Ernie Murphy LIRR Anecdotes


My dad, Ernie Murphy, worked for the LIRR in the power section, he helped keep the third rail energized. I got to see many of the old style sub stations with him, huge brick buildings always filled with hot dry ozone filled air from the huge droning motor generators in there.

I have a few stories and memories of dad that may be worth sharing. I’m going to post them in this thread as they come to mind. Dad started with the road about 1960, retired in about 1980 and he passed in 2004. 

1964 World's Fair Memories

I was a 7 year old boy when the Worlds Fair opened. Funny, how as a kid you think the most bizarre thing is normal if it’s something your family does. Looking back I can imagine a day at the Worlds Fair would be quite expensive for even a small family, yet we did it at least once a month it seems.

How could a frugal family visit so often, besides brown bagging lunch?

Well… though it’s probably been rebuilt, over on Meridian Road on the north side of the fair grounds (where the tennis center now sits) is a LIRR Sub Station. The current structure looks like cement block construction, I remember an almost gothic red brick structure holding several motor-generator sets. I also remember 3 tracks next to it, and that puts it a little east of the current location; in any case, just over the tracks there was the LIRR pavilion of the World Fair.

Dad seemed to have keys for everything, either these gates were all keyed alike or he just loved keys (I think a combo of both is correct). So he’d drive the family to the sub station, open the gate, drive in, lock the gate behind. So we had free parking about 100 feet from the Fair.

100 feet? Where is the nearest entrance gate… I never knew, I never once went into the Fair thru the entrance. Once out of the car we would cross the tracks (AFTER Dad once again every time giving the third rail warning) to the building on the far side.

At the end of the LIRR exhibit was a men’s and woman’s bathrooms. Now the bathroom building didn’t quite touch the next building, there was maybe a two foot gap between. We would all shimmy between, then pop up like any refreshed visitor leaving the well-used bathrooms. Free Admission !

And even better, we’d be in the heart of the LIRR pavilion!

Grade Crossing Guessing Game

We seemed to always be driving somewhere! For one, mom’s parents retired up in the Catskills which was a 3 hour drive each way, and we’d go once a month for the weekend. So we always made up driving games to play.

We had a favorite game on the island while waiting at a grade crossing. We’d always ask dad “which way the train will pass,” either right to left or left to right. Let me tell you, my dad could nail this one, I mean maybe 80% of the time he would call it correctly. And he’d play it up too, checking his watch and seemed to be thinking it over.

(For those of you using the play at home version: stop now and see if you can figure out his trick before I say it below.)

Me and my sis never knew how he did it, but I guess we both assumed that since he worked for the railroad he memorized the whole timetable. I kind of remember a complete system timetable he would carry with him every day, so he did have the capability of knowing the whole schedule.

After dad passed my sis and I were sharing some happy memories when we talked about this one. I wondered aloud how he did it, and she laughed. Seemed she’d talked to dad about this not too long before and he told her how he did it: if it was morning he’d guess towards NYC, evenings guess out to the island.

Today I play the same game with my wife or anyone else in the car on the odd occasion we get stuck at grade.

Of course I’ve never tell them the trick!

The Elephant Trap 

My dad had a good personal friend on the railroad. I don’t know his last name because he was always “Uncle Bill” to me. Bill ran the sub station at Springfield Junction (by the Laurelton station, on 225th Street).

At that time the power sub station were huge brick structures containing multiple motor-generators to convert commercial 60-cycle power to 700 volts DC to power the third rail. I believe this station had 2 units running, with space for a third available. The motor/gen units were always spinning and made a considerably loud droning noise. You could not hear someone talk unless they were standing directly next to you. There was a small office near the front door along one wall that was enclosed with a door that kept the noise down to comfortable levels.

The stations were manned 24/7 mostly to have someone immediate on standby, so there was considerable down time. Some nights my dad would go to visit, perhaps with a six pack to further stimulate conversation. Dad and bill would sit in the office to talk and I would go outside. Along the embankment was a place where trash was burned and flasks were disposed of, literally hundreds of beer bottles and pint flasks of scotch and such used I suppose to help pass too many idle hours. Different times, different times. I would line them up and throw ballast stones at them and break them up. Great fun for a kid!

Anyway, as we would leave for the evening my dad had his last fun. Back then he drove a mini-cooper, one of the smallest cars ever to hit the American road. The station had a pair of power poles in the back lot set just barely wide enough to fit the Cooper. No other car could possible fit the space; it was a very tight fit. It must have been disconcerting for Bill to watch my foolish dad drive for near certain damage every time he left as dad would accelerate thru the poles before he made the turn for the street. Much yelling would ensue after, with Bill concerned over possible damages and my dad chuckling over pulling one over on a friend.

The initial attempt to prevent my dad’s passage was just a warning sign on paper held up by a string between the poles. My dad judged it’s height, checked his radio antenna, and that night going home he drove right thru the warning barrier, easily snapping the string as he accelerated it.

A better plan to stop my dad necessary.

The next time we visited the space was different. A 3 foot wide hole had been dug to perhaps a foot deep. The dirt from this hole was packed around it. You would be leery of driving an all terrain vehicle thru this now. 

My poor dad. He knew he was finally beaten!
Anecdotes provided by his son: Ernie Murphy