Ira Baker LIRR Station Agent:  A Railroad Biography
by Dave Keller
with assistance from Arlene Girvin

 

Although the LIRR extended itís south shore division from Bridgehampton to Montauk in 1895, with passenger stops at East Hampton and Amagansett and fishing stops at Promised Land, Fanny Bartlett and Napeague Beach, very few trains ran further east than Amagansett.

Amagansett became a terminal for trains and, as a terminal town, had all the typical structures that identified itself as a terminal, such as a depot building, a small engine house, a wye for turning locomotives, watering and coaling facilities and . . . . rooming houses at which the crews stayed after ending their daily runs at this terminal.

Between the 1895 opening of the line and June, 1929 when Summer employee timetable #110 went into effect officially ending Amagansettís function as a terminal, this railroad town saw a lot of railroading and dealt with a lot of railroad men.  However, as more and more runs were extended to Montauk the role of Amagansett as a terminal grew less and less so that by October, 1928, the only run that terminated at Amagansett was the Greenport Scoot.  Effective, June, 1929, the Greenport Scoot terminated at Speonk, many station stops west of Amagansett. (Data courtesy of Art Huneke at Arrts-Arrchives.com)

It was reported to me by a now long-deceased LIRR veteran that one of the boarding houses, specifically, would not only put railroad men up for the night on a daily or weekly basis, and provide them dinner but the woman who ran the house would make lunches for the men to bring with them to work!

One of these LIRR veterans who came to Amagansett during itís days as an active terminal was Ira Baker.

Ira, born in 1882 in Fredericksburg, VA, worked different jobs, including several other railroads as well as non-railroad positions before coming to work for the LIRR.   

He first worked for the LIRR beginning in 1901 then left . .  . and returned in 1903. . .then left, and returned for good in 1909.

He was first at the Cedarhurst station beginning there on March 1, 1909 and then at Glen Head on the west end of the island.  He then became agent at the terminal facilities at Amagansett . . . quite a distance from that part of the island where he first started.

     

This is a scan of a LIRR seniority roster for agents and assistant agents issued on January 1, 1940.  Ira Baker had been an agent since 1909.  31 years later he's still only #12 on the roster with old timers ahead of him with seniority dates as far back as 1888!!!!  The way people held jobs back then it was nearly impossible to climb the seniority roster more than a few positions in your own career.  (Courtesy of George G. Ayling, Dave Keller archive)

Ira came to Amagansett sometime in 1909-1910 and worked the original depot building that was constructed with the lineís extension to Montauk in 1895. 

c. 1909 postcard view but a rare one nonetheless as the number of images of the original Amagansett station are scarcer than hens' teeth!  Note the fancy wrought-iron roof tree atop the ridge of the depot.  Also note the old brick freight house to the far right which still stands at the time of this biography. Compare this image with the very last image posted in this biography, taken in 1970. (Courtesy of Art Huneke at Arrts-Arrchives.com)

 

A VERY rare photographic view of the original Amagansett depot, with Ira Baker (in suit) along with assistants. c. 1909-1910.  (Courtesy of Art Huneke at Arrts-Arrchives.com)

This depot was a one-level structure with no living accommodations so Ira did as all the other railroad men did . . . . he boarded at a local rooming house of which there were several.  He picked one run by Elizabeth Vaughn.

It was at this specific boarding house that Ira met Elizabeth's daughter Anne who was 10 years younger than him  Ira and Anne began seeing each other and were married in 1910.

He was very young to be a station agent, but he took to that role.  As such he had to handle ticket sales, both LIRR and interline all over the nation, he had to handle the train order office as block operator, read and send American Morse Code over the telegraph lines and handle all freight and passenger business pertaining to the railroad as itís agent and therefore as its representative.  He also handed Western Union telegraphs coming and going.  He had as many as five men assisting him during the summer months and three during the winter.  Amagansett was a busy place, it would seem.

The style of Agent's badge at top was officially in use from sometime in the 1880s to 1908 when it was replaced by the badge at the bottom which was in use until at least 1929 (per a publication named "The Long Island Railroad Regulations Governing the Uniforming of Employes  effective April 1, 1929")  (Badge at top courtesy of the late John Bonn, retired agent at Lindenhurst.  Badge at bottom courtesy of the late George G. Ayling, retired agent at Central Islip, both Dave Keller archive.)

He was away for a short time working the station at Quogue when on August 15, 1910, the relief agent who was on duty "let the station burn down" according to Ira.  Knowing that a replacement building was to be erected, he requested of the railroad that living quarters be part of the structure.  They agreed and the result was a beautiful, two-storey depot structure built in the Dutch Colonial style with gambrel roof and quarters upstairs for the agent and his family.

 


The above image depicts the new Amagansett station c. 1912-13 with living quarters upstairs for the agent and his family.  Ira Baker is at the left with his daughter. His wife, Anne, is to the right, next to an unidentified woman who may be the wife of the unidentified man at the right.  It would appear from the shirt and tie that he may have been Ira's assisting ticket clerk. (Image courtesy of Ira Baker's granddaughter, Arlene Girvin, Dave Keller archive.  Many thanks to the Photoshopping ability of Steve Lynch for his outstanding restoration of a badly marked and very aged, but wonderful print!
 

Amagansett grew on Ira along with his ties to the friendly community and the couple raised their children there and remained there for all of Iraís long career with the LIRR.  As a pastime he and his wife took frequent, long walks along the sandy beach walking miles at a time.

As agent, Ira talked regularly with other clerks and agents of the railroad in his daily handling of his duties.  In 1910 he became friendly with George G. Ayling, a ticket clerk and block operator who spent some time at Quogue station when Ira temporarily worked there.  George (who was 6 years junior to Ira) returned to Central Islip shortly thereafter, and in 1923  was promoted to station agent / block operator there, remaining at that location for the rest of his career.  George told me that Ira was one of the nicest and gentlest men with whom he had ever had the pleasure to work.

            

George G. Ayling as Assistant Station Agent at Central Islip, NY   c. 1918.
(Image courtesy of George G. Ayling, Dave Keller archive)

           

  

The postal cancellation on this card is hard to read but is an R.P.O. (Railway Post Office) cancellation which means this card was carried and postmarked aboard a moving LIRR train.  The date may be 1912 or 13.  The fact that the image on the card is captioned "The New Railroad Station at Amagansett" means Ira had some of these cards in his desk since the 1910 opening. (Courtesy of George G. Ayling, Dave Keller archive)

Here is a very interesting situation that occurred at least once at Amagansett as we have written proof. 

Below is an example for a Form 19 train order, issued by the Superintendent's office at Jamaica station (Dave Keller archive):

 

A Form 19 train order was telegraphed and later called in by telephone to a specific train order (later block) office.  The order was copied and handed via a train order hoop or Y-shaped stick to the conductor and engineer of a train while it was moving.  The orders were caught by the C&E of the train in the crooks of their arms.  These order gave specific direction to the train crew so they knew what they had to do and what they would encounter ahead of them and when they may have to make an unscheduled stop to meet an oncoming train, etc. 

Whatís unusual about this train order?

Well, for a start, compare the signature and handwriting of this order from July 9, 1926 with that of the postcard sent to George Ayling posted above.  The postcard is in Iraís handwriting.  This train order is not, yet it's signed (made complete) by an operator named Baker.

Also . . . at the top of the order are the initials of the operator who copied the order.  These initials are ďA. V. B. ď not ďI. B.Ē

It would appear that when the dispatcher called for the operator at Amagansett to copy this train order on July 9th of 1926, Ira was somehow indisposed and his wife Anne not only copied the order, but read it back to the dispatcher and then made it complete, signing HER name in HER handwriting and adding HER initials at the top.

A MOST unusual occurrence I would think.  At age 19 and not an employee of the LIRR at the time, I once copied a train order from the dispatcher at Jamaica for the operator at PD tower who was indisposed when the call came in and read it back to said dispatcher but the order was signed by the operator when he came back to his desk.  I did not sign MY name to it.

Now. . ..itís possible that she may have also been employed by the LIRR and was well within her rights to copy this order, but was probably not and was just covering for her husband.  It also meant that she could read American Morse Code as well, as telegraph was still a major means of railroad communication in 1926.

She certainly knew how to fill out and copy a form 19!!!!!  I wonder how many other times this was done . . . not only here but at other stations where the agentís family resided.  This train order is a rare find, indeed, as it displays an event of an era long-passed.  Unfortunately I do not have any train orders in my archive copied and signed by Ira himself.

The train order below is a Form 31 order which required the conductor and engineer of the train to physically come into the train order office and sign for the order on the order form and take the order with them:

While not signed by Ira Baker, this Form 31 train order was issued at Amagansett on September 6, 1909 and was copied and made complete by block operator Schmidt who was the 2nd trick (or shift) operator at the time, seeing this order was made complete at 7:04 pm.  The 1st trick operator who would have been Ira or one of his assistants, usually worked the hours of 6:30 am to about 3:30 pm.  (Dave Keller archive)

Years later, Ira Baker also held the position of Postmaster of Amagansett for a period five years.

During WWII, four Nazi spies and saboteurs were off-loaded from a U-boat and landed via rubber raft on an Amagansett beach around midnight.  They dumped their wet clothing, changed into street clothes and came to the station on Sunday, June 14, 1942 and waited until Ira came down to open the depot at 6:30 in the morning, at which time they purchased tickets to take the "Cannonball" at 7:10 am into Manhattan where they would meet up with other spies and saboteurs.

They were caught.  Ira had found their buried clothing and, figuring it to be discarded trash, intended to burn it, but had second thoughts that it may have belonged to someone who would be back for it, so he never got around to it and after the arrests, he turned the clothing into the authorities and it was sent to Washington, DC for investigation.

  Unlike his busy, early years at Amagansett, his later years consisted of just his solo handling of the station without any assistants, beginning at 6:30 in the morning and working until the early afternoon.       It was this dwindling of ticket sales and freight activity that eventually led to the closing of the agency at Amagansett.

A year before his retirement, Ira and his wife Anne purchased a house in town and left the depot building which housed them for so many years.

Ira Baker retired on October 22, 1954.  The local newspaper from East Hampton gave him a very nice write-up.  Below is the image from the newspaper of him setting the semaphore signal levers for the last time at the Amagansett station block office (Courtesy of Arlene Girvin, Dave Keller archive):

Upon his retirement he was presented with a lifetime pass from the Long Island Rail Road (see below, courtesy of Arlene Girvin)

            

Fellow station agent / block operator and long-time fixture at Southampton, James V. Osborne wrote a nice letter to Ira at the time of his retirement and it was printed in the employee magazine Long Island Railroader at the time.  His closing sentence referring to Ira as "Bake" shows the closeness that existed between the two agents.  It is also signed "73" as a closing, which was the old telegrapher's "shorthand" code for "best regards."  The copy of the letter below is courtesy of Arlene Girvin (Dave Keller archive):

          

Ira's granddaughter told me that she remembers visiting her grandparents while they resided upstairs in the depot and that the kitchen was trackside.  She also mentioned that the Baker's shortly after Ira's retirement moved to West Palm Beach, FL.  Anne Vaughn Baker died there in 1956 and Ira followed her in 1961.

 

This image of the depot building was taken in September, 1958 by LIRR trainman Irving Solomon for the Public Service Commission when the LIRR was planning on closing the agency which occurred by year's end.  The beautiful depot building, now showing wear at the roof,  was torn down on August 31, 1964 and replaced by a tiny wooden shelter shed. (Dave Keller archive)

The Amagansett station shelter shed, rear view looking northeast towards the original, 1895, brick freight house.  This shelter still stands as of this biography with high level platforms added just west of the structure. (Dave Keller photo and archive)

Dave Keller. Orlando, FL September 29, 2012.