John Pazmino
 NYSkies Astronomy Inc
 2004 November 13 
[This article was written before NYSkies set up its website and has 
minor editing, mainly to remove residual typos]
    Thruout 2004 the March of Dimes (MOD) is running excursions on the 
New York subway using the Transit Museum's nostalgic trains. March of 
Dimes hires the Museum trains from time to time, along with a transit 
crew, for its benefit functions.. 
    I went on two of these trips and reported on these in 'Crossing 
the bridge' and 'Dis da A train' here in NYSkies. On those occasions 
the R1/9 vehicles were highlighted. 
    In November 2004 MOD has a set of four trips, on the 6th, 7th, 
20th, and 21st. Because on the 7th and 20th I have other engagements 
(actually related to astronomy, if you can believe that!), I grabbed 
the chance to take in the November 6th ride 
Unspecified surprise
    The advertisement for the November trips was a bit vague. It 
promoted the Lo-V (loh-vee) train, a tour of the 207th St shops, and 
some unspecified surprise. 
    The Lo-V train was featured on October 23rd and 24th in the parade 
of nostalgic trains on the BMT Brighton line. A friend from the 
Transit Museum got me rides on it, there being no public rides for 
that show. It would be fun to get a ride again on this MOD trip. 
    The shop tour would be interesting. I missed several previous 
chances to visit this or other shops around the transit system. 
    And what ever other 'surprise' may come to me, well, that would be 
an extra treat. 
    I hurried to the meeting place, the center platform of Columbus 
Circle, IND 8th Av, for the noontime start of the trip. I met up with 
a transit buddy and about a hundred other subway fans. We drew stares 
from the regular subway riders because we were on a platform normally 
closed from the public. Across the tracks we shouted that we were 
waiting for a special tour train. 
The R1/9 train
    The initial part of the MOD tour was a ride on the IND classic 
coaches of the R1 thru R9 contract series. I elaborated on this coach 
in my two previous articles. This train has been in routine service on 
excursions all thruout 2004 both for MOD and the Transit Museum as 
part of the subway's centennial celebrations. 
    The ride was entirely uneventful, a run downtown from Columbus 
Circle to World Trade Center and then uptown to Dyckman Street, all on 
the IND 8th Av line. We had only one photo stop at World Trade Center, 
which I passed up for already having plenty of pictures of this train. 
    At Dyckman St the train left the mainline and spiraled into the 
surface-level 207th St shops. 
207th Street shops 
    The 207th St shop was the main depot for the IND system when it 
opened in 1930. Altho primarily a repair and service depot, it can 
sleep about twenty full length trains on its fan of tracks. This shop 
is located between Sherman Creek and Isham Park against the Harlem 
River flank of Manhattan's panhandle. 
    On a map it does look small, maybe a block wide and a couple long. 
When our train broke into daylight out of the subway, I was surprised 
how vast this place is! It looks to be something like 1 by 1/2 
kilometer in area. 
On the high sea 
    This shop illustrates one of the weird features of cargo railroads 
in New York City. They are isolated from the rails west of the Hudson 
River. Passenger rails cross the river thru Penn Station but no 
freight trains are allowed on them. 
    To move rail cargo between Rest of World and the City, the trains 
are sent to a yard to be cut apart into short segments. The segments 
are floated across the river om barges to an other yard, where the 
train is reassembled into its original full length. 
    This system of ferrying trains across the Hudson is the 'car 
float' system. It's not unique to the City but New York has far and 
away the largest and best developed car float in the country. Each 
year about 150,000  cargo cars are floated across Hudson River by the 
several depots on the New York side and the one depot in Greenville, 
on the New Jersey side. 
    When subway cars are transferred to or from the transit property, 
they travel by car float from the 207th Street, or at Sunset Park, 
shops. There we saw on the banks of the Harlem River the car float 
terminal, a veritable ferry slip, complete with the hooks and pulleys! 
It could have been for motor vehicles except that tracks led up to it. 
    The barge has rails on it to line up with those on land, so the 
rail cars can be rolled on or off. On the barge the car wheels are 
chocked. Tugboats move the barge to the Greenville terminal. 
Next stop, Davy Jones' locker
    The car float at 207th Street was dormant during our trip. It's 
only once in a while that subway cars move on or off the property. 
However, in this 21st century the car float was in heavy use for a 
really strange mission. 
    In 2000-2004 the entire fleet of oldest cars for the IRT lines was 
replaced by brand new vehicles. The old ones, called Redbirds from 
their dark red paint scheme, were sent to Davy Jones' locker. 
    Seriously, I'm not making this up.
    The cars were brought to the 207th Street shops, cleaned and 
stripped of obnoxious materials, then loaded on the barges. They were 
towed to offshore sites up and down the East Coast to be dumped 
overboard! When settled on the ocean floor, they become havens for 
reefs. Within months, the cars host new colonies of coral, fish, and 
other sealife. Divers now explore the cars like underwater caves. 
    In all, thru the last of the Redbirds in summer 2004, some 1.100 
old IRT cars were 'reefed'. They sit off New Jersey, Maryland, 
Delaware, and South Carolina. 
    You quickly learn after riding the New York subway for a few 
months that the cars on the IRT are distinct from those on the IND and 
BMT. The most obvious distinction between the two phyla of car is 
their width, length, and doors. 
    IRT cars are about 2.7 meters wide; IND/BMT, 3. IRT cars are all 
about 15 meters long with three doors on each side; IND/BMT, 18 to 23 
with four. With the both sets of car side by side on the yard tracks, 
these distinctions are all the more vivid. 
    The reason for this separated development is the stuff of urban 
legend. It's really quite simple. The tunnels of the IRT, built under 
19th century norms of railroading, are narrower and the curves are 
tighter than on the BMT or IND. The latter two networks were built in 
the 20th century with more ample clearances. Cars made for the latter 
tunnels and turns will not fit into the IRT. 
    To clear up one mistaken reason, the track gage (distance between 
the rails) and power supply are the same for all three divisions. And 
this is a good thing. 
IRT on IND! 
    Despite the necessity to keep the fleets separate for regular 
service, the IRT and IND/BMT are interconnected at various points so 
that IRT cars can be moved to shops, like that at 207th Street. The 
interconnects were made in the postwar era after the City acquired 
the private IRT and BMT companies to merge operations with the City-
owned IND. In this process the IRT's own central repair depot was 
eventually closed for being too obsolete. 
    For the 207th Street shop the link is between the 207th St and 
215th St stations on the IRT Upper Broadway line, which runs adjacent 
to the shop. It is a ramp leading into the uptown local track, so a 
train entering the Upper Broadway line is heading uptown. Switches 
near 215th St station allow the train to get to the other tracks for 
an express or downtown run. 
   This link, and all others thruout the subway, is carefully guarded 
to make sure only IRT cars cross over it, and never a BMT or IND car. 
Where's the power? 
    Our R1/9 train paused outside one hall, then started slowly into 
it. We deboarded from the front end door and rollaway steps. We filed 
along a marked path under guidance from the shop crew. Off limits 
areas were roped off and we were advised to keep within the delineated 
paths for obvious (and not so obvious) safety reasons. 
    The tracks in this hall are depressed to floor level like trollwy 
tracks and there is no longer a third rail. Besides the danger from 
contact by shop workers, the floor has to be smooth for moving wagons, 
carts, even motor vehicles around the shop. Third rail is laid only 
along the outdoor tracks of the shops, with occasional breaks for foot 
and road crossings. 
    To move a train within the shop or to feed electric to its 
mechanisms, heavy duty power cables are clamped to the power shoes. 
These are the 'tongues' hanging out between each pair of wheels of a 
subway car. They slide on the third rail to collect the electric. Our 
train paused outside the repair hall to attach this cable. 
Time warp 
    For the subway centennial some of the Museum trains were 
overhauled in this shop. They were in various states of decay from 
neglect or natural erosion. As we walked about, we saw four of these 
trains, First was the R1/9 train we arrived on. A team of workers 
started checking it over for later use in the centennial celebrations. 
    There was the Lo-V train, which we anticipated riding later in the 
day. Then we spotted the 'gate cars', which was the star of the 
October parade. Last up was the 'train of many colors'. This was a 
gaggle of IRT cars from the 1950s and 1960s, fully restored and 
painted in their original factory colors. Since the IRT went thru 
several color patterns over the years, we end up with a technicolor 
set of cars, the 'train of many colors'. 
    Watching the shop crews work on these trains, with modern tools, 
equipment, machines, was, erm, crazy. All the more so because the 
crews tended to these trains as casually and routinely as with the new 
models on adjacent tracks! 
Choo-choo chow 
    The trip began at noon and it was now a little after 13h. The shop 
set up a mess for us with belly-packing fare. I filled up with a 
chicken hero sandwich and bottle of fruit juice, then scooped up 
potato and macaroni salad. We deployed on the floor or at work tables 
around the shop. 
    Alas, as welcome as this lunch was, it made most of us miss the 
formal tour of the shop. The line for lunch was long and slow. And we 
were then encumbered with plates and bottles. Never the less, the shop 
crew accommodated to our questions and we took in enough of the 
activity to fill our interest. 
    The Transit Museum had souvenir stands with its mix of old and new 
transit items. I passed up on this, being that I work near the 
Museum's store in Grand Central Terminal. The favored item was a steel 
handhold, the 'strap' you hang from on crowded train, from reefed 
Redbirds. The director of my office has one in his room mounted on the 
wall for grabbing in tense moments. 
    The hall we were in catered to the wheels and trucks of subway 
cars. There were seemingly hundreds of trucks, the heavy carriage 
encasing the motors and wheels, lined up soldier-like on one side of 
the repair hall. On the sunken depowered rails, they looked very 
innocent. When galvanized, each truck sucks in 600 volts and spits out 
400 horsepower. 
    Between and below the rails was a man-high trench, reached by 
stairs from the floor level. This lets the underside of the trucks to 
be inspected and maintained. I can imagine how fanaticly torrid this 
trench is when a truck is moved over it fresh from the road. 
    To repair or replace a truck, the car is moved under a travelling 
crane. The entire car body is hoisted off of the truck. Yep, the car 
just sits on the truck with a sleeve bearing around the truck pivot 
with no mechanical connection. Electrical contact with the rest of the 
car is made with flexible detachable cables. 
    The wheels are seated on the axle by shrink fit. The wheel is 
electricly heated, making it and its center hole expand. The wheel is 
pushed onto the axle  by hydraulic press and allowed to cool. The 
shrinking wheel grabs the axle with around 40 tons of pressure! 
    Removing a wheel is done by brute force. The hydraulic press yanks 
the wheel off of the axle. After dressing the axle for scoring and 
gouging, it's ready for a replacement wheel. 
    The Lo-V train wasn't ready for us yet. To pass the time, the crew 
rolled out the gate cars. 
    The gate cars!! 
    These are the oldest car in the Museum, built in 1903, predating 
the underground railroad. They were made by the BMT's predecessor 
Brooklyn Rapid Transit, which at the time was converting its els from 
steam locomotives to electric third rail. 
    Remember that the 'centennial' you're hearing about is for only 
the SUBWAY. New York City (and the then-separate Brooklyn) were 
running rapid transit by steam locomotives and elevated structures 
since the 1870s. 
    Only three specimina of the original many hundred coaches survive. 
For decades they were static exhibits in the Museum. At 207th St shop 
they were carefully restored to a glistening factory-fresh condition. 
I missed actually riding them in the parade on October 23rd and 24th, 
being content then to photograph them from the stations along the way. 
Tragic history 
    These cars, like all el cars of the early 20th century, were 
patterned after railroad vehicles of the 19th century. They were made 
of wood with simple fittings and furnishings. The earliest models were 
trailers, no motors, for being hauled by miniature locomotives. These 
particular gate cars are among the first set of electric rapid transit 
vehicles in New York. 
    The Brooklyn system was an all-el grid spreading out from what is 
now Cadman Plaza to the far corners of the city. Urban astronomers now 
today starview in Cadman Plaza on the exact spot where the sprawling 
Brooklyn el terminal and yard stood on stilts high above the streets. 
    In the 1910s Brooklyn Rapid Transit began building subways and 
ordered new cars. By then steel was the preferred material, a practice 
initiated by the IRT company for its own subways. But the BRT 
continued running the woods on both el and underground sections. 
    On 1 November 1918 during a wildcat walkout by train drivers, the 
BRT sent office workers to run its trains. One was assigned to a wood 
train -- virtually the same as our gate cars -- starting from 
Manhattan's City Hall (Brooklyn has its own, thank you very much), 
over Brooklyn Bridge, thru the Cadman Plaza complex, and eventually 
onto the Brighton line. 
    The driver had only momentary tuition at the controls. He entered 
Prospect Park station, on a short tunnel under Malbone Street, too 
fast. The train derailed. The wood cars burst against concrete walls. 
Third rail sparks ignited fires. Some 100 riders were killed, an other 
hundred were injured. 
    So horrible was the accident that the BRT reorganized as the 
Brooklyn Manhattan Transit company, the BMT. The street was rebuilt 
and renamed Empire Boulevard. (A short piece of the old alignment of 
Malbone St remains a kilometer east of Prospect Park.) 
    And wood cars were banned from carrying riders in subway. 
    The woods were supposed to be totally scrapped in favor of the new 
steel vehicles. With continuing shortage of cars, they were maintained 
for emergency use. That's how, by sheer luck, we have these last three 
to delight 21st century New York. There's even the BRT name still 
burnished on glass panes inside the cars! 
Living legacy
    The banishment of the woods from underground service is still on 
the books, long after the woods were confined to all-el operations by 
1930. This rule bit us in 2004 during a series of MOD trips with these 
gate cars. The cars were towed by the R1/9 train partly because the 
gate cars weren't yet fully operable on their own power. 
    The greater reason was the no-rider rule. When the excursion train 
approached a subway section, the train crew shooed riders out of the 
gate cars into the R1/9 cars. When the train emerged into el sections, 
the excursionists were allowed back on the gate cars! 
The gates 
    The gate cars have no side doors at all, just a long row of 
windows from end to end. At each end of the car is a porch enclosed by 
a waist-high lattice fence. The fence panel against the station 
platform is a gate worked by manual lever and linkage. It opens and 
closes much like the clamshell front doors of certain buses. 
    A gateman is needed at each coupling between cars to work the 
levers. After the gates are closed and riders are safely inside the 
cars, the gateman rang a bell on the hood over the porch. When the 
driver got the bell from all gatemen he threw the train into gear. 
    Riders were supposed to only board and deboard thru the gates. 
They must continue into the car thru end doors. With the overcrowding 
prevalent in the old days, riders crammed onto the porch. 
    There's room for six people on each porch, three on each side, 
leaving a corridor for the end door. In a crush, two more on each 
porch can stand at the end door, blocking it. 
More living legacy
    Modern cars have no such porch. Every one must ride within the 
body of the car. Yet you hear announcements that you must not ride, or 
walk, between cars. 
    We STILL ride outside the car! 
    During my house sitting years on Manhattan the Lexington Av line 
was so stuffed with people it was impossible to squeeze onto the train 
thru the side doors. We on the platform, after hopelessly waiting for 
a lesser loaded train, climbed between the cars and rode on the little 
apron outside the end doors! 
    Yes, the conductor yelled at us and even let out a naughty phrase 
or two. That we could take as the price for getting to work or home on 
time. The ride on the end apron was, to be polite, noisy as Hell. 
    There was a protocol to observe. Woe be to the one who tried to 
buck it. Only two people fit on the apron of each car. No newspaper 
reading or other space-grabbing activity. No spitting or puking into 
the wind. No food or drink or loud radios. Latch the safety chain back 
behind you. Call your stop before reaching it so other apron riders 
can ease out of your way. Stifle your nature calls. 
Lift off! 
    When word rang out about the gate cars, we all cheered! The shop 
crew led us to a train platform nestled between other shop buildings. 
There the gate train twinkled in the sunlight! 
    For this ride only one gate was open, minded by crew on the 
platform. It took a good fifteen minutes to board the hundredish folk 
wanting the ride. With a throw of the lever and satisfying latching 
click, the platform attendant rang the bell. 
    With a sudden lurch and rattling of chains and loose fittings, our 
train eased out of the station. We spiraled around the yard to the 
Upper Broadway line just outside the campus. The train was up to the 
task easily, sliding onto the mainline as if it was merely the next 
run of a normal service life. 
    We let off some excursionists at 215th St for picture taking; we 
will pick them up on the return leg. then we flipped onto the center 
track for a roll uptown. 
Ride with your head, not without it
    What a difference! It's one thing to look out an open window at 
the countryside rolling by. But you are still 'in the car'. It's quite 
an other to be outside with nothing between you and the outer space 
but a thin lacy fence. 
    As we boarded and again when we were about to depart the shop, the 
crew loudly warned us to keep heads and hands inside. This certainly 
applied to us on the porch. It also was applicable to those in the 
seats. The windows on this train open from the BOTTOM, like ordinary 
house windows! It takes just an instant of foolhardiness to terminate 
your earthly existence. 
    It didn't take long to see the sense of this warning. Within 
seconds after leaving the shop's platform, a thick wayside pole 
whizzed by mere centimeters from our faces. We all were extra careful 
to stay within an imaginary plane above the porch fence. 
    I have to credit the discipline of the riders for not tempting the 
fates. On previous trips, many excursionists recklessly leaned out of 
the windows for a photo shoot in the face of warnings by the crew. 
Today on the gate cars, I didn't see anyone itching to trade life or 
limb for a better picture angle. 
BMT on IRT? 
    I explained before that BMT trains can not run on the IRT, yes? 
Well, here we were, a pure BMT train on a pure IRT el! The trick is 
that the gate cars are of 19th century design, with narrow bodies and 
short length. They are, in fact, pretty much like the IRT;s own el 
    And so, we took to the foreign rails like we belonged there. 
Rumbling thru space
    The Upper Broadway line is the last remaining el on Manhattan, 
being the northern extremity of the underground branch out of 96th 
Street station. It is a glatt el with three tracks, wood ties and 
deck, cute station houses. It sits on tall stalks to even out the ups 
and downs of the terrain. This profile made for some soaring and 
swooping and a gorgeous glide over Harlem River into the Bronx. 
    It's a good thing we were on the center track! Not only for the 
nonstop rumble but also to avoid conflict with the regular trains. 
This is a busy part of the system, even on the Saturday of our trip, 
Regulars shot by in each direction on the local tracks every two to 
three minutes! They greeted us with horn toots. Their windows were 
filled with nose-pressing gawkers, At the stations, waiting riders 
stared in disbelief. Not only were they seeing an antique train but 
they saw people riding on the outside with only a low flimsy fence to 
keep them from tumbling onto the track! 
    With no confinement by window frames, I drank in the fantastic 
vista. Wide sweeps of the Manhattan and Bronx countryside, long peers 
into the side streets, bird's eye views of the Harlem River, Beneath 
the the rattles and clanks and hisses of the train was an undercurrent 
of clicks and whirs of cameras. We burned thru a lot of film and chip! 
    There's little artistic relief, if you can't stomach walls of 
graffiti, car carcasses, weed-filled lots, glass-strewn alleys. On the 
other hand, we spotted Baker Field of Columbia University, Isham and 
Inwood Hill Parks, Marble Hill and Fieldston 'hoods, Metro North rail 
line. Manhattan College, Soviet 'spyscraper', and Van Cortlandt Park. 
An incident averted? 
    At one point we stopped for a signal to clear. There in the street 
below was a gang of youths in horseplay. I hope it was only horseplay. 
Suddenly as we sat still about 50 meters slant range, one of the men 
looked up and pointed. He grabbed his fellows to look. In an instant 
all eight or so guys were waving and shouting to us! We were way too 
far away for voice; we made do with waves and gestures. With a jolt, 
we started up again, leaving the gang as friends now. Did we dissipate 
a possible nasty incident? 
    All along the way, from 215th St to 238th St (the paenultimate 
station on this line) we drew attention from the street. Every one saw 
us! We got waves, pointed fingers, rubbed eyes. One woman was so 
stunned as she walked with arms full of shopping, she let her bags 
spill on the ground! 
Modern 'gate' car 
    The gate train will run for special occasions. You'll learn about 
them thru transit, not astronomy, litterature. Yet, you can tomorrow 
acquire much of the flavor of these ancient trains with modern cars 
rolling around the subway. 
    Modern cars are fully enclosed with flat vertical end faces. One 
model, the R40 car, has at its ends a slanted fiberglass (or such) 
face. It is one of the most distinctive cars on the system, easily 
recognized as it swooshes thru the stations. 
    Today these cars are assigned to routes B (Brighton via 6th 
Avenue), N (Sea Beach via Broadway), and W (Astoria via Broadway). 
Only 1/3 of trains on route N are R40s; you may let a couple trains 
pass by before catching an R40 train. The other two routes are almost 
completely R40s. 
    One peculiarity you notice is that the EVEN numbered couplings, 
besides the very ends of the train, have the slant face. The ODD 
couplings have flat faces. The R40s were made as coupled pairs. The 
inner ends of the pair have the vertical faces; outer, the slants. A 
full length train consists of five pairs, 
    The B service has open air sections on Manhattan Bridge (north 
side) and along the Brighton line. From Prospect Park thru Avenue H 
the Brighton line is in a trench. south of there the line runs on 
either a berm or steel & wood el. The N service runs on Manhattan 
Bridge (south side) and in trench along the Sea beach section. Both N 
and W trains operate on el along the Astoria line. 
    Having found the R40 train, walk between the cars at the even 
couplings. You step onto a little porch fenced in by heavy square bars 
and a chain. Wrapping around the bars secures you against bouncing off 
of the porch as the train shakes and quakes. The sloped faces open a 
wide vista and the wind (and noise!) whistles thru your head. 
    I strongly advise that you lay off of this ride when the porch is 
wet with snow, ice, rain. It may be very slippery. If such is the 
case, the weather is likely too harsh for outside riding anyway. 
    One blessing is that there's no danger of being whacked by 
obstructions. The fence is recessed more than arm's length from the 
car sides. Even so, please stay put, no funny antics, OK? 
    The best prospect is on Manhattan Bridge itself. From the south 
side tracks via the N train you see Lower Manhattan and the Harbor. On 
the B train from the Bridge's north tracks you overlook Midtown 
Manhattan and East River. The view from the N or W train on the 
Astoria line faces Midtown Manhattan. 
Sunset on the rails 
    It was late in the afternoon as our gate train rolled back and 
forth above Broadway. The Sun was skirting the housing blocks, 
throwing long shadows into the streets. We headed back to the shop. By 
radio, the crew got word that the Lo-V, the original highlight of the 
excursion, was now ready for our ride, . 
    Off the mainline we spiraled, back to the service platform in the 
shop.  We pulled in right in front of the Lo-V train, all fancied up 
for us. We boarded, waited for the gate train to move out of the way, 
and started to roll.
    It was now early twilight. 
    All was well for a couple minutes, then, Boom! Motors bucked and 
chattered. Wheels span. Circuit breakers popped. Something was truly 
wrong. A bevy of train crew huddled at the driver's cab. Lots of 
banter by radio, much fiddling with the driver controls. 
    No go. The Lo-V was not up to the mission. After a half hour, by 
now in deep twilight, the crew let on that we had to cut short the 
trip. Our tickets were now rain checks for one of the other November 
trips. For this reason, as well as the length already of this article, 
I leave out a discourse about the Lo-V car. It's enough to note that 
this was the standard coach of the IRT until the 1960s, when the 
Redbirds replaced it. 
    Uh, we're on the center track with no way to deboard. The crew 
nursed the train enough to move it without risking a shutdown of the 
whole line. Slowly and carefully the train hobbled along. We ended up 
at the northern terminal, Van Cortlandt Park. The Lo-V shuddered to a 
stop and let us off. We dispersed for home on regular trains.