Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tuesday Video: Budd RDC's

Last week I stumbled upon this video about the Budd RDC. It's worth a watch! I'm a fan because the New Haven is featured in it pretty prominently, but...it's not entirely New Haven-centric!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Undergound Woman - Book Review

The first physical book I've read in ages.
A few weeks ago I was introduced to "Underground Woman" by Marian Swerdlow. Upon reading the back cover I immediately decided I had to read it and that I was probably going to love it.

I mean really:
  • It's a book about the New York City subway.
  • It's about being a conductor.
  • It's set in the 1980's.
Or in other words: three favorite topics lumped into one. So what is there not to love? Pretty much nothing, as far as I'm concerned.. In addition to the inevitable cheese factor of most things produced in the 80's, from a historical standpoint, I find that period in the history of the New York City subway fascinating. In the beginning of the decade, the system was a complete effing mess, and towards the end of the decade (also when I graced the planet with my birth, coincidence? JK) the MTA had made a concerted effort to turn things around with a better state of repair, new equipment, and less crime. The time described in the book stretches between 1982 and 1986 - so heavy on tales of the era of crap, and light on tales of the bounce back. The author left her job as conductor for a job in academia shortly after the R62's arrived. NYCSubway.org has a fantastic summary of the state of the system in the 1980's, which you can read here.

As one of the first female conductors at the TA, the author had to deal with a lot of condescension about her capability to perform her job, rude remarks, and sexual advances from coworkers as well as the riding public. She details some of the abuse suffered at the hands of passengers, from merely being spat on to actually being physically assaulted as she was observing the platform at a stop. There was also a big focus on union politics and trying to change things.

Towards the end you can tell that Marian hated her job...and she ultimately ended up deciding that the job wasn't for her and left to go teach in Buffalo. I'm glad she decided to share her story though. This was one of the best books I've read in a while. I definitely recommend it to anyone with even an inkling of interest in the subway, transit, or trains...and even daily commuters. Not that I'm totally qualified to make this statement, but the book definitely gives you an insight into what it actually is to be a conductor and helps dispel the stereotype that all they do is stick their head out the window at stations and press buttons for the doors.

Unfortunately this book isn't available in eBook form (sigh...) and is relatively expensive if bought new, but you can find some decent deals on it used at Amazon. You can also read my review of the book on Goodreads, which is basically just a shorter version of this.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tuesday Video: Mind The Gap

Normally, I use "Tuesday Video" posts to share some really cheesy nugget from the transit museum archives circa the mid-eighties, or some stupid video.

This week's post is a bit different. It's a video produced by a Boston University student whose father works for the MBTA up in Massachusetts and how fatalities on the job affect him, and his family. It's on the long side (16 minutes, give or take) however, it gives perspective about how the 'second victim' of hits is left to deal with the aftermath of people throwing themselves in front of trains. I think it's very well done. It won a whole ton of awards as well, a list of which can be found on this page. (Also, use that link to view the video if the embed isn't working for you.)

This video also doesn't do a single thing to change my view that 99.9% of the time when someone is hit by a train I honestly don't feel bad for them, it's the crew that has to live with the atrocity that I feel for.

Mind the Gap from kristal on Vimeo.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Original IRT Tour: 28th Street

28th Street station back in 1904
Oh hey, look: a new IRT station tour for the first time in months. The time was ripe for me to quit being a slacker, what can I say?

28th Street is on the IRT Lexington Avenue line (as have been most of the stations I've posted so far...) and is served primarily by the 6 train. The 4 stops here on its' late night schedule when it runs local. The station itself is a four track local station with side platforms. The two express tracks run at a slightly lower level through this station than the local tracks that serve the platforms.

Presently there are no passageways to cross over or under to the opposite platform. Once upon a time there was a cross-under, which has since been closed. If I had to venture a guess as to when the passageway closed, I would say it probably got sealed off around the time of the final platform expansion in 1948 as the platform is a bit narrow for a staircase in the area where the passageway was. The station layout itself is pretty similar to the rest of the local IRT stops, Throughout the course of its existence, the platforms in the station have been extended from their original length of 200 feet. In 1910, the platforms gained an extra 25 feet, and in 1948 they were extended to their present length of 520 feet.

The most noticeable difference between 28th Street and the rest of the stations that I've posted so far are the station plaques. Use of letters and numbers in the manner they were for the plaque here was not a typical design. The original ceramic work in the station was, like every other station we've seen so far, done by the Grueby Faience company because Heins and La Farge, who were the architects for the IRT station favored their work. In fact, by November 1902 the company had been given so much work for the subway that the architects were ordered to not give them any more orders until they caught up with the backlog they had already been commissioned to do. Outside of their work for the subway, the company was, at the time enjoying a healthy popularity, which also didn't help with the backlog. In fact, Grueby Faience ceramics were also used in the bases of Tiffany lamps, among other applications. During the above mentioned platform extensions, the architects and engineers who worked on those projects tried to replicate the original ceramics for use on the extended parts of the platform. The key word there, is try, because personally, I think the newer knock-offs are pretty hideous. Then again, I've gotten good at spotting original Faience ceramics - and I'm sure the average commuter probably doesn't notice or care, so it doesn't bother them. By and large, the renovations over the years have tried to remain faithful to the original design of the station, but one of the nicest original features is long since gone. The station originally had a decorative plaster ceiling with fancy mouldings. Today, the ceiling is just a plain painted arched ceiling, and just like tons of other station ceilings. (The plaster ceiling can be seen in the black and white photo at the top of the post.)

One of the passages for the station leads directly into the New York Life building. Those entrances have some interesting looking old signs instead of the typical globes. Interestingly, from 1837 to 1889, the site of the New York Life building was occupied by the depot for the New York and Harlem and New York and New Haven Railroads, which were both predecessors to the New York Central and New Haven Railroad respectively. The presence of the station is also reportedly one of the deciding factors for New York Life choosing the location for their headquarters.

There is also an art installation here entitled "7 Waves for Twenty Eight" on the uptown platform, It was installed in 1996 and done by Gerald Marks. It seems to have been commissioned for Arts for Transit if the artist's mid-90's website is to believed, but oddly enough it is nowhere to be found on the Arts For Transit site or the guidebook the MTA put together with the art installations throughout all the MTA agencies. (Yes, bridges are also included). That said, the piece is there - I'm not sure if the typical AFT plaque is next to it though. According to the artist's site, the piece is a giant computer animated mural.
7 Waves for Twenty Eight - Gerald Marks (1996)
"The mural will be built into glass blocks in which the curvature of the glass inside the block forms cylindrical lenses. Marks plans to use the lenticular (lens-like) properties of the block along with the appropriate lights, projectors, lenses, filters, in the space behind the wall to create a 3-D illusion art display. The mural will appear to move as you ride into the station"
Actual Arts For Transit piece or not, it's still an interesting addition to the station, although it's no Hive, which as discussed previously is my favorite AFT piece.

Below is a slideshow of shots from the station. As always, if your medium of choice for reading this doesn't like embeds from Flickr, you can look at them at this link.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Landrum, South Carolina: A Lesson in Preserving a Station

I could wax poetically about how the northeast takes a giant steaming dump all over their railroad history, particularly the city I called home for eight years (I'm looking at you Torrington, letting the station rot away until you had no choice but to demolish it.) but we'd be here all day, and the story I want to tell is the exact opposite of that.

I've written about the Saluda Grade before. My parents live in South Carolina, not far from a disused portion of the W Line owned by Norfolk Southern. About a mile north of where Norfolk Southern cut the line lies Landrum depot. In 1877, a guy named John Landrum gave the Southern Railway land to construct a station because the railroad had been extended into the northern part of Spartanburg county. The town of Landrum was founded in 1880 and was called Landrum Station until around 1900 when the "station" part was dropped. As like with many train stations, the structure standing today is not original because (you guessed it...) the original burnt down. Today's structure, however dates from the late 1800's, which is still super impressive. After the Southern Railway terminated passenger service to Landrum in the 1970's, the station changed hands and came into ownership by the "city" of Landrum (City is in quotes - because apparently a population of about 2400 counts as a city here...ha)

Since I've been coming down here (2008, for the record) it's been an interesting transformation to watch. Now, I never thought the station looked that terrible to begin with...then again being a Waterbury branch baby, my tolerance for dumpy stations is pretty high. However, apparently there were some structural deficiencies and a termite infestation, which are things that aren't usually readily apparent from driving by.

Landrum Depot circa June 2012
Station renovation last summer - bad white balance is bad.
In 2012, Landrum decided the station was being underutilized, and decided to renovate the station. $350,000 later, the building was finished in November 2013. Now the station is rented out for community use. The mayor of Landrum, Bob Briggs, has been quoted as saying that they don't intend to use the station as a revenue source, but they want it available for community use. So far they've rented it out enough that it's covered the maintenance and utilities for the year, which is a good sign, for sure. Apparently in the front part of the building has a mini-museum with some artifacts uncovered during the renovation like train logs, tickets, bullets, and Prohibition-era booze bottles. Unfortunately when I went poking around, the station was locked up tighter than a drum, I would have liked to have poked around inside too.

As I've said before, maybe one day there'll be trains running on these rails again...if the constant rumors that service will be restored over the Saluda Grade are true. Time will tell about that. However, it's nice to see a station maintain a relatively true appearance while finding new life with a new use instead of letting the station sit there to rot away from neglect. 

Circa 1982 - Credit: Jim Owens - rrpicturearchives.net
Panorama of how the station looks today (Click to expand)
Below is a slideshow of pictures I took just walking around the station on Sunday. As always, if your viewing device of choice isn't playing well with the embedded slideshow, click here to view it on Flickr.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

If This Site Were a Child...

We would be commencing the terrible twos today. July 22nd was the date of the first post on this site in its current form.

Since the last time I wrote a post like this, traffic has quadrupled, I actually was on TV (although not strictly blog related, it was, however railroad-related - as short as my appearance was - yay for being a "interested member of the public" at a commuter council meeting), one of my photos from the tumblr days was featured on Buzzfeed, I was interviewed for an article about transit tweeting written by Columbia students, I started a "feature" of touring the original IRT stations (which I am slowly pecking away at), written arguably the most popular post ever (it exploded the day of, and is right now fourth most read on the site), bought myself a decent camera, I scratched a few lines off the "Heather needs to ride x line in it's entirety" bucket list (Harlem and Port Jervis, plus the A Train from 207 Street to Far Rockaway and Rockaway Park) among other things.

Not a bad second year of existence at all. Can't wait to see what the next year brings. A job on the rails maybe? At any rate, thanks for sticking around and reading my nonsense for another year you guys!

I suppose if I had to choose a photo of the year, this would be it.
A Waterbury branch train in the Naugatuck State Forest heading north to Naugatuck station.
And since it's a Tuesday, the post needs a video, right? This is a cover of the Altered Images song "Happy Birthday" of Sixteen Candles fame that I put on last year's post. This one is by the Ting Tings and was disturbingly enough, in little kid show Yo Gabba Gabba. At any rate, I insist upon listening to either (or both) versions on my own birthday, so it's only fitting I use it on my blog, no? :)