1930’s Rail Yards

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A view looking Southwest at the working rail yards, taken shortly after the High Line was built (date and photographer unknown). Note the boxcars; the rail yards were originally used for freight, but are now used for Long Island Rail Road trains. The Miller Elevated Highway can also be seen, to the right.

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3 Responses

  1. This photo is incredible. Check out the Starrett-Lehigh building in the center– one of the most distinguished buildings in New York.

  2. […] that focuses on the development of the 26.2 acres of land on Manhattan’s West Side has posted a great photo of the West Side Yards in the 1930’s. A view looking Southwest at the working rail yards, taken shortly after the High Line was built […]

  3. I had, one day, roaming through Riverside Drive Park, somewhere down near 92nd Street, discovered a dark, cool railway tunnel which ran right underneath the length of the park almost like a subway train ; a place the existence of which, I’m sure, very few native New Yorkers even suspected. I entered the tunnel through a ventilation grill which had been vandalised allowing me to slip through a small opening between the bent iron bars ; a cavernous orifice led to a small concrete ledge overlooking the tunnel and the tracks below. The underground edifice was eerily lit by shafts of daylight that filtered through holes pierced in the high ceiling producing a strange, almost cathedral-like effect. In reality, seen from above, those openings – which also provided a precious little fresh air – took the appearance of heavy iron sidewalk grates that most everyone walked upon without ever giving them any notice.
    I would sometimes climb inside there just to be alone and invisible, sitting with my legs dangling over the ledge, unseen, watching the trains go by ; long, endless freight trains pulling boxcars, flatcars, gondolas or hoppers, refrigerator cars, and even stock cars and usually tailed by a red caboose… .
    I was like a little boy, fascinated by the exotic names and logos of the different railway lines painted in gay circus colors on the sides of the railroad cars : The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, the Erie Lakawanna, the B&O, the Soo Line, the Union Pacific and the Canadian Pacific amongst others, repeating themselves in a long, enduring litany as the trains rolled on and on and on…
    I dreamed of one day hitching a ride on one of those trains, as hoboes do in the movies, travelling across the entire country, watching the changing scenery rushing by, framed by the boxcar’s open door…

    Now, my decision was made. For the first time, I let myself fall from my cement balcony, sliding along the wall, blackened by the soot, and landing, more or less on my feet. It was a strange, exciting, new sensation being right down there beside the tracks. I hid myself in a dark cavity in the wall, waiting for the next train to pass.
    After several fruitless attempts at catching a boxcar, I ended up in a open gondola or, rather, a hopper loaded with gravel. The exploit of catching a train in motion proved more difficult than I had imagined. In the first place, most of the boxcars were locked and sealed. The second difficulty is that they are higher from the ground than they seem. Also, even trains that appear to be moving slowly require you to be a good sprinter. Finally, grasping the cold metal ladder without having your arms ripped off takes a bit of training ; it’s a very perilous gymnastic exercise…
    In reality, the train I finally jumped didn’t get me very far…. Anyway, I had succeeded in catching one and I could feel the exhilarating power of the locomotive far up front of the long line of cars and the thumping clatter of the wheels gliding along the rails…. After plodding around the perimeter of the hopper discovering the sturdy vehicle, I sat on the edge of the car for a while, but then resolved that it was less uncomfortable lying flat on my back settling into the gravel…
    A few miles later, the train suddenly emerged into the blinding afternoon sunlight. Such Barrabas coming out of the salt mines…, when I recovered my sight, I distinguished the more suburban style of the surrounding architecture. Occasionally, kids hanging over the railings of an overhead pedestrian footbridge would wave their hands at the incongruous clandestine passenger, as the convoy rolled by…
    Shortly, the train crossed an old steel railway bridge over the Harlem River through the Bronx and, thusly, gained the mainland of New York State. There, it gradually slowed almost to a stop arriving at a freight yard terminal, where the different types of freight cars were to be sorted. After countless jerking, bumping, screeching manoeuvres the hopper car stopped definitively. Looking over both sides of the car, I saw long networks of tracks lined with railroad cars of every description…

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