Tuesday, October 25, 2011

NYC Transit Museum

We just got back from a three-day weekend in Florida, and I have lots of new pictures.  I'll get to those soon, but, first, I have more great things to share from the recent Open House New York Weekend.  I'll ask that you stretch the definition for "historic buildings" for today's post, since these "buildings" roll!  I'm talking about historic trains on display at the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn.  I took the Lex line from Grand Central to the Borough Hall station in Brooklyn, but several subway lines will take you within a few blocks of the museum.  As always, I have to stop for a moment and admire the beautiful tile work in the old stations.

And then it's on to the museum, which is just a few minutes' walk away.  It's located in a 1936 IND station at Court Street that is no longer in use for trains but makes a terrific museum space...and has plenty of room on the tracks for beautiful vintage cars from the New York subway's more than 100 year history.

The museum opened an hour early for Open House Weekend and I had a reservation.  When I arrived, the guides looked puzzled for a moment, then asked if I knew this was an event for children.  Uh, no, I didn't.  Does that mean I can't come in?  No, it didn't.  In fact, oddly enough, I was the only person for the early opening!  I think the guides were disappointed at the poor showing, which I certainly understand...but this turned out to be my lucky break.  I literally had the place to myself for more than an hour and got a personalized tour as the terrific guides did a run-through in anticipation of crowds later in the day.  The place is packed with interesting exhibits, but let's get to the trains! 

This 1907 Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company wooden train was among the first to run on electrified elevated tracks.  Passengers entered on either end of this BRT car (the BRT was later to become the Brooklyn Manhattan Transit Corporation, or BMT).  Amazingly, after thirty years in service these cars were rebuilt; side doors were added and they were put to work on the Flushing Line (now number 7) for service to the 1939 World's Fair!  Let's go inside.

The configuration inside the car will be familiar for decades as other trains followed similar layouts.  The seating is fairly comfortable...the seats are padded, but not soft.  They're covered in a sturdy rattan upholstery which is a bit stiff.

Lighting is provided by bare bulbs.  This wasn't unusual for the time.  Light bulbs were often displayed in this manner; electricity was still a novelty.  Remember, steam trains preceded this one.

And in case you ever wondered where the term "strap-hangers" came from:

Note the vintage advertisements.  They've done a good job pulling together a collection of such ads and placing them in "age-appropriate" cars.  As mentioned earlier, passenger entry and exit was through either end, so the space between cars is deep.  A conductor opened and closed the gates to allow people on and off.

Here's a car just a year older (built in 1908) that was also rebuilt in 1938 for service to the 1939 World's Fair.  This is a BRT 1612C car as it appeared after the rebuild.  The side doors have been added and the car is painted the World's Fair official colors of orange and blue (go Gators!).

This car was not motorized.  It was a trailer, and was paired with two motorized cars.  The interior is relatively unchanged; the seat configuration is the same as the BRT 1907 model, bare light bulbs provide illumination, and leather straps are there for standing riders.  Small fans have been added to provide some comfort in the summer-time heat.

Not bad for 103 years old, is it?  And, as I said earlier, I had the place to myself for more than an hour.  At 11am, when it opened to the public, an onslaught of moms and dads and kids came pouring in.  Needless to say, the atmosphere changed quickly, but, I have to admit, it was a change for the better.  A place like this should be full of people, and the kids were having a great time!  Still, I got plenty of pictures before the crowds arrived.  So, more trains tomorrow.  All aboard!

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