Friday, October 1, 2010

Traveling "Victorian" in the 1960s

Even 50 years ago rail-based passenger conveyances tended to look sleek and sometimes even streamlined and racy.

But there was an exception that I stumbled across in the bowels of New York City in the early 1960s -- the Hudson & Manhattan rail line colloquially known as the "Hudson Tubes." During the 60s the New York - New Jersey Port Authority took over the H&M, re-equipped it and renamed it PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson), in which guise it exists today.

For a while during my three-year Army career I was stationed near New York City and got into town on pass every weekend. Some weekends I'd sleep over in Hoboken, New Jersey at the Stevens Tech chapter of my college fraternity. Normally when getting there I'd catch the Hoboken bus at the west side Port Authority terminal. But occasionally I'd ride the Hudson Tubes. There was a Tubes station at 33rd Street not far from Pennsylvania Station (the original building was still standing then) and I would work my way down stairs and through tunnels to that Midtown terminus of the H&M.

Once there, I beheld archaic train coaches whose design dated from more than 50 years previously. It was almost like stepping into a time machine. I hope the illustrations below give you at least a slight feeling of what I experienced.

(For a general history of the H&M and PATH, click here. More detailed information regarding the Hudson Tubes can be found here and here.)

Old Hudson & Manhattan route map

Crossover at 9th Street in Manhattan - photo from 1907

"Class B" coach
Such coaches were built from 1909 until 1928. They were still in service in the early 1960s.

H&M train as seen in New Jersey where the line ran mostly above-ground
This is how I remembered them. Dark, sooty-looking exterior; probably due to the paint-job, but a dirty appearance nevertheless. In a station all you'd see of the coach was the part above the bottom of the doors. This made the arched window and door shapes stand out -- very static looking, actually, and not at all the speed-style for transportation conveyances the began to appear in the 1930s. Another impression I had was that the H&M coaches were noticeably smaller than New York City subway cars, and this added to the quaintness of the Hudson Tubes experience in those days.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

PATH's most distinctive characteristic is the musty smell in the stations. This smell has been around since the system opened, though no one seems to know what produces it.