Impressionable Memories

Posted by George Hamlin
on Thursday, October 15, 2020

Long ago, in venues that are still there, in many cases, I began to view railroads and trains, and record them in my mind for future reference.  I suspect that some of this collection, the earliest ones, vanished a long time ago; still, there are numerous others that also qualify for the “long time ago” description, and are still subject to memory recall.

Obviously, the earliest of the latter category relate to trains and railroads in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the early 1950s, because that’s where I was then.  For example, my family did its banking at that point at the branch of the Fifth Third Bank located essentially opposite the B&O’s Winton Place station (also utilized by passenger trains of the New York Central, Norfolk & Western and Pennsylvania railroads), located 4.7 miles north of Cincinnati’s Union Terminal.

Thus, a need to go to the bank was a welcome errand, particularly in the morning, when there were a number of possibilities for seeing one of the many passenger trains due at Winton Place in this time period.  For that matter, B&O freights, as well as transfer runs to and from the NYC made frequent appearances, as well.

I began my rail travels during this time period, but have no idea when (or where) the ‘first’ one was.  (My first airline trip also occurred when I was still a “lap child”, not requiring payment, nor entitled to a seat.  I know the airline, TWA, route (New York-Cleveland) and can approximate the date, but have not been able to establish whether this was on a Martin 404, or what would have been my only ride ever on a Lockheed Constellation, the two aircraft types most likely to have been utilized.)

As far as I know, all of my early trips involved the New York Central between Cincinnati and Cleveland, as well as several that continued on to New York City, to visit relatives there.  I have a distinct memory that one of the trips to Cleveland was behind steam, since I became annoyed when the smoke from the locomotive frequently blocked the view out the window.

On the New York trips, we typically rode the Cincinnati Mercury north, and after spending the night with my Grandparents in the “Forest City” (also the name of the overnight New York Central trains between Chicago and Cleveland) prior to boarding the Empire State Express the next morning at a relatively civilized hour, for the rest of the journey east.  Once, we had to take the Chicagoan, which departed Cleveland prior to seven A.M., because the all-reserved seat Empire was sold out, back in those halcyon times in the post-World War II passenger business.

Mostly, however, my rides were on NYC 50 and 51, which used the Budd-built stainless steel equipment that had debuted, inauspiciously, on December 7, 1941, the date of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Behind the Railway Post Office were Parlor cars; two full diners (one each for the Cleveland and Detroit sections, which split westbound and were combined eastbound at Buffalo, New York); reclining seat coaches; and a baggage-lounge combine up front for the first-class passengers, with an observation lounge at the rear for the coach travelers.

Meals in the diner were fun; the NYC had special die-cut menus for children that featured the nose of an EMD cab unit, with the engineer’s head poking out the front window, with depictions of a girl and boy doing the same on the fireman’s side.  Appropriately enough, the back featured another pair of kids looking out the rear window of a Budd-built stainless observation car.

Sitting in the rear-facing seat of either the “Theodore Roosevelt” or “Franklin Roosevelt” (I had no idea that I needed to notice this back then) was the place I wanted to be as much of the non-mealtime portion of the journey would allow.  Unfortunately, others apparently had the same idea, but I did get to occupy this exclusive space a number of times.

Even better, on one westbound trip, my mother and I were sitting in the rear-facing seat when the black switcher coupled up to the obs in Buffalo in preparation for the separation of the Detroit cars from their Cleveland-bound counterparts.  According to the August 1952 Official Guide, all of this was accomplished in twenty minutes on number 51; “three-step” protection was many years in the future.

That trip, for certain, I was in railfan heaven, even though I didn’t yet know that I was a railfan.  Someday, I’d love to find a photo showing the switcher against the observation at Buffalo during the car shuffling, but I’m happy to settle for John Dziobko’s evocative photo of 50 and 51 meeting at Rochester, back in those glory days, on September 6, 1953.  

Photo Courtesy John Dziobko, Jr., godfatherrails.com 

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