Freight and luggage on the PRR

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Freight and luggage on the PRR
Posted by armchair-architect on Saturday, March 03, 2018 7:52 PM

Anyone here know anything about how freight and passenger luggage was handled in Penn Station in the early 1930s?  I'm trying to write a story that involves someone in New York City shipping a body south out of Penn Station  while somebody else is trying to smuggle their buddy who is hidden in a coffin onto a train going west at the same time with the smuggler's intent being to switch coffins. I need to know what Penn Station was like so I can describe how the switch could be made and have it be believable.

I also need information on places west of New York City that the smuggled coffin could be sent to and the travel time needed to get there.  I also need to know what it would cost to go from Penn Station to Charleston, South Carolina. 

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Posted by NP Eddie on Wednesday, March 07, 2018 5:44 PM

First of all, I hope your book will be successful! In 1948, three railroads served Charleston, SC: Atlantic Coast Line, Seaboard Air Line, and Southern. The baggage and passengers would use the PRR to Washington, DC. and one of the three railroads to Charleston. The PRR Technical and Historical Society is an excellent resource for any questions about rates, etc.

Ed Burns

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Posted by Deggesty on Wednesday, March 07, 2018 6:01 PM

As to trains from Penn Station to Charleston, only the ACL had through service. Going by way the SAL, there would have had to be a transfer in Hamlet to the train for Savannah that went through Charleston; going by way of the Southern, there would have had to be a transfer in Columbia, if not in Charlotte also.

So far as I know, the only through baggage car from New York on the Southern would have been on the Crescent (which had no name, just numbers (Number 37 and Number 38) during the Depression)--this would have made a transfer necessary in both Charlotte and Columbia unless there was a transfer in Washington as well as Columbia. The SAL would have had through baggage cars on the trains to Florida, and a transfer would have been necessary in Hamlet. The ACL would have had through baggage cars on the New York FLorida trains.

Johnny

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Posted by armchair-architect on Thursday, March 08, 2018 10:35 AM

I found 2 timbtables for the Havana Special, one from January 1933 and one from February 1933.  Either one would work for my story and they both give me when and where transfers between the different lines had to be made.  I wanted to be sure that the trip would have been possible even though the trip never takes place.  The story involves a down and out violinist who tries to take a man's body home to Charleston, but the body gets stolen before the train even leaves Penn Station.

 

Unfortunately, I can't find any information on how luggage and freight would have been handled in Penn Station.  Everything I can find talks about the tunnels that lead in and out of the station or the McKim, Meade and White building above ground.  My story has the body going south while another New Yorker smuggles his live buddy on the same train in another coffin because he has to make a hasty exit from NY but he has to do it as cheaply as possible.  The smuggler needs some body parts to get out of jam he's in with a bootlegger so he'll steal the body that's going south.  I just need to figure out how to get the characters and the coffins to the train.

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Posted by rcdrye on Thursday, March 08, 2018 2:55 PM

"Remains" were shipped in baggage cars.  A first class ticket for the route travelled would have been issued, and the remains would have been "checked" against it.  Any transfers would have been handled by station agents or baggage handlers, depending on the size of the station.

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Posted by armchair-architect on Thursday, March 08, 2018 8:56 PM

I figured as much about the baggage car, but I didn't have a clue about the cost.  Were baggage cars loaded in a separate area from the passengers and then attached to the passenger portion of the train, or would baggage and passengers be put on the train together from the same platform?  If I remember right Grand Central had a separate building to handle the baggage (located where the Metlife Building is now), but what about Penn Station?

 

 

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Posted by wanswheel on Friday, March 09, 2018 2:04 PM
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Posted by armchair-architect on Friday, March 09, 2018 9:47 PM

I appreciate all of this.  I gather that an automobile or a horse-drawn wagon couldn't get access to the tracks, so stealing the body that's being shipped south would have to be done in one of the baggage rooms.  Now I need a plausible reason for the person who is delivering the body to be in the baggage room to see the thief leave with it.

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Posted by rcdrye on Saturday, March 10, 2018 1:23 PM

Great stuff on Penn Station.  The amount of space and number of people involved just boggle the mind.

From the train's point of view, the short answer is that baggage was (and is) loaded on the same platform that passengers load from.  In larger terminals mail and express cars were often loaded on separate platforms and added to the passenger portion of the train before departure (Penn had platforms just for mail loading).  Chicago Union has separate baggage platforms across the track from the passenger platforms, but Penn Station doesn't.

Some railroads required remains to be accompanied, requiring a second ticket. 

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Posted by pajrr on Saturday, March 10, 2018 1:34 PM

Amtrak ships human remains today. Their policy is on their website

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Posted by armchair-architect on Saturday, March 10, 2018 9:37 PM

rcdrye

Great stuff on Penn Station.  The amount of space and number of people involved just boggle the mind.

A large construction project is like a large military operation.  Disney put a retired army general in charge of building Disneyworld in Florida.  I don't know if he was from the Corps of Engineers or if he knew anything at all about construction work, but he had to know how to deploy the right people at the right time and place to keep the project on schedule.

In larger terminals mail and express cars were often loaded on separate platforms and added to the passenger portion of the train before departure (Penn had platforms just for mail loading).

Across the street from Madison Square Garden, which replaced the above ground portion of Penn Station, is a post office that was designed by the same architectural firm.  The train station needs renovations so there is an organization that wants to use this post office to re-build the original Penn Station.

Some railroads required remains to be accompanied, requiring a second ticket.

Any chance the passenger who is going with the body could have access to the baggage room at Penn when the body is delivered by the undertaker? 

 

[/quote]

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Posted by rcdrye on Sunday, March 11, 2018 1:08 PM

Since Amtrak is operating Express as part of Baggage services, there's no distinction, whereas there was in the classic era.  Railway Express Agency generally did not handle remains in the pre-Amtrak era.

From Amtrak's website, under Express Shipping Service (Found under Baggage Information & Services)

Human Remains

Amtrak Express offers station-to-station shipment of remains to many Express cities. At most stations, funeral directors must provide staff to load and unload the remains onto and off the train. The level of assistance required must be confirmed with the local Amtrak station agent at the origin and destination points.

 

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Posted by armchair-architect on Sunday, March 11, 2018 9:28 PM

rcdrye
Railway Express Agency 

I'm not sure that I understand what you mean by this.  I have a copy of the 1938 Federal Writers’ Project Guide to New York City and it says you could go to any station or terminal in the city and buy tickets for whatever trains they served, or you could go to City Ticket Offices, 17 John Street, 4 W. 33d Street and 3 W. 47th Street and buy tickets for all the trains that served the city.  Is this what you mean?

 If a body is going to be shipped by rail, it obviously has to be delivered to the train station, and I would assume that the undertaker would be responsible for delivering the body to the station.  If the undertaker was also responsible for loading the body on the train in a 1933 setting, then my body-snatching character could disguise himself as an undertaker and this would give him access to the station.
 I wonder what kind of shipping container would have been used in 1933?  My body-snatching character won’t be able to afford anything but a pine box for his live buddy, but the person shipping the body south is using money that the dead man’s family has sent him to cover expenses.  If the ticket price is the same regardless of the coffin, then this character won’t be out anything by paying the undertaker for a fancy coffin, but a simple pine box would work better for what happens in my story.
 Also, does anyone know where or if trains going south from Penn Station emerge above ground?

 

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Posted by wanswheel on Monday, March 12, 2018 10:07 AM
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Posted by timz on Monday, March 12, 2018 12:23 PM

Until 1991 all trains west and south from NY Penn came out into the open here

https://www.google.com/maps/@40.7714925,-74.0420199,155m/data=!3m1!1e3

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Posted by rcdrye on Monday, March 12, 2018 1:51 PM

Railway Express Agency handled packages (think UPS).  Your character would interact with employees of the Pennsylvania RR, not REA.  REA was jointly owned by many railroads.

Any coffin would have been handled.  I'm not sure what the rules were on securing the lid...

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Posted by armchair-architect on Tuesday, March 13, 2018 9:24 PM

I didn't know that MacArthur's funeral was so elaborate.  But, putting his body in the Armory was not lying in state.  In the U.S. this is only done in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building.  Everywhere else it's only lying in repose.

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Posted by armchair-architect on Tuesday, March 13, 2018 9:31 PM

timz

Until 1991 all trains west and south from NY Penn came out into the open here

https://www.google.com/maps/@40.7714925,-74.0420199,155m/data=!3m1!1e3

 

 

Rats!  All the way in Jersey.  I had envisioned having the buddy of the body snatcher and the character who was shipping the body south get off the train when they realized what haad happened.  Now I can't let them get anywhere near the train.

Was there any place inside the station where road traffic outside the station could be seen from?

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Posted by armchair-architect on Tuesday, March 13, 2018 9:34 PM

rcdrye

Any coffin would have been handled.  I'm not sure what the rules were on securing the lid...

 

 

Part of my plot involves a chase through New York and the stolen body ending up back at the morgue.

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Posted by wanswheel on Tuesday, March 13, 2018 11:33 PM

Platform 3 baggage elevator sideways and inside right side up

Diagram shows baggage passageway under 31st St., partly under sidewalk.

 

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Posted by wanswheel on Wednesday, March 14, 2018 3:00 PM

armchair-architect

Rats!  All the way in Jersey.  I had envisioned having the buddy of the body snatcher and the character who was shipping the body south get off the train when they realized what haad happened.  Now I can't let them get anywhere near the train.

Was there any place inside the station where road traffic outside the station could be seen from?

Probably from upstairs office windows.  The train would be visible outdoors in Manhattan, briefly, west of the Post Office.

https://media.gettyimages.com/photos/view-of-the-exterior-of-penn-station-and-traffic-along-seventh-avenue-picture-id51743314

From the diagram, hearses must've come down 7th & 31st ramp. 

 

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Posted by pajrr on Wednesday, March 14, 2018 5:16 PM

TIMZ, What do you mean "until 1991?" Amtrak still comes out there. Are you thinking of the Grand Central change over?

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Posted by armchair-architect on Wednesday, March 14, 2018 10:12 PM

wanswheel

From the diagram, hearses must've come down 7th & 31st ramp. 

 

Would you happen to know where the nearest bathroom (or other good place to waylay somebody) to this entrance would have been?

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Posted by wanswheel on Thursday, March 15, 2018 11:30 AM

It was 1933, right? Make something up. If your book sells a million copies not ten readers will be old enough to remember any different from what you tell them.

 

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Posted by armchair-architect on Thursday, March 15, 2018 9:29 PM

wanswheel

It was 1933, right? Make something up. If your book sells a million copies not ten readers will be old enough to remember any different from what you tell them.

 

It may come to that, but I have a psychological compulsion to get historical details right.

 

I also need to know what ticket prices would have been for the Havana Special.  I found a travel guide from the late 1930s that put the cost from New York to Key West at $60.  I don't know if it would have been more or less in 1933.  The winter/spring of 1933 was the end part of the worst part of the Depression so there would have been less demand for rail travel, but ticket prices per passenger may have been higher since the cost of running the trains would have been spread over a smaller number of passengers.

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