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Whose cab ride is this?

By Curtis L. Katz | January 4, 2017

A little boy’s love of trains is tested on an Alco road-switcher

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Erie RS2 904 clatters into the Lackawanna’s Hoboken Terminal with a Main Line local in 1956.
Richard H. Young
Youth is wasted on young people, so the saying goes. Kids don’t have the … well … maturity to know what’s special in their world. Watch the crowds at Disneyland. It’s the adults who are agog at the wonders of the place; the kids look blasé. Or frightened. Which reminds me of my first locomotive cab ride.

I couldn’t have been more than five years old, so this took place in the late 1950s. By then my fascination with trains was already conspicuous, so when my mom, dad, younger brother, and I went into Manhattan, we often took a train from our home in New Jersey to Hoboken on either the Lackawanna’s Boonton Line or the Erie’s Main Line (Erie began using DL&W’s Hoboken Terminal in 1956).

After an arriving train was unloaded at Hoboken, the road power — one of those smoky Alco road-switchers ubiquitous on both the DL&W and the Erie — would uncouple from its consist with a startling
BANG as the air hoses separated, and would pull ahead the short distance to the bumping post. A yard engine would then haul the string of Erie Stillwells or Lackawanna “Wyatt Earp” cars out of the trainshed.

On this occasion, as we detrained at Hoboken, I noticed my dad was having a conspiratorial conversation with the conductor. Dad then took me by the hand, led me to the engine, and urged me to climb the steps into the cab; he followed behind. This should have been a thrill! But I was a timid little fellow, so instead I felt apprehensive. I wasn’t convinced it was all right to be doing this. The ascent was daunting; the steps were too far apart for my little legs. I was not confident I had the strength to climb all the way up, and began to worry how I’d get back down. The engineer loomed big and intimidating; his engine rumbled and hissed ominously.

By the time I entered the cab, I was actually in tears. Adding to the absurdity of the moment, my brother, down on the platform with Mom, was crying too, not because he was envying my opportunity, but because he was afraid Dad and I were about to ride away and abandon him and Mom. When the air hoses parted — BANG — we both became completely hysterical. While my brother’s worst fears were apparently coming true, I was certain we were going to crash into the bumping post!

If my dad had arranged this ride to give me a memorable experience, he certainly succeeded. I can only wonder what the engine crew made of all the histrionics. At least Dad wasn’t panicked. He was observantly absorbed in the operation of the engine, almost like the archetypal “Pop” playing with a train set he bought ostensibly for his son. Say … you don’t suppose my dad ar­­ranged for me to get on the engine so
he could get a cab ride … ?

I survived that first short locomotive ride with my love of trains intact. And in much later years I have had several cab rides of greater length, accepted with greater courage and grace. But though it may have been wasted on me, I do not in the least begrudge my
dad’s first cab ride.

First published in Fall 2009 Classic Trains magazine.

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4 thoughts on “Whose cab ride is this?

  1. My dad and I used to ride the Barclay Street ferry to Hoboken after shopping in lower Manhattan at the original JobLot, on Radio Row, and at the Washington Market. We’d tour the station and the platforms, and while I never got a cab ride, thanks to the conductors, porters and diner staff I often got to tour the consist of the Phoebe Snow while they were preparing for a later departure. I also remember some steam out towards the Palisades that began up the hill in Jersey City, probably some yard switchers as this was the early 1950’s. The biggest treat of all, however, for me at that age was my father conning a member of the New York Society of Model Railroad Engineers into letting me in to view their original O gauge layout which was housed on the second floor of the station/ferry terminal and off-limits to the general public. After our late afternoon visit, we would proceed to the ferry that went back across the Hudson to Christopher Street and got our bus back to our apartment on the Lower East Side. Ahhh….back in the day.

  2. I remember one thing from my first trip by train, which came when I was two years old. After my father died (he worked in the ACL’s Tampa locomotive shops), we (my mother and my five brothers) moved from near Tampa to a small town in South Carolina, where my mother’s parents lived.

    As we left Jacksonville on Southern’s overnight train to the Carolinas, my brothers looked out the window with coats over their heads to shut the light inside the coach out–and they let me look out. I do not remember anything I saw; I only remember the practice of blocking the interior light off.

    In later years, my mother told me that I screamed from Plant City, where we boarded, until we reached Lakeland. I did get over my terror, and have not been so distraught on board since. I now look forward to each trip that I am able to take.

  3. My first train ride was at age 4 or 5 on the L&N. This would have been 1957 or 58. We lived in Louisville and my uncle took my dad and I to a nearby station probably just out of town and my dad and I rode the short trip in. I recall them getting me to put my ear on the track to hear the train coming and I recall looking out the windows as the train literally pulled in and backed out on tracks that came down the city streets in Louisville. I have ridden on many wonderful trains since but somehow that first ride still is treasured in my memory. I have yet to ride or be in a running cab, though just behind. Today my main modeling interest is O gauge L&N.
    Dad also taught me a poem in my early years (anonymous author). Life is like a journey taken on a train, with a pair of passengers at each window pain. I may sit beside you all the whole ride through or I may sit elsewhere never knowing you. But if fate should have me to sit by your side, let’s be pleasant travelers, it’s so short a ride.
    Thanks for all the interesting train articles.

  4. My first train ride was on the PRR from Lewistown, PA to Harrisburg, PA and back in about 1962. My new ophthalmologist’s office was in downtown Harrisburg and Dad decided we would take the train. My older sister accompanied us for the day.

    The only aspect of that first ride that is imprinted in my memory is how fascinated I was watching the news butchers as they made their way up and down the aisle of our car. I remember being particularly interested in how they could pour someone a cup of coffee while the train was moving and not slosh any from the cup.

    I’ve ridden trains extensively as an adult on tourist railroads, Amtrak, VIA, Class 1 and short line office car trips and more cab rides than I can remember including some where I was allowed to run but, my first trip on a train still stands out in my memory.

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