, the spoon went back to work, and that jolly looking face broke into a warm and friendly smile with, “How you doing, young feller...first time on an engine?”  When I answered that it was, he smiled again and said, “OK, just be careful and do what George tells you”, nodding towards my future role model.  Then he added, “My name’s Tanky Bell...or at least, that’s what they call me.”  Another warm smile.  I remember, I just stood in the center of the cab, looking at the backhead and all the details.  The slightly slanted, but basically horizontal, throttle had claimed my initial attention.  The round steam gauge and vertical water column were obvious.  The round valve handles and the piping, covered with insulation, were not as obvious about their purpose.  The split firedoor...called a ‘butterfly’ my attention, with the peep hole allowing me to see the red glow inside.  I noticed what looked like a long hump, coming up through the deck, and connected to the backhead, right below the firedoor.  I learned, a few minutes later, that the stoker worm moved the coal through that and into the firebox.


     I just stood and looked...and inhaled the faintly sweet smell...and listened to what sounded like someone crinkling cellophane...the crackling sound coming from the other side of the backhead.  I became aware of a faint, but constant, vibration under my feet.  We were not moving, but I swore I felt a vibration.  Then the pumps, on the left side of the engine, just ahead of the cab, throbbed a few times...and I felt that through my feet.  Suddenly, I had the distinct impression that I was standing on something that was alive!  At that instant, I realized that I felt completely at home...this was where I belonged, it HAD to be my place in life.


     One of the brakemen came up into the cab and interrupted my emotional moment.  He picked up his gloves that he had left on a corner ledge of the tender, and then dropped back down to the ground and started walking ahead.  George, who had been sitting sideways on his seatbox, got up and told me to sit where he had been...face forward, and put my feet between the side of the backhead and the cab wall.  With that, he turned two of the valve handles and started the stoker.  One of them controlled the blower that sprayed the coal into the firebox, as the worm delivered it on the other side of the firedoor.  This added a new sound and a definite vibration.  Looking through the peep hole, he adjusted one of the valves.  Then he stepped towards me and pulled a handle near the left corner of the backhead.  AN EAR-SPLITTING SCREAM HIT MY EARDRUMS!!  He yelled into my right ear that it was the injector, forcing water into the boiler!  Nodding that I understood, I looked ahead through that narrow window.


     That brakeman had walked up ahead and was throwing the switch to the main track.  The other two brakemen and Russ Jacobs had already walked back to the caboose.  (full crew back then!...three brakemen: head end, rear end, and one acting as the conductor...the Boss!).  I looked over at Tanky Bell.  He had shifted his position on the seatbox.  Now, his right foot was between the side of the backhead and the cab wall, with his left foot flat on the deck beside his seatbox.  This placed him in a slightly angled position.  After releasing the engine brakes, he reached for the throttle with his left hand and pulled it back a little.  Nothing happened.  I looked out of my window at the ground, and realized that we were beginning to move.  I have to admit...a jumble of feelings shot through me.  It was apprehension, curiosity, anticipation...and I guess, what amounted to pure joy!!


     Then, the first “chuff” of the exhaust, and it sounded totally different in the cab than it did outside on the ground.  The next few “chuffs” got a little louder...but the sound had a much deeper pitch...almost muffled...almost hollow sounding.  Tanky let the engine move slowly through the switch.  I watched the brakeman swing aboard the engine and pull up onto the deck behind me.  There were only a few cars that day and it didn’t take long for the caboose to roll through the switch.  Leaning out a little, and looking back, I watched one of the brakemen drop off , reline the switch...and then jog a few steps to catch up and swing aboard the caboose.


     The brakeman, standing behind me, had also been looking back, and when he gave Tanky the “thumbs up” sign, the throttle got a couple of hefty tugs.  The exhaust suddenly got much louder, and the pitch became much deeper.  The scream of the injector had stopped because George, who had remained standing, had shut it down.  That’s when I became aware of the loud rumbling sound that was creating a background for the exhaust, that was becoming faster and louder.  I also became aware of something else.  As I looked ahead through that narrow window, I realized that the front of the engine was blocking the view of the track ahead in a steady rhythm.  Now you see the track you can’t.  That was a little startling!  That’s when I learned that a steam locomotive yaws from side to side, sways from side to side, pitches up and down, like a ship in rough seas, and bounces straight up and down...ALL AT THE SAME TIME!  It was the most scary, and the most incredible, thing I had ever experienced.  I KNEW I’d found my place in this lifetime!


     As we approached a grade crossing, I wondered what that banshee whistle would sound like in the cab.  At that time, it was the Pennsylvania Railroad’s standard freight whistle, with a few exceptions.  Remember now, the Long Island RR was then owned by the Pennsy.  I always liked the deep mellow-toned whistle on the Pennsy K4s Pacifics that were assigned to the Long Island...but, to me, that super high pitched banshee whistle was “the call of the H10s!”  When Tanky reached up with his left hand for the cord that was swaying above his head, the whistle sounded about the same, only not quite as loud because of all the other noise.  I had noticed that the noise level had been steadily growing more and more...along with all that multiple motion!  Tanky had widened the throttle a little more, and with only a few cars and the hack behind it, the 107 (yes, I DO remember the number!!!) was almost running light. 


One particular sound caused me to look around in the cab and I quickly realized what it was.  The cab deck consisted of a skid-proof steel plate, attached to the engine, but NOT to the short forward deck of the tender.  The plate simply overlapped the tender deck, and was free to move up and down, and side to side, with the motion of the engine.  The plate formed a full-width gangway between the engine and tender.  It would move up and down with the engine, creating a banging sound every time it came down.  The distance that it lifted off the tender deck was not actually great...just enough to make a definite BANG! every time it made contact with the tender deck.  It was simply another sound...blending in with all the that occasional ear-splitting scream of the injector!  The combination of noise was incredible.  If OSHA had existed back then, the entire agency would have gone into a collective state of shock!


     Shortly after the grade crossing, the brakeman, who had been standing near my right shoulder, holding on to the bulkhead behind my seatbox, tapped me on that shoulder, leaned down and yelled something into my right ear.  Having no idea what he had said, I yelled, “What!?”  He repeated what he had said.  I still couldn’t understand with all that noise!  Remember was my first time on an ears were not yet accustomed to all that sound!  Not wanting to say, “What!?” again, I just nodded.  Right about then, we went under the concrete bridge that carried Montauk Highway over the railroad, east of Hampton Bays village.  The exhaust, shooting straight up, hit the underside of the bridge...and bounced straight back down and into the cab!  It felt like somebody had thrown a bucket of sand in my face...up my nose, in my ears, and worst of all, in my eyes!  I instantly understood what the brakeman had been trying to tell me...”Close your eyes when we go under the bridge!”  When I had finally cleared my eyes, I looked up at him, only to find that he was looking at me with a stern look, and was shaking his right index finger back and forth in a “that’s a no no!” manner.  I remember, I made a sour face and nodded in agreement!


     By then, we were approaching the steel truss bridge that carried the railroad over the Shinnecock Canal.  The rumbling sound became really loud as we blasted, yawed, swayed, pitched...and bounced across the bridge!  I was totally fascinated by all the motion, all happening at the same time...accompanied by the incredible mixture of noise.  I looked at George.  He had his legs slightly flexed at the knees to absorb the motion, and was holding on to one of the insulated pipes on the backhead.  Tanky appeared to be totally relaxed.  His left hand was draped on the throttle, without actually holding it.  His right arm rested on his window armrest.  The rest of his body was flexing up and down and swaying left and right...with his head trailing everything else.  In other words, don’t fight it...move with it.  I stared at those two men...the engineman and the fireman...and I remember the thought that went through my mind... “These two guys earn their pay by doing this every day...what a way to make a living!”  My mind suddenly became a steel trap...clamped on one goal...I WILL BECOME A PART OF THIS LIFE!


     The rest of the ride through Shinnecock Hills and down the grade into Southampton was one continuous mosaic of noise and motion...punctuated by that occasional scream of the injector, and that great banshee “Call of the H10s” for approaching crossings.  We drifted to a stop west of the eastbound block signals, at the west end of the station platform.  They would be leaving the hack at that point in order to set out a couple of cars.  I saw my mom and dad sitting in the car near the signals.  I had gotten up just before we stopped, and had gone over to Tanky to thank him.  The brakeman had already dropped off to be in a position to make the cut.  George stepped over to me and tapped my shoulder, saying, “Well, what do you think?”  Tanky looked at me with that smile and asked if I was OK.  Believe it or I answered those two questions is the ONLY thing I DON’T remember about that first ride!  I guess my mind was so overloaded with the experience...I must have mumbled something to them...but whatever I said just didn’t register in my brain...there was no more room in there!!


     As I turned to start down to the ground, George mentioned that they worked eastbound every Saturday, and he suggested that, if I had the time, maybe I ought to show up at the station and visit with them on the engine, while they did their setouts.  If I had the time!  After that ride...I had no time for anything else!!  When I reached the car, my ears were ringing.  My mom and dad had gotten out and were standing beside the car.  I turned and looked back.  George was standing on the deck between the engine and tender, behind Tanky, with a big smile on his face.  I caught Tanky giving my folks the “OK” sign, along with his standard smile.


     That was a Saturday afternoon in late September of 1946...and I was 14.  I spent many hours, after that Saturday, in those H10s cabs.  Sometimes I rode to Montauk.  Sometimes I just visited with the crew while they made their setouts at Southampton.  Those hours created many memories for me...but that Saturday was the FIRST time.  The vivid impressions of that first ride on a steam locomotive will NEVER fade!  All through 1947, I spent just about every Saturday, or at least a portion of it, at the station and on the engine.  I’d like to relate some of my memories of some of the experiences I had on those Saturdays...some humorous...and some not so funny.  But I think they will prove to be interesting, either way, especially for the reader who was not yet around in 1947!  It should be an opportunity to experience the railroad the way it used to be.  At least, this is the way it used to be on the Long Island Railroad...way out on the far east end of the Montauk Branch, during the late 1940’s.


     Usually, when I rode to Montauk, I rode the engine...but not all the time.  Once, before leaving Southampton, I received permission to ride in the tender hut from Southampton to Bridgehampton.  Some of the H10s tenders had the familiar rear-facing hut for the head end brakeman, on the tank top, behind the coal bunker.  I wanted to see what riding in that position was like.  I soon discovered why the brakemen rarely rode in the hut.  Besides being not really necessary on a local freight, there was another reason!  The first car behind the engine was one of the new style (for those times) boxcars...that was higher than the hut.  All I saw from Southampton to Bridgehampton was the swaying end of that boxcar!  I moved back to the cab when we arrived at Bridgehampton!


     I remember one time, on the way to Montauk, when a funny thing happened, involving one of those tender huts.  That day, Rich Bishop, one of the brakemen, decided to ride in the hut from Bridgehampton to Easthampton.  His reason totally escapes me now!  Anyhow, on that day, I was standing on the deck, between the engine and tender, on the left side behind George Bohne.  By then, the guys had enough confidence in my ability to stand between towns, instead of displacing George from his seatbox.  I knew enough to follow the example of the brakemen as I stood in that position.  I flexed my legs a little to absorb the motion and held on to the tops of the engine and tender handrails while enjoying the passing scenery...mostly farmland back then!  One of the other brakemen was also riding the engine right then.  Sometimes the cab got downright crowded!  This guy was a big hulking man who everybody called “Polock.”  Now, I don’t mean to offend anyone in these “politically correct” times.  I’m half Polish, myself!  That slang term never offended me...and it didn’t bother him.  It was never meant in a bad way.  I never did know what his name really was.  It may have been so long, none of the guys could pronounce it!


     Anyhow, “Polock” was standing on the opposite side of the cab, and when “Princey” (Cliff Prince, an engineman) shut off the throttle, as we were approaching Easthampton, he must have moved around beside the engineman to talk about something.  Remember now, I was facing the opposite way, on the other side of the cab, enjoying the scenery.  What I also hadn’t noticed was that Bishop had left the hut and was standing on the tank behind the coal bunker.  All of a sudden, “Polock” yelled something and I turned just in time to see a lump of coal bouncing off the backhead and onto the deck.  Polock” had his hat off and was rubbing the back of his head.  He was glaring back at Rich...and cussing loud and clear...”S.O.B.! What are you crazy? S.O.B.!”  I looked at Rich, up on the tank.  He had a look of shock on his face...mixed with something else.  He was obviously struggling hard to keep a straight face!  Princey,” George and I just stared, wondering why Rich had thrown a lump of coal down into the cab!


     Bishop scrambled down over the coal, and dropped into the cab.  Polock” kept rubbing his head, looking at his hand (no blood!)...and kept cussing a blue streak!  Bishop began laughing and apologizing at the same time, as he checked the victim’s head.  Polock” yelled at him, “It ain’t funny!  You’re crazy, you S.O.B.!”  Rich came back with, “I wasn’t aiming at you!  I was only trying to get somebody’s attention down here!”  Still laughing, “It’s your own damn fault !  What the hell did you step back for, you dumb S.O.B.!”  Polock” yelled back, “How the hell was I to know that you’re a dumb enough S.O.B. to throw a lump of coal into the cab!”  Then he added, “What the hell did you want to get our attention for anyhow, you stupid A..Hole.?!  Bishop yelled back, “Forget it, it wasn’t that important anyhow!”  By then, we were all laughing...including “Polock!” All that yelling and cussing was more good natured than it was angry.  As a rule, the guys who  worked the Montauk Freight got along real good.


     Actually, “Polock” had a sense of humor of his own.  I had bought a pair of the short gauntlet gloves to wear on those cab trips to Montauk.  They kept my hands from getting really grimy black.  Steam power was dirty!  Most of those guys wore the same type of gloves.  On one Saturday, somewhere between Southampton and Easthampton...I don’t recall exactly where now...I had taken my gloves off and laid them on the corner ledge of the tender. (I don’t recall the reason for that either!)  Anyhow, when I took them off the ledge to put them back one, I fumbled one and it fell off the engine.  As we were moving between towns at the time, that glove was gone.  Polock,” who was on the engine that day also, must have seen what happened.  He came over to my side, took the remaining glove from me, and threw it out into the passing potato field!  When I looked at him in surprise, all he yelled was, “What the hell are you going to do with one glove?!”  Then he laughed and yelled, “Don’t worry about it...I’ve got an extra pair you can have!”  To me, “Polock” was like a gentle giant.


     I remember another Saturday ride to Montauk.  Boy, did that trip create some permanent memories for a teenager, whose life was literally centered on...and totally revolved around...the railroad.  That day, I decided to do something I hadn’t done yet.  I wanted to ride the rear end, in the hack, all the way to Montauk.  Sure, engine service was my life’s blood...and my determined goal.  But I was also determined to learn and experience everything about railroad operation.  Basically, I was focused on one thing but interested in everything.


     That was why I ordered, through an ad in “Trains,” the classic book, “Rights of Trains,” by Peter Josserand, a Western Pacific dispatcher.  That small, but thick, book was read and studied over and over again.  It covered every aspect of train operation.  Not how to run an engine...but all the details that every engineman, conductor, dispatcher, block operator, towerman...ANYONE who was involved in the movement of trains, in other words, the operating department...must be familiar with.  It included some of the operating rules of various railroads, train order forms, with the correct phrasing and procedure to be used when issuing and copying train orders...even the correct way to deliver them to engine and train crews.  If it involved the movement of trains, it was in that book!


     Anyhow...sorry about that!  It’s just that “Rights of Trains” held a very special place in my life!  Now back to that Saturday on the rear end of the Montauk Freight.  Actually, there were no set rules about who, in the crew, rode where on a local freight...with the exception of the engine crew off course!  Sometimes, two of the three brakemen would ride the engine, while the third brakeman, acting as the flagman, would naturally stay with the hack.  Remember now, that was manual block operation, with train orders and clearance cards...and flagging rules applied.  That meant red flag, red lamp after dark, fusees and torpedoes.  Between towns, the conductor could be found on either end of the train.  Sometimes, they would all be on the engine...except the flagman.


     That day, if memory serves me right, the conductor was a man named Walter Krantz, who usually wore an old fedora style hat.  He seemed to prefer the hack.  So, when we left Southampton, I had the company of Krantz and a lanky brakeman, who was called “Rebel” by everyone. I think he preferred the duties of flagman, because every time he joined the Montauk Freight crew for a period of bumping some other brakeman...he could usually be found on the rear end.  The reason they all called him Rebel was instantly obvious the second he said something.  He had a strong Southern accent...very rare on Long Island back then.  Now again, nothing derogatory was meant!  It just suited him.  In fact, I think he was actually proud of the nickname!  I never did know his real name either.  Rebel was a well liked and popular member of the crew.  He was easy going and real laid back.  He had a good sense of humor and enjoyed the good natured ribbing he took at times.  I think he came from the mountains of Tennessee.


     Whenever the portion of the train that was not involved in the setouts or pickups  was left standing on the main track, Rebel would drop off the hack with his flagging tools, and slowly walk back along the track...whistling what I considered to be his trademark song, “On Top of Old Smokey.”  When he was back far enough, according to his judgment, but not necessarily according to the rules, he would sit on a rail and relax with that song.  Sometimes, he would even sing the words.  He really had a good voice for country music. (also rare on Long Island back then!)  His accent suited that song.  I should add...if there was a curve behind the rear of the train...even a good distance back...he would walk to a point beyond the curve before sitting down on a rail.  Rebel may have been relaxed, laid back and informal about the rules at times...but he was a good brakeman!


     Anyhow, on the day that I rode the hack, they had a train order, directing them to take the siding and wait in the clear at Bridgehampton for the afternoon passenger train from Montauk.  So they went into the hole before making their setouts.  It was a little after lunchtime when we stopped in the clear.  Because we would have a lengthy wait for that westbound passenger, the crew disappeared somewhere to get something to eat.  I wasn’t sure who stayed with the engine, but Rich Bishop, one of the brakemen who had been riding the head end, came walking back and boarded the hack.  I had some money with me and was considering going to get something to eat, myself.  Rich opened one of the lockers under the cupola and took out a large brown paper bag.  I guess he could have been called a “brown bagger” that day.


     He suggested that I save my money.  He had two ham and cheese sandwiches in that bag, plus a thermos of coffee...and he only wanted one sandwich.  After asking if I liked ham and cheese, he insisted on my accepting one.  Then he swung easily up into the cupola, and onto the right side cushion.  He suggested that I do the same on the left side because we were going to have to wait awhile for that westbound.  I’m not sure now, what the number of that train was.  It may have been No. 5...but that was a Saturday, so I couldn’t swear to that now!  I hoisted myself up onto the full-length black leather-covered cushion...leaned back against the rear wall of the cupola, and stretched out. I slid open the window that was alongside my head, as he had already done on his side, because it was a beautiful summer day.  So......there we relaxed, with those ham and cheese sandwiches and talking about life in general.  He asked me about my school grades, and I learned that he was married to the daughter of a conductor...or block operator...I forget exactly which now!  I’m sure it was one or the other.  One thing I’ll always remember, though, is that even though by then I had only turned 15 years of age, those guys never treated me like a kid.  They always treated me like an equal...I always felt comfortable and accepted.


     Pretty soon, that westbound made its stop at the station, east of where we were in the clear.  Shortly, the big K4s came blasting past us with its string of heavyweight Tuscan red cars, with the gold PENNSYLVANIA on their did the K4s on its tender.  I remember, it was a unique feeling...watching and listening to that big Pacific accelerating past us...from the open window of the cupola, atop an old wood-sheathed caboose.  Finally, the rest of the crew showed up...the Montauk Freight was back in business.


     That particular day was destined to produce another relaxing and soul satisfying wait that I’ll always remember.  Before we started moving out of the siding, Rich walked up to the head end and, eventually, only Rebel boarded the hack.  At Easthampton, a run-around move was made, to get two empty cars ahead of the engine.  That left one car and the hack behind the engine.  Those two empties needed to be ahead when we left Easthampton because they would be setout at the “fish factory” in the Promised Land.  Krantz and the other brakemen stayed with the engine because they would be working the setout at the “fish factory.”


     Now, I realize that “fish factory” and “Promised Land” may have some present day readers wondering!  The Promised Land was, back then, a desolate area of sand dunes between Amagansett and Montauk.  On the south side was the Atlantic Ocean and on the north was Napeague Bay.  Montauk Highway ran through the dunes between the railroad and the ocean.  The fish factory was a sizeable seafood processing plant, located between the railroad and Napeague Bay.  I never did know the business name of the operation.  It was always simply called the fish factory.  I have no idea what that area is like now.  I suspect that the Promised Land is not as desolate now as it was back then!  We moved from Long Island to New Mexico in 1978...and I haven’t been back since (as of this writing).  In fact, even before relocating to the Southwest, it had been years since I had been out to Montauk.  I can only describe the Promised Land as I remember it.


     Anyhow, we eventually arrived at the fish factory spur.  It was a facing point switch, which was the reason for those two empties having to be ahead of the engine.  Now, I sincerely hope that the reader will be able to develop a mental picture and understand the feelings I experienced, while reading what follows.  The spur curved away from the main track, turned north, and just basically disappeared into the sand dunes.  All I remember of the fish factory were some tall objects...maybe smoke or exhaust stacks of some sort...sticking up above the dunes in the distance.  After we stopped, short of the facing point switch, the engine and the cars ahead of it were cut off...and started slowly out into the dunes.


     As the hack and the single car ahead of it were left standing on the main track, Rebel dropped off with his flagging tools, began whistling his theme song, and headed slowly back along the track.  There was a lengthy stretch of straight track behind us, so his judgment told him that he didn’t need to go hiking too far.  I stepped out onto the rear platform of the hack and sat down on the left side, with my legs hanging down above the ties...and in front of the vertical engine-style steps, that were bolted to the underside of the wooden platform, flush with the edge.  Now, the feelings that I experienced that afternoon probably would have been more normal for a 65 year old man, instead of a 15 year old kid.  What I felt was peace, total contentment and an overwhelming love for life.  Especially life on the railroad!


     I ask the reader to picture this...really try to see it and feel it in your mind!  It’s a beautiful summer in 1947.  I’m sitting on the rear platform of the the middle of what amounts to untold acres of sand dunes.  The muffled sound of the ocean surf is drifting in from the south.  The distant, and equally muffled “chuffs” of the out-of-sight engine are drifting in from the dunes to the north.  Rebel is whistling “On Top of Old Smokey” in the shimmering distance...shimmering because of the hot air created by the summer sun.  Surprisingly, he’s sitting on one of those hot rails!  An Osprey is circling a huge nest, perched atop a pole out in the dunes...but not too far away.  Combine all that with the fact that there is not another sound.  No wind...not even a breeze.  No traffic on Montauk Highway, south of the railroad.  Not a sound except those I just described.  And even they are all softened by the hot distance...and the endless sand dunes.


     I will always remember it as one of the first really soul-satisfying moments in my life.  The railroad was not always a bedlam of noise, jarring motion and bone-shaking vibration.  It could also have its beautiful, peaceful and quiet moments.  Did I mention the pungent aroma of creosote floating up from the ties beneath my dangling feet...made even stronger by the heat of the sun...combined with the lack of even the slightest breeze?  The “perfume” of the railroad!  For me...right was absolutely perfect.


     Almost too soon, the engine was approaching, back through the sand dunes and onto the main track.  My idyllic daydreaming came to an end.  But...what I had experienced created a special place in my heart and soul.  And there it remains as though it was yesterday...instead of so many years ago.


     Another Saturday ride to Montauk created another experience for me.  But this one was not exactly soul-satisfying!  One or more of the guys in the crew would usually have their car parked at Montauk.  They would be off-duty until Monday, and usually went home for the weekend.  The Montauk Freight worked Monday to Saturday between Patchogue and Montauk.  The job was designated as L70 (eastbound) and L71 (westbound).  They made a one-way trip each day, alternating the direction, and ending up at Montauk on Saturday.  They all lived somewhere west of Montauk.  I remember that George Bohne lived in Patchogue.  George Eichorn, one of the well-known enginemen, lived in Amagansett.  I don’t recall, now, where any of the others lived.  Rich Bishop was originally from Southampton, but, if my memory serves me correctly, he and his wife lived somewhere else at that time.


     Anyhow, as I said, there was usually at least one car at Montauk.  The reason for that was because they had no way of knowing if they would arrive...and tie up...before that afternoon passenger train departed.  If they did make it in time, some of the guys would deadhead home on that train...especially anyone who lived west of Patchogue.  Whoever had the car...quite often George Bohne...would usually have at least one rider with him.  On this particular Saturday, we arrived and tied up before the departure time for that passenger job.  I had always ridden back, as far as Southampton, with whoever had the car.  This time, the guys who were going to deadhead on the train talked me into doing the same thing!  Now remember...I was 15 years old...and I think I looked it!  Sure, I had some engine grime on my jeans (dungarees back then!).  My shirt and jacket also showed the results of time spent on a steam locomotive.  My baseball style cap was sweat-stained and also pretty grimy...and my face wasn’t too clean!  I probably looked the part alright.  Except for my age!  We man to a the last car, where deadheading employees usually sat.  One of the guys...Rebel, if I remember right...set his brakeman’s lamp on the seat beside me.  He advised me...”Just say you’re a student brakeman, if he asks.”  “He” was the trainman who would be handling the flagging duties...and would therefore be spending most of his time in that rear car.


     Well, shortly after we pulled out of Montauk, the trainman walked into that rear car.  I can clearly remember my pulse quickening!  I didn’t have enough money with me to pay the fare if I got busted!  Thinking about it now, I have a strong hunch that my friends were playing a game with the see if they could smuggle me past him!  Maybe they even had a bet between them!  In any event, he passed the time of day with a couple of the guys...we were the only occupants in the car.  When he got to where I was sitting (really fast pulse now!), he stopped and looked at me for a second.  With no expression at all, he asked how I was doing.  I answered, “Pretty good.”  He stood there, looking at me, still no expression, glanced at the brakeman’s lamp next to me...and then continued towards the rear of the car.  I guess he sat down...I wasn’t about to turn and look!  Pretty soon, as we approached Amagansett, he walked forward through the car and into the next one ahead.  At the rest of the stops to Southampton, no passengers came into the car...and the trainman never showed up again.


     When we arrived at Southampton, I got up, gave the lamp back to Rebel, and with a still nervous, “Thanks a lot, I’ll see you,” I left the car by the front vestibule.  As I walked down the platform, there was the trainman, watching me approach (there goes the pulse rate again!).  Even though I’d always felt completely at home on railroad property, I really had to work on it right then!  As I got close to him, he nodded, still with no expression, and said, “Take it easy now.”  I answered with, “Yup, you too.”  Believe it or not, I wasn’t busted!  I never agreed to try that again, though...why push it!  Looking back now, I feel he might have suspected that something was fishy...and just looked the other way!


     My cab riding days finally came to an end on April 16, 1948.  My interested and dedication remained as strong as ever.  However, that was my 16th birthday...and I began working at the Southampton Theatre the next day.  You only had to be sixteen to work in a movie theatre back then.  During school season, it was basically a part-time job, with evenings and weekends.  However, during the summer, for me at least, it was a full-time job.  I just didn’t have as much free time anymore!  I was tied up all day and into the night, except on my two days off.  Unfortunately, Saturday was not one of them!  This meant that I was no longer able to ride to Montauk.  I couldn’t even visit with the crew while they did their setouts at Southampton!

     Those had been the real “Happy Days” for me!  However, a new era in my railroad education was about to begin.  I now think of it as “The Era Of J.V.O”.....James V. Osborne.