Ed Devlin, Former New York Central Railroad Worker

Ed Devlin, on his wedding day in 1950, and working at the Metropolitan Museum in 2009

We were recently lucky enough to speak with a former New York Central Railroad employee named Ed Devlin. Sixty years ago, Ed worked at the rail yards that fed onto the High Line when it was part of a working railroad. He was kind enough to share his memories from long before the park in the sky was ever known as the High Line.

ED: It was 1949, and I had just come out of the Marine Corps. I worked at New York Central from 1949 to 1953. My hours were 6:00 PM to 2:00 AM – devastating hours for a newlywed. Approximately once a week, I’d be sent over to the rail yards at 10th to 12th  Avenue in the west 70’s. My job was just to look at the freight train as it went by.

I would stand there near a spotlight and do two things. I had to write down the name of each freight car – New York Central, Bangor & Maine, Pennsylvania Railroad, Santa Fe, etc. – and the number on the car, which had something like nine or ten digits. And even though the train was moving at maybe 8 or 9 miles an hour, it went by fast. It was tricky. I had to remember the names and numbers and write quickly.

At first I wondered why I was doing this. And then I found out that each railroad would charge the other railroads a passage fee for using their tracks. Additionally, it was important to make sure the cars were in the right order for every building scheduled for the drop. The cars’ numbers related to their proper order.

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High Line Regular Tommy Flamer

Friends of the High Line staff have known neighborhood resident Tommy Flamer for a long time. Before Section 1 opened, Tommy was a fixture at all of our Rail Yards hearings, community meetings, and public programs. We would often spot him walking underneath the High Line, looking up.  Always curious and ready to chat, his excitement and friendly demeanor led to quick friendships with many of us on staff. Since the park opened, Tommy sightings on the High Line have been commonplace.

When I finally got to sit down with Tommy on a brisk December evening to ask him some questions, I found an untapped treasure chest of historical information on the High Line and the surrounding neighborhood. Tommy has lived in Chelsea since 1968, and has lived in his current home on 18th Street since 1979. As a young man he worked as a stock boy at the now defunct Valley Drugs, a pharmacy on 14th Street and 7th Avenue, and then as an elevator operator in London Terrace and at the Leo House.

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1948 Aerial Photo

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The West Side, from about West 15th Street to West 10th Street. Courtesy Nick Jones. Click to Enlarge.

High Line supporter Nick Jones recently sent this great aerial shot our way. He tells us it was taken in 1948, and that the aircraft  (from left to right a Stinson SR-10, Grumman Widgeon, and Grumman Goose) are all NYPD planes.

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Peter Obletz: The High Line’s Original Friend

Peter Obletz

Obletz outside his home in 1983

The High Line in 2009 is a story of success. After ten years of arguing, working, raising money, convincing, and building, the High Line finally opened as the civic marvel that many had dreamed it could become during its decades of disuse. However, this story of success began with a much earlier fight back in the 1970s , when a man named Peter Obletz first walked the High Line- what he referred to as a “mile and a half long cocktail sausage on toothpicks.” Though Obletz ultimately failed to convince the city to reuse the High Line, his initial fight paved the way for the successes of the future.

Obletz, a former dance-company manager and train enthusiast, lived in a concrete block railroad building next door to two antique rail cars he had painstakingly restored in the late 1970s. Obletz took his first trip up to the High Line during this time and fell in love immediately. The subsequent story has been recounted many times since, from his purchase of the line from Conrail for $10, to his long and draining fight to preserve it both for commercial and public use, to his untimely death in 1996. Continue reading

Photo of the Week: Another West Side Cowboy

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[The much-admired West Side Cowboy, riding up 10th Avenue at 26th Street. Click to enlarge.]

More cowboys here!

“Cheap Lunchrooms, Tawdry Saloons and Waterfront Haberdasheries”

The 1930’s Federal Writers Project WPA Guide to New York City, which I love, has a great description of the Hudson waterfront during the time the High Line was built. From the chapter “West Street and North (Hudson) River Waterfront”:

The broad highway, West Street and its continuations, which skirts the North River from Battery Place to Fifty-ninth Street, is, during the day, a surging mass of back-firing, horn-blowing, gear-grinding trucks and taxis. All other water-front sounds are submerged in the cacophony of the daily avalanche of freight and passengers in transit. Ships and shipping are not visible along much of West Street. South of Twenty-third Street, the river is walled by an almost unbroken line of bulkhead sheds and dock structures. North of Twenty-third Street, an occasional open spot in the bulkhead permits a glimpse of the Hudson and the Jersey Shore beyond.

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Best of the High Line Blog

The High Line is well on its way to becoming New York’s first park in the sky, with plants taking root in late summer and the first section on schedule to open by the end of 2008. Keep up to date with the High Line’s progress here on the Blog, written by Friends of the High Line’s staff members:

Design!

Our new Design Video, produced by Brooklyn Digital Foundry, and made possible by the Trust for Architectural Easements.

Slide show of Sections 1 and 2 Design

Designing the High Line, our brand new design publication is now for sale on Amazon.com

Construction!

Site Photography: Planking Installation

Action-Packed Construction Update

Photo of the Week: Peel-Up Benches

History!

History Video, Narrated by Ethan Hawke

Chelsea: 1986

Westbeth High Line Section

Community News!

Chalk Shoes to the High Line

Florent: Don’t Cry for Me

Field Ops to Design the Country’s Largest Urban Park

Student-Run Farmer’s Market at PS 11 in Chelsea

And last but not least, the High Line’s favorite compatriot:

David Beckham!

David Beckham Bears All for the High Line, “Parts” 1 and 2