I was super excited to ride my first nostalgia train since the holidays. The particular ones I was to ride this day were Lo-Vs, even older than the “Arnines” I rode over the holidays. Lo-V stands for low voltage – the full 600 volts from the third rail didn’t course through these cars and up into the controls, so they were much safer than earlier models.
I didn’t much care what model or era, though, I was ready to ride any vintage subway cars!
This particular weekend, like so many, the MTA was doing construction on the northmost portion of the 1 train tracks. Alternate shuttle bus service was available, but those who know me know that’s something I avoid at all costs. So instead I looked up the Metro North Hudson Line schedule and selected a very early train to Grand Central.
Getting ready took a while. I had to make sure I packed everything I needed for the day and night, and the weather was a bit uncertain. I ended up running out of the house later than I planned. If I don’t make it to the Metro North station, I thought, I can always walk or take a cab to the shuttle bus. But I power walked – practically ran – the 1.5 or so miles to the Spuyten Duyvil train station and made it just in the nick of time to buy my ticket and snap just a couple of pictures from the platform there – one of my favorite locations and subject of a previous post.
Slightly sweaty from my fast walk, I plunked into a seat on the side of the train closest to the river. I was familiar with the route this line would take. I’d often seen trains round the curves of the mainland at Marble Hill from another of my favorite places, the upper level of the Target parking structure. I also figured this was the same line you can see from parts of I-87. The Morris Heights stop is particularly close the highway, and it’s in a place where traffic is often stopped (southbound, waiting for the George Washington Bridge) so you can get a good look. But despite having seen all this, I’d never ridden this stretch of this line before. I glued myself to the window and took pictures along the way as best I could from the speeding train.
We rode close to the river for much of the journey. In this first part, Inwood Hill Park was visible just across the water. Our view was next obscured by big rocks, schist, I believe. We pulled into the Marble Hill station and then quickly under the Broadway Bridge a crossing I’ve experienced so many times by car and 1 train.
Greenery sped by outside as we headed south. I squinted and could see, just for a second through the brush, a glimpse of the 207th Street Yard, a big subway car yard and maintenance facility.
The next somewhat photographable landmark was near the Morris Heights stop I mentioned. It was strange to see the same buildings and overpass I’d often seen from the highway, but from a slightly different point of view because of my location in the train rather than out there. The tall buildings, River Park Towers, were especially recognizable.
I kept careful watch because I knew what was coming: passing underneath Highbridge. I thought, as I almost do when passing it, how much I can’t wait until they restore this bridge and transform it into a pedestrian thoroughfare. I long to walk on this piece of history that carried New York City’s first water supply.
A while back I’d taken the Metro North Harlem line with a friend and coworker. She’d tapped me on the shoulder then so I’d pay attention as we crossed the bridge into Manhattan. I saw this same view of the river and the Madison Avenue Bridge this day, as all Metro North lines use the same bridge and, shortly after, stop at Harlem-125th Street.
I also remembered how that friend told me she liked to look down the streets as the train passes them on the Park Avenue elevated tracks. Indeed, it’s very satisfying to be able to see so far west down these streets in the 100s, but at the same time they whizzed by so fast they were impossible to photograph!
Soon we entered the tunnel on our approach to Grand Central and a few minutes later came to a stop at the platform. I was there quite early; necessary since the Metro North trains run only once an hour at unpopular times. After deboarding I spotted a bit of architecture – a vaulted, tiled arch lit by an old, bare lightbulb – that reminded me so much of City Hall Station, where I was just a week before. I had to stop and capture this.
I knew that I needed to get breakfast but first I wandered for a bit. Grand Central was serene at this time of a Sunday morning. Not completely empty, to be sure, but far from the bustle of rush hour. I passed by the Transit Museum‘s Annex, wishing it was open so I could kill some time there. Of course it wasn’t, but I was tickled to see a sign just outside its door advertising nostalgia train rides including the one I was to go on that day!
I wasn’t particularly hungry but nutrition is important for excursions. I fumbled through ordering a bagel, coffee, and water at Zaro’s and then sat on the floor with my back to a column. Surprisingly, the power outlet in the column worked so I charged my spare camera battery.
As I got through on my breakfast, a busload of tourists entered the lower level where I sat. They photographed the plastic “armchairs”, the clock and information booth, and all sorts of other non-sights. Some looked at me strangely. I must have been in the background of so many photos. As they were herded off by their tour guide, a young woman not with the group came up to me and complimented my shoes. She had the same ones, she said, and did I know where to get a new pair? I didn’t, but I appreciated this small and pleasant early-morning interaction.
Continuing my tradition of being earlier-than-early for timed tours, I reorganized my bag a bit then shuffled off to the subway shuttle platform, the designated meeting place. A few Transit Museum employees were there already, getting organized. Dorks with cameras milled around. Some tried to check in early, but it wasn’t yet time. “You can go out and get coffee, we’re not ready yet!” was the announcement. I sat on the ground at the end of what I believe is Track 4 – the track dead-ends here – watching people.
Before too long it was time to get checked in and get a wristband. Three lines were set up against the wall to the right as you enter the station: two lines to check in by last name and one line for non-preregistered folks. I was checked off and my yellow wristband attached (albeit too loosely, it threatened to fall off all day).
I stood around, fidgeting, for a little bit, as the platform filled up with more people. A middle-aged woman talked to me, and she was soon joined by a man. It seemed like she was from out of town or they were on a second or third date, as they conversed sort of awkwardly. He played train history expert and she was a patient student. This was the first of several times that day I was asked what my interest in trains was, something I always still stumble through answering.
I watched a way-too-normal-looking man arrive adorned with tons of camera gear. His presence made sense when he identified himself as a member of the press as he checked in. Over the next half hour or so he often caught my eye as he lined up shots and scribbled interview notes in his little notepad. I wondered if I’d be interviewed (I wasn’t), what kind of funny comments he was getting out of the railfans, and what publication he worked for (I never found out).
By this time I’d left the awkward couple and moved halfway up onto the stairway for a better view. I didn’t feel so bad loitering there since others obstructed the path more than I. Commuters pouring out of the subway shuttle frequently looked confused as they filtered their way through the herd of nostalgia train riders. I tried to guess, out of all the people walking through, who would go check in for the nostalgia train. My guesses weren’t always accurate – some people who looked preoccupied and initially rushed by the check-in stations and one woman in very impractical shoes ended up on the trip. Conversely, some unfashionably-dressed men were on their way to somewhere else nerdy, not the nostalgia train.
I heard a rumor that the train might pick us up at the downtown 6 train track, not the shuttle track. Indeed, after a false start, this was confirmed and we followed a Transit Museum worker with a big, orange sign down the passageway.
There, people crowded in as close as they could to the edge of the platform. I was near what would be the front of the train. A teenage kid asked if I was riding the train. I must have looked puzzled – I thought this was a given, but he said he was going to chase the train instead of riding it and photograph it with Yankee Stadium in the background. While that sounded like it would make a nice picture, I couldn’t wrap my head around how someone could pass up having the rare experience of being on the train itself. My eyes searched the waiting crowd for normal people to save me from further awkward conversation.
Soon our train arrived. Everyone struggled to be first to see it. I was excited to be on it already, but also to be out of the hot, crowded station and forced conversations.
I wasn’t really sure what to do after board, but I decided I’d grab a seat for now, that’s what everyone else was doing. An employee passing out pamphlets and surveys gestured to a Santa-Claus looking man next to me. “You together?” she said. I shook my head violently and felt annoyed (again) at people’s general lack of understanding that a 20-somethings girl could possibly be interested in trains.
Other than that, I was content with my seat for the moment, though I was sure I’d eventually walk up and down the length of the cars like I did on the holiday train.
My heart beat fast as we pulled out of the station and headed south. Our ride was to be extended by going down to City Hall Station before looping back up north to Woodlawn, the northern terminus of the 4 train line. As we got close to the Brooklyn Bridge station (the one right before City Hall) I hopped out of my seat and found a spot by a window. A couple of people knew what I was looking for but most were oblivious. I could barely make out the features of the dark station as we squeaked by, but it was enough to satisfy!
I started my slow walk from end to end of the train, pausing at some points to sit, stand, or take pictures. There was so much to look at: the vintage ads adorning the trains, cute signs written in first-person (“I’m a train and I was born in this year!”), the structures of the painted metal and rivets, wicker seats, sliding doors contained in vestibules, railfans I semi-recognized from the holiday train. And much to experience too: Many of the windows were open so my hair blew in the warmish wind of the tunnel. The old train clattered so and whirred as it got up to speed – these were much different noises than modern trains make. Its vibrations traveled through my body as I sat, stood, or leaned on one of the steel walls.
People in stations waiting for rides on regular trains stared with open mouths at our arrival or fumbled for camera phones. One Transit Museum worker spent the day photographing not the train, but people’s reactions to it.
I kept an eye on the stations as they counted up in numbers, though that information wasn’t very meaningful to me since I don’t know the 4 line at all. We made a long run at one point and I guessed that we’d crossed under the river into the Bronx. Soon after, we emerged from underground. The sky was still overcast but it was a beautiful sight to see the train’s features illuminated in natural light and to feel the humid but fresh breeze.
One of the first aboveground sights was Heritage Field, a park created on the site of the old Yankee Stadium. Even from this unfamiliar angle I could remember how the landscape had shifted in the time I’d lived in New York – from one old stadium, to two brother stadiums, to a pristine park and ballfield next to a new stadium.
As we proceeded north I continued to look out the windows. In many spots the tracks overlooked businesses – gas stations, drugstores, family-owned shops – in the foreground and taller apartment buildings clustered like stacked Legos further away. I spotted what I recognized to be an on-ramp to the Cross-Bronx Expressway (I-95). Taking in the views of this unfamiliar part of the Bronx and trying to discern where we were at each step took a lot of energy.
For this part of the trip I spent some time in a vestibule at the end of one of the cars. A pair of doors was here, one on each side. I stared out the doors’ windows and through the gap between the cars and enjoyed my semi-private little spot.
Soon, on the left, a train yard came into view. I had to look this up later – it’s Concourse Yard. I am always excited to see train yards from train rides, it’s like a rare view into this other part of the trains’ lives.
Passing one of the stations, I spotted two gigantic towers, presumably apartment buildings. The architecture was quite unique, and their size relative to the about 3-8 story buildings seen along most of the rest of the route was striking. Again, in my later reading I discovered they’re called Tracey Towers, and apparently not much liked by some of the community.
I knew soon we’d reach our (first) stop: Woodlawn, so I walked around a bit more trying to make the best of my time there.
As we prepared to settle into the station, I chatted with a couple of Transit Museum employees. I expressed to them my uncertainty about what to do next; the materials I’d received in the mail and on that day gave too many choices! I could stay on the train for additional short rides on the middle track between Moshulu Parkway and Burnside Avenue (I think that’s the correct range of stops), go on a walking tour of Woodlawn Cemetery, or check out the Bronx Week Food, Art, and Music Festival going on nearby. While all sounded interesting, I treasured my time on the nostalgia train most so I decided to stay.
I hopped out for a moment at Woodlawn to snap some pictures, but then settled back into the wicker seats for the additional rides.
I continued to enjoy the wind in my hair and the sounds of the train on these three intermediate round trips. I felt like I got a little familiar with this handful of stations, though in general I still don’t know the area very well.
The train cars were emptier now, as some of the wristband-ed riders had chosen one of the other three options. My new Transit Museum friend and I’s conversation was peppered with interruptions – railfans that just couldn’t seem to get the concept of the three intermediate rides, minor train door malfunctions, him reprimanding fans who dangled arms or cameras out of the windows.
At one point, after having lost track of time and space, I asked new friend what round trip we were on. “The last one!” he said. I realized I’d better take advantage of the opportunity to take some pictures of the interior of the emptier train and then plan what to do next, as there would be a short time between the end of these rides and the train picking us up at Woodlawn.
Could I be so lucky as to squeeze in another of the three options that proved so bewildering earlier? I hoped so, and I knew I needed to get some food in me (and not McDonalds, if at all possible) so I decided to head towards the Bronx Week street fair. With that tentative plan in mind, I hopped off the nostalgia train at Burnside Avenue.
I needed a minute to recover and adjust to normal life again. Indeed, boarding the slick, modern 4 train to get nearer to the fair seemed quite a culture shock. Although I was hungry and my brain was still in nostalgia land, I was growing confident about my plan. If anything got confusing I could always rely on my smartphone GPS!
Getting off at Mosholu Parkway, I realized my ankles were imprinted with the pattern of the Lo-V’s wicker seats. I laughed to myself, as it was a harmless consequence of sitting on top of my feet eagerly in order to see the sights out the windows. Not to camouflage the marks, but simply because it had gotten chilly, I donned socks, leg warmers, and my long sleeve shirt. I was ready to get to the street fair.
I was reassured to see cars and trucks parked along Mosholu Parkway, and to hear faint strains of celebration. I was sure the street fair was close, but double checked my GPS as I walked down and out of the station.
As I walked along the Mosholu Parkway Greenway, the neighborhood felt a bit familiar. I’d been near here several years before, just on the other side of the station, to take boyfriend to Montefiore Medical Center. I wasn’t positive about the proximity of my location and the hospital at the time, but it certainly felt like part of the same neighborhood. As I looked back over my shoulder Tracey Towers loomed tall behind the station.
I was now sure I was heading in the right direction. I passed families with excited children walking the same path as I, and people with styrofoam food containers walking in the opposite direction.
The fair was overwhelming from the very start – smells of all kinds of food, vendors playing competing music, and crowds of people with erratic walking patterns distracted by the attractions. I decided to first walk the fair end to end to take stock of what was there.
As I walked, I thought of how far this all seemed from my neighborhood, Riverdale. I must be such an uncultured Bronxite – I didn’t know of any of the vendors nor had I even heard of half the food that was for sale. I tried to put aside my self-criticisms and started to enjoy the community atmosphere.
I made particular note of the food stands as I walked, since that was one of my main goals. What did I feel like eating? Earlier in my walk, a sign for corn and cheese fritters had caught my eye so I went back and made the commitment to join the long line there. That seemed like the tastiest option.
Standing in line and watching people was super entertaining. There was a constant parade of families passing by, often with very excited children. As I got up closer to the stand I stood in the path of smoke pouring off a giant rack roasting meat over an open fire. Passers-by thought this sight was just as interesting as I did. I leaned out of the way as they snapped pictures and pointed the rack out to their families.
It took quite a while for it to be my turn since each food order was custom and included many of the several hot dishes set out in big trays, as well as most times, meat from the rack sliced on the spot.
I ordered my food but figured I’d better take it to go and eat it back up on the train platform. I didn’t want to risk missing my beautiful nostalgia train ride back! Since Woodlawn was just one stop north, I walked up instead of taking another 4. Energized by my successful food quest, I cheerily walked by strips of stores on Jerome Avenue.
It was funny to come up to Woodlawn Station from the south like that. Just a couple of times before I’d dropped a dance friend off at this station from work in Westchester, so the only times I had seen this square, dead-end of a station were coming from the north. I paused for a few minutes, checked my email, and made a phone call at the flagpole at the intersection of Jerome and Bainbridge Avenues before ascending the steps to the station.
We were told before the first stop that we could reenter at stations in the area for free by showing our wristband. I was skeptical and tentatively held up my wrist for the station agent, who motioned for me to go through the emergency exit. That went more smoothly than I thought it would and I could now settle in and eat my lovely lunch on a bench on the platform.
I consumed big mouthfuls of food quickly but couldn’t quite finish it all. As I ate, the familiar railfans and their cameras began gathering at the platform.
The time our Lo-V was supposed to pick us up came and went, but there was no panicking among the crowd. Delays are typical on special operations like this, and the Transit Museum workers there with their signs were a reassuring presence.
Each time a train approached the station I craned my neck to see if it was the Lo-V. Figuring its arrival would be soon, I stood up and walked south on the platform, preparing to make a video of the train pulling in. I wasn’t the only person holding a camera near there who ignored the advice of the Transit Museum workers to stay towards the northern end instead. (Since our train only had four cars instead of the usual ten and the train would pull into the station all the way, one wouldn’t be able to board on the southern half of the platform.) I got my video then hurried back to where the train had stopped.
The fans and I held up our arms to show our wristbands as we boarded the train. Energy was lower this time of the day, but still positive. We all soaked up this last leg of the trip as we headed south.
By this time, the Subway Series game at Yankee Stadium had let out. Passing the 161st Street-Yankee Stadium stop, victorious fans waited impatiently, disappointed that we were not their ride home.
Tired, I took my last walk through the train and snapped a picture out the back window while we were in a station. Stations provide the best opportunity to get pictures inside the train while underground, since low lighting and a bouncy ride often make for blurry photos when in motion.
For the final leg of the trip, from the City Hall loop back up to Grand Central, I sat down on the train’s floor, near one end so as to be out of the way. Here, I felt so much closer to the train’s machinery and operation. I could sense the mechanics so clearly through the floor and I envisioned that I was creating symmetry in day – I had sat similarly, legs off to one side, in the morning on the Grand Central subway shuttle platform. That seemed like ages ago!
I had a mini, internal tantrum when it was time to leave the train for the last time back at Grand Central. I thought, no, you can’t make me go back to normal life! I won’t! But it was inevitable. I said my goodbyes to my new friend and sadly watched the train pull away for the last time (or the last time until next Lo-V excursion at least).
I walked slowly, in a daze, back up to the terminal. Coincidentally, I ran into a person I knew from work. I couldn’t help but gush a bit about my excursion and quip about how unlikely it is to run into someone you know in a city of 8 million (though this happens more than you think). We parted ways after a minute, and I went to find a place to camp out and decompress before it was time for dinner with some family members.
Knowing I was already filthy, I shrugged then sat on the marble floor in Vanderbilt Hall and chatted on the phone with another friend about the experiences of the day. This conversation was helpful in letting me float gently from idealistic nostalgia world back to real life. Soon my cousin texted – it was time to get ready for a lovely dinner out. I changed gears, changed clothes, and returned to the normal world.
Bonus: Especially because I didn’t get many photos of the outside of the train, I’d like to share some taken by others! Enjoy:
- One black and white
- Lovely photos, mostly exteriors
- Beautiful gallery, four pages
- A quite diverse gallery from the day, three pages
- Photos of Lo-Vs and modern trains with over-enthusiastic captions
[Map coming soon – ?]