BMT Subway Centennial: 1915 - 2015
by Bill McKelvey
On the weekend of 27 - 28 June, 2015, the NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Brooklyn - Manhattan Transit system by offering free rides on four sets of vintage subway cars at Coney Island. I only learned about the event a few days before but was scheduled to participate in the annual Waterloo Canal Day at Waterloo Village. When that event was postponed due to predicted heavy rain, I quickly Emailed fellow transit enthusiasts to see if any wanted to travel to Coney Island. Friend, George Tomcyzk, responded positively, so we decided to go. It always helps to have someone knowledgeable to navigate the transit complexities of NYC, and George knew how to do it... And, the computerized GPS / LED / map / displays of route stations plus announcements in each car are a great help.
We met at the NJT Convent Station and got on a Midtown Direct train which was already boarding as my ticket came out of the machine. From NY Penn we walked the one block east to get the “Q” train at Herald Square. It was express to lower Manhattan, then over the Manhattan Bridge and local out to Brighton Beach Station. There, waiting, were the four sets of vintage equipment from the 1950 to 1967 eras (R19, R38, R40M, etc.), but best of all were the “B” or “Standard” cars from 1917. The latter had all those lovely, nostalgic DC motor and air compressor sounds as well as those rattan seats. One additional vintage car was parked at the east end of the Brighton Beach Station platform and used as a “store” for New York Transit Museum - selling “T” shirts, books, and other souvenir items.
The oldest and most fragile cars only operated between Brighton Beach and Ocean Parkway - just enough to register the experience. The other three sets of equipment also operated on the out-of-service express tracks, but on the longer run from Brighton Beach toward Kings Highway and back. The old subway air whistles were liberally used! All the vintage cars were fitted with the appropriate destination signs and historic car advertising cards. Free literature and paddle fans were available for all visitors.
Best of all, the entire noon to 4pm day could be had for only one NYC TA fare, as long as you did not go out of the system. This allowed the enthusiasts to travel to the several stations on the regular service local trains to take photos and videos of the passing vintage trains. The predicted heavy rains were not a problem at all - just some light sprinkles, which did not bother us even though most of the vintage cars had open windows. The day was cool and pleasant, plus the big ceiling fans in the vintage cars were doing their job as designed.
We met many old friends: Jim Greller, Brooklyn transit historian and author & a frequent Boonton volunteer; Bill Wall, MTA-NYCTA employee and a major activist with Shore Line Trolley Museum and trolley preservation across the US; Mike Glikin, retired NYC TA employee and transit / bus enthusiast; Len Resto, NJ-ARP leader responsible for getting this article into the NJ-ARP newsletter; Joe Versaggi, NJ-ARP Director/Membership; “Choo choo” Bob Vogel, an enthusiast from So. Jersey; Jim Lilly, a trucker from Philly who has moved scores of trolley cars over the years, (plus the late Jim Clark’s caboose from Plainfield to Port Murray); Dan McFadden, from Mountain Lakes; and others. Riders also included several flocks of “Loons” as Al Roberts affectionately describes his fellow New Yorkers. It was a good sign to see a number of families and youngsters (as well as a few attractive young ladies) riding - there may yet be hope for the next generation of transit enthusiasts to carry on.
For those of you who were not available to join us for this special occasion, there are other special NYC events: Vintage bus bashes; Ride the classic Independent Subway System cars; Travel on WWI-era IRT subway cars and vintage buses. Plus annually, during the Christmas Holiday season the NY Transit Museum vintage subway cars and buses are operated in midtown Manhattan. And, of course, there is the world class NY Transit Museum at Boerum Place & Schermerhorn Street in downtown Brooklyn - details and tickets @ mta.info/museum/programs We sincerely hope that some day such wonderful tourist-attracting museum facilities, programs, and rides will be available in the Garden State with the cooperation of NJ Transit and the NJ Legislature...