Railfan Recollections at
Posted right column is an article appearing in the Patchogue Advance from December 15, 1945 covering an interview with Thomas Gafney, 1st trick block operator for many years at “PD” tower, Patchogue. Click article to enlarge.
Below is a copy of one of operator Gafney’s Form 19 train orders from February, 1945, made complete at 7:07 am, shortly after the start of Mr. Gafney’s 1st trick and addressed to the conductor and engineer of the Sperry Rail Service car #120 as it passed through Patchogue eastbound headed for “SK” at Speonk during its annual track inspection. The order also identifies westbound Speonk train #21 as being pulled by leased PRR E6s class (4-4-2) locomotive #1600.
All material: Archive
|I started seriously photographing the LIRR in 1966 at age 14. I saved all my money and purchased a Yashica twin-lens reflex camera which used 127 size film and proceeded to self-teach myself how to take photos with a manually adjustable camera. My parents’ camera experiences were with Kodak Brownie box cameras. The square format did not lend itself to taking railroad photos, but what did I know? I had no one to ask. However, I made do with what I had.|
|I was determined to take photos of LIRR structures only, but railfans
will attest to the fact that you can’t take just one type of rail photo.
Structures led to motive power, train crews, etc., etc. My father would take me around
|I lived 5 miles from Patchogue in a town called Holtsville.
We had our own railroad station, but unfortunately it was razed before I
had a chance to photograph it.
|Patchogue had a beautiful old wood and brick railroad station that I
still remember vividly which was unfortunately torn down in 1963, prior to my
being able to photograph it.
|I was able, however, to photograph “PD” tower, the only remnant left of the old Patchogue locomotive terminal facility in 1966. I photographed it from every different angle. In 1968, a friendly block operator who will remain anonymous, allowed me into the tower to take interior photographs.|
|In 1970, I decided to pedal my bicycle 5 miles into Patchogue with my camera slung around my neck to see if I could re-gain entry into the tower. I managed to befriend the block operator there, and the rest became history. (His name and trick will also remain anonymous as I would never want any kindness he afforded me to jeopardize his pension, etc. should he still be alive.)|
|I found out from past experience with other railroaders that photographs
opened doors. If someone allowed me
to photograph themselves and their facility, I promised them copies of the
photos I took. Of course, they
figured it was just talk. However,
when I returned within a week or two with photos which I gave them, then I was
usually invited back.
I hung out at “PD” for short stretches at first, usually over vacation periods from school and later between semesters at college, taking photos of the interior of the tower, of the operator at work, of trains, both passenger and freight from the tower and any track cars performing trackwork.
Being invited back, and being assured that I wasn’t being a royal pain
in the butt to the operator (they really hated railfans who were pesty and
obnoxious. I tried to be neither) I lengthened my stay at the tower a bit longer
Train Order No. 32
April 6, 1906
Engine #224 would be a D-16b (4-4-0)
I became such a regular feature at the tower that no one of importance took any notice of me there. For all they knew, I was another railroad guy, killing time with the operator until my train left for my job assignment.
Block operator at PD throwing levers after tower
|At first they had manually-operated crossing gates.
The operator would flip a switch which set the crossing lights flashing
and bells ringing, and then levers were turned, lowering the gates.
I remember one operator on an earlier tower jaunt who would turn on the
bells and lights every time he saw some dummy stop his car in traffic across the
Right of Way. You never saw such
contortions as the driver would attempt to get off the tracks, thinking a train
West Ave Shanty looking NE '68
I even lowered and raised the gates a time or two. Then they were replaced by automated lights and gates (9/70) and another bit of history went by the wayside.
|I took all kinds of photos, ones of the tower interior before renovation, after renovation, hanging out various windows getting trains, Sperry Rail Service cars, track cars, hundreds of shots of the Patchogue-Babylon “Scoot” in action, Montauk-bound and returning parlor car trains, Speonk-bound and returning coach trains, special trains, inspection trains and many freights.|
|I took shots of Engineers and Conductors catching train orders in the
crooks of their arms, and shots of the old lantern-style train order
notification light with icicles hanging from it during the winter, before the
automatic train order light was installed on the block signal tower pole.
One engineer called in from further on along the route angry and irate, demanding to know who the guy was who took his picture and demanding it be destroyed.(!!) His name will remain anonymous as well. That was the only bad experience I ever had at the tower.(P.S. I still have the negative.)
A nice experience was when the Conductor of the regular
Bridgehampton-bound freight asked the operator one day if the “kid would like
to go for a ride with them.”
A nice experience was when the Conductor of the regular Bridgehampton-bound freight asked the operator one day if the “kid would like to go for a ride with them.”
There was a no-brainer question for a railfan!
|I took two separate trips with
them, riding in the old cupola-topped cabooses of the C-90 numbered series.
It was great fun, except when we stopped for a layover at the Eastport
Duck Farm. Van Iderstine’s in Long Island
Another time, the freight Conductor was getting ready to step off the bottom step of the moving caboose at Bridgehampton to position himself to throw the switch and he forgot he was already on the bottom step. He thought he was stepping down one step, but he stepped off into air and rolled quite a ways along the roadbed thanks to our momentum before he came to a stop. He was not a kid, and I was very surprised when we stopped and ran back to him that he was just dirty and sore!
For three summers I worked on the LIRR as first a ticket clerk and later
as Special Services Attendant while attending college.
It was a special program they had. This
time I would legitimately wait in the tower while waiting for my train into
Jamaica for my walk through third-rail territory to Richmond Hill yard (it was
safer walking along the tracks then walking along Sutphin Blvd., Archer Avenue
or Jamaica Avenue!) or the Jamaica Commissary, under the tracks on the East side
of Sutphin Blvd. from where the Special Services Attendants worked. (There also
was a Commissary at track level, below the staircase along one of the tracks at
Penn Station I can’t remember
which track, however.)
For three summers I worked on the LIRR as first a ticket clerk and later as Special Services Attendant while attending college. It was a special program they had. This time I would legitimately wait in the tower while waiting for my train into Jamaica for my walk through third-rail territory to Richmond Hill yard (it was safer walking along the tracks then walking along Sutphin Blvd., Archer Avenue or Jamaica Avenue!) or the Jamaica Commissary, under the tracks on the East side of Sutphin Blvd. from where the Special Services Attendants worked. (There also was a Commissary at track level, below the staircase along one of the tracks at Penn Station I can’t remember which track, however.)