LIRR Steam Days at
Jules P. Krzenski
I’d like to tell of how I came to have the first opportunity to visit the cab of a Long Island RR H10s, followed by my first-ever ride on that engine...on the eastbound Montauk Freight. The memory of that day will be with me always. For the reader who was born too late to experience working steam on a common-carrier railroad, my words may, I hope, create a mind’s eye picture of what it was like. I personally will NEVER forget what it was like! May the reader smell the smoke and feel what I felt beneath my feet. Hopefully, maybe the reader’s ears may even be ringing...as mine were...when the ride is over!
Shortly after that day in late summer of 1946, when I had been so completely grabbed by the sights and sounds of that H10s leaving Southampton, my mom and dad had made the trip to Riverhead for some reason that I don’t now recall. I went along for the ride. School had reopened, but it was Saturday...and school was not on my mind! On the way back, they decided to stop at a restaurant in Hampton Bays because it was early afternoon and we hadn’t eaten lunch yet.
As we entered
the eatery, I saw five men sitting at the far end of the counter.
They were all dressed basically alike...and I recognized them
immediately. It was the same crew
of the Montauk Freight that I had watched on that earlier Saturday in
the crew got up from their stools and as they walked past us to the door,
white stubble stopped at our table and, looking at me, he said, “You all set?
Let’s go.” He smiled at my
mom and dad, and I saw him wink at my dad.
I remember that my legs almost felt like rubber as I walked with those
guys from the restaurant, across
The guy that I
recognized as the fireman from that other Saturday asked me, “You know what
kind of engine that is?” I lied
and said I wasn’t sure. It was a
lie because I had no idea what kind of engine that was!
He said, “It’s a
When we got to
the engine, George said, “Follow me and be careful” and then pulled himself up
the side and into the cab. I
followed him up, and I remember that I was surprised by how easy it
was...going up those vertical engine steps, while pulling at arm’s length on
the long vertical handrails. I
will forever cherish the memory of the first couple of minutes after stepping
onto the deck of that engine. Over
on the opposite side was the short fat man with the jolly face, sitting
sideways on his seatbox, with one leg folded and
tucked under him...and using a spoon to eat a can of cold baked beans.
He glanced up when I appeared and stopped the spoon in mid-air.
George explained, “We’ve got a rider as far as
explanation, the spoon went back to work, and that jolly looking face broke
into a warm and friendly smile with, “How you doing, young feller...first time
on an engine?” When I answered
that it was, he smiled again and said, “OK, just be careful and do what George
tells you”, nodding towards my future role model.
Then he added, “My name’s Tanky
I just stood
and looked...and inhaled the faintly sweet smell...and listened to what
sounded like someone crinkling cellophane...the crackling sound coming from
the other side of the backhead.
I became aware of
One of the brakemen came up into the cab and interrupted my emotional moment. He picked up his gloves that he had left on a corner ledge of the tender, and then dropped back down to the ground and started walking ahead. George, who had been sitting sideways on his seatbox, got up and told me to sit where he had been...face forward, and put my feet between the side of the backhead and the cab wall. With that, he turned two of the valve handles and started the stoker. One of them controlled the blower that sprayed the coal into the firebox, as the worm delivered it on the other side of the firedoor. This added a new sound and a definite vibration. Looking through the peep hole, he adjusted one of the valves. Then he stepped towards me and pulled a handle near the left corner of the backhead. AN EAR-SPLITTING SCREAM HIT MY EARDRUMS!! He yelled into my right ear that it was the injector, forcing water into the boiler! Nodding that I understood, I looked ahead through that narrow window.
That brakeman had walked up ahead and was throwing the switch to the main track. The other two brakemen and Russ Jacobs had already walked back to the caboose. (full crew back then!...three brakemen: head end, rear end, and one acting as flagman...plus the conductor...the Boss!). I looked over at Tanky Bell. He had shifted his position on the seatbox. Now, his right foot was between the side of the backhead and the cab wall, with his left foot flat on the deck beside his seatbox. This placed him in a slightly angled position. After releasing the engine brakes, he reached for the throttle with his left hand and pulled it back a little. Nothing happened. I looked out of my window at the ground, and realized that we were beginning to move. I have to admit...a jumble of feelings shot through me. It was apprehension, curiosity, anticipation...and I guess, what amounted to pure joy!!
Then, the first
“chuff” of the exhaust, and it sounded totally different in the cab than it
did outside on the ground. The
next few “chuffs” got a little louder...but the sound had a much deeper
pitch...almost muffled...almost hollow sounding.
let the engine move slowly through the switch.
I watched the brakeman swing aboard the engine and pull up onto the
deck behind me. There were only
The brakeman, standing behind me, had also been looking back, and when he gave Tanky the “thumbs up” sign, the throttle got a couple of hefty tugs. The exhaust suddenly got much louder, and the pitch became much deeper. The scream of the injector had stopped because George, who had remained standing, had shut it down. That’s when I became aware of the loud rumbling sound that was creating a background for the exhaust, that was becoming faster and louder. I also became aware of something else. As I looked ahead through that narrow window, I realized that the front of the engine was blocking the view of the track ahead in a steady rhythm. Now you see the track ahead...now you can’t. That was a little startling! That’s when I learned that a steam locomotive yaws from side to side, sways from side to side, pitches up and down, like a ship in rough seas, and bounces straight up and down...ALL AT THE SAME TIME! It was the most scary, and the most incredible, thing I had ever experienced. I KNEW I’d found my place in this lifetime!
approached a grade crossing, I wondered what that banshee whistle would sound
like in the cab. At that time, it
was the Pennsylvania Railroad’s standard freight whistle, with
One particular sound caused me to look around in the cab and I quickly
realized what it was. The cab deck
consisted of a skid-proof steel plate, attached to the engine, but NOT to the
short forward deck of the tender.
The plate simply overlapped the tender deck, and was free to move up and down,
and side to side, with the motion of the engine.
The plate formed
the grade crossing, the brakeman, who had been standing near my right
shoulder, holding on to the bulkhead behind my seatbox,
tapped me on that shoulder, leaned down and yelled something into my right
ear. Having no idea what he had
said, I yelled, “What!?” He
repeated what he had said. I still
couldn’t understand with all that noise!
Remember now...it was my first time on an engine...my ears were not yet
accustomed to all that sound! Not
wanting to say, “What!?” again, I just nodded.
Right about then, we went under the concrete bridge that carried
By then, we
were approaching the steel truss bridge that carried the railroad over the
The rest of the ride through Shinnecock Hills and down the grade into Southampton was one continuous mosaic of noise and motion...punctuated by that occasional scream of the injector, and that great banshee “Call of the H10s” for approaching crossings. We drifted to a stop west of the eastbound block signals, at the west end of the station platform. They would be leaving the hack at that point in order to set out a couple of cars. I saw my mom and dad sitting in the car near the signals. I had gotten up just before we stopped, and had gone over to Tanky to thank him. The brakeman had already dropped off to be in a position to make the cut. George stepped over to me and tapped my shoulder, saying, “Well, what do you think?” Tanky looked at me with that smile and asked if I was OK. Believe it or not...how I answered those two questions is the ONLY thing I DON’T remember about that first ride! I guess my mind was so overloaded with the experience...I must have mumbled something to them...but whatever I said just didn’t register in my brain...there was no more room in there!!
As I turned to start down to the ground, George mentioned that they worked eastbound every Saturday, and he suggested that, if I had the time, maybe I ought to show up at the station and visit with them on the engine, while they did their setouts. If I had the time! After that ride...I had no time for anything else!! When I reached the car, my ears were ringing. My mom and dad had gotten out and were standing beside the car. I turned and looked back. George was standing on the deck between the engine and tender, behind Tanky, with a big smile on his face. I caught Tanky giving my folks the “OK” sign, along with his standard smile.
That was a
Saturday afternoon in late September of 1946...and I was 14.
I spent many hours, after that Saturday, in those H10s cabs.
Sometimes I rode to Montauk.
Sometimes I just visited with the crew while they made their setouts at
Usually, when I
rode to Montauk, I rode the engine...but not all the time.
Once, before leaving
I remember one
time, on the way to Montauk, when
was standing on the opposite side of the cab, and when “Princey”
(Cliff Prince, an engineman) shut off the throttle, as we were approaching
Bishop scrambled down over the coal, and dropped into the cab. “Polock” kept rubbing his head, looking at his hand (no blood!)...and kept cussing a blue streak! Bishop began laughing and apologizing at the same time, as he checked the victim’s head. “Polock” yelled at him, “It ain’t funny! You’re crazy, you S.O.B.!” Rich came back with, “I wasn’t aiming at you! I was only trying to get somebody’s attention down here!” Still laughing, “It’s your own damn fault ! What the hell did you step back for, you dumb S.O.B.!” “Polock” yelled back, “How the hell was I to know that you’re a dumb enough S.O.B. to throw a lump of coal into the cab!” Then he added, “What the hell did you want to get our attention for anyhow, you stupid A..Hole.?!” Bishop yelled back, “Forget it, it wasn’t that important anyhow!” By then, we were all laughing...including “Polock!” All that yelling and cussing was more good natured than it was angry. As a rule, the guys who worked the Montauk Freight got along real good.
had a sense of humor of his own. I
had bought a pair of the short gauntlet gloves to wear on those cab trips to
Montauk. They kept my hands from
getting really grimy black. Steam
power was dirty! Most of those
guys wore the same type of gloves.
On one Saturday, somewhere between
I remember another Saturday ride to Montauk. Boy, did that trip create some permanent memories for a teenager, whose life was literally centered on...and totally revolved around...the railroad. That day, I decided to do something I hadn’t done yet. I wanted to ride the rear end, in the hack, all the way to Montauk. Sure, engine service was my life’s blood...and my determined goal. But I was also determined to learn and experience everything about railroad operation. Basically, I was focused on one thing but interested in everything.
That was why I ordered, through an ad in “Trains,” the classic book, “Rights of Trains,” by Peter Josserand, a Western Pacific dispatcher. That small, but thick, book was read and studied over and over again. It covered every aspect of train operation. Not how to run an engine...but all the details that every engineman, conductor, dispatcher, block operator, towerman...ANYONE who was involved in the movement of trains, in other words, the operating department...must be familiar with. It included some of the operating rules of various railroads, train order forms, with the correct phrasing and procedure to be used when issuing and copying train orders...even the correct way to deliver them to engine and train crews. If it involved the movement of trains, it was in that book!
Anyhow...sorry about that! It’s just that “Rights of Trains” held a very special place in my life! Now back to that Saturday on the rear end of the Montauk Freight. Actually, there were no set rules about who, in the crew, rode where on a local freight...with the exception of the engine crew off course! Sometimes, two of the three brakemen would ride the engine, while the third brakeman, acting as the flagman, would naturally stay with the hack. Remember now, that was manual block operation, with train orders and clearance cards...and flagging rules applied. That meant red flag, red lamp after dark, fusees and torpedoes. Between towns, the conductor could be found on either end of the train. Sometimes, they would all be on the engine...except the flagman.
That day, if
memory serves me right, the conductor was a man named Walter
Krantz, who usually wore an old fedora style hat.
He seemed to prefer the hack.
So, when we left
portion of the train that was not involved in the setouts or pickups
was left standing on the main track, Rebel would drop off the hack with
his flagging tools, and slowly walk back along the track...whistling what I
considered to be his trademark song, “On Top of Old Smokey.”
When he was back far enough, according to his judgment, but not
necessarily according to the rules, he would sit on a rail and relax with that
song. Sometimes, he would even
sing the words. He really had a
good voice for country music. (also rare on
Anyhow, on the day that I rode the hack, they had a train order, directing them to take the siding and wait in the clear at Bridgehampton for the afternoon passenger train from Montauk. So they went into the hole before making their setouts. It was a little after lunchtime when we stopped in the clear. Because we would have a lengthy wait for that westbound passenger, the crew disappeared somewhere to get something to eat. I wasn’t sure who stayed with the engine, but Rich Bishop, one of the brakemen who had been riding the head end, came walking back and boarded the hack. I had some money with me and was considering going to get something to eat, myself. Rich opened one of the lockers under the cupola and took out a large brown paper bag. I guess he could have been called a “brown bagger” that day.
He suggested that I save my money. He had two ham and cheese sandwiches in that bag, plus a thermos of coffee...and he only wanted one sandwich. After asking if I liked ham and cheese, he insisted on my accepting one. Then he swung easily up into the cupola, and onto the right side cushion. He suggested that I do the same on the left side because we were going to have to wait awhile for that westbound. I’m not sure now, what the number of that train was. It may have been No. 5...but that was a Saturday, so I couldn’t swear to that now! I hoisted myself up onto the full-length black leather-covered cushion...leaned back against the rear wall of the cupola, and stretched out. I slid open the window that was alongside my head, as he had already done on his side, because it was a beautiful summer day. So......there we relaxed, with those ham and cheese sandwiches and talking about life in general. He asked me about my school grades, and I learned that he was married to the daughter of a conductor...or block operator...I forget exactly which now! I’m sure it was one or the other. One thing I’ll always remember, though, is that even though by then I had only turned 15 years of age, those guys never treated me like a kid. They always treated me like an equal...I always felt comfortable and accepted.
Pretty soon, that westbound made its stop at the station, east of where we were in the clear. Shortly, the big K4s came blasting past us with its string of heavyweight Tuscan red cars, with the gold PENNSYLVANIA on their sides...as did the K4s on its tender. I remember, it was a unique feeling...watching and listening to that big Pacific accelerating past us...from the open window of the cupola, atop an old wood-sheathed caboose. Finally, the rest of the crew showed up...the Montauk Freight was back in business.
day was destined to produce another relaxing and soul satisfying wait that
I’ll always remember. Before we
started moving out of the siding, Rich walked up to the head end and,
eventually, only Rebel boarded the hack.
Now, I realize
that “fish factory” and “Promised Land” may have some present day readers
wondering! The Promised Land was,
back then, a desolate area of sand dunes between Amagansett and Montauk.
On the south side was the
eventually arrived at the fish factory spur.
As the hack and the single car ahead of it were left standing on the main track, Rebel dropped off with his flagging tools, began whistling his theme song, and headed slowly back along the track. There was a lengthy stretch of straight track behind us, so his judgment told him that he didn’t need to go hiking too far. I stepped out onto the rear platform of the hack and sat down on the left side, with my legs hanging down above the ties...and in front of the vertical engine-style steps, that were bolted to the underside of the wooden platform, flush with the edge. Now, the feelings that I experienced that afternoon probably would have been more normal for a 65 year old man, instead of a 15 year old kid. What I felt was peace, total contentment and an overwhelming love for life. Especially life on the railroad!
I ask the
reader to picture this...really try to see it and feel it in your mind!
It’s a beautiful summer in 1947.
I’m sitting on the rear platform of the hack...in the middle of what
amounts to untold acres of sand dunes.
The muffled sound of the ocean surf is drifting in from the south.
The distant, and equally muffled “chuffs” of
the out-of-sight engine are drifting in from the dunes to the north.
Rebel is whistling “On Top of Old Smokey” in the shimmering
distance...shimmering because of the hot air created by the summer sun.
Surprisingly, he’s sitting on one of those hot rails!
An Osprey is circling a huge nest, perched atop a pole out in the
dunes...but not too far away.
Combine all that with the fact that there is not another sound.
No wind...not even a breeze.
No traffic on
I will always remember it as one of the first really soul-satisfying moments in my life. The railroad was not always a bedlam of noise, jarring motion and bone-shaking vibration. It could also have its beautiful, peaceful and quiet moments. Did I mention the pungent aroma of creosote floating up from the ties beneath my dangling feet...made even stronger by the heat of the sun...combined with the lack of even the slightest breeze? The “perfume” of the railroad! For me...right then...life was absolutely perfect.
Almost too soon, the engine was approaching, back through the sand dunes and onto the main track. My idyllic daydreaming came to an end. But...what I had experienced created a special place in my heart and soul. And there it remains as though it was yesterday...instead of so many years ago.
Saturday ride to Montauk created another experience for me.
But this one was not exactly soul-satisfying!
One or more of the guys in the crew would usually have their car parked
at Montauk. They would be off-duty
until Monday, and usually went home for the weekend.
The Montauk Freight worked Monday to Saturday between Patchogue and
Montauk. The job was designated as
L70 (eastbound) and L71 (westbound).
They made a one-way trip each day, alternating the direction, and
ending up at Montauk on Saturday.
They all lived somewhere west of Montauk.
I remember that George Bohne lived in
Eichorn, one of the well-known enginemen, lived in
Amagansett. I don’t recall, now,
where any of the others lived.
Rich Bishop was originally from
Anyhow, as I
said, there was usually at least one car at Montauk.
The reason for that was because they had no way of knowing if they
would arrive...and tie up...before that afternoon passenger train departed.
If they did make it in time, some of the guys would deadhead home on
that train...especially anyone who lived west of Patchogue.
Whoever had the car...quite often George Bohne...would
usually have at least one rider with him.
On this particular Saturday, we arrived and tied up before the
departure time for that passenger job.
I had always ridden back, as far as
after we pulled out of Montauk, the trainman walked into that rear car.
I can clearly remember my pulse quickening!
I didn’t have enough money with me to pay the fare if I got busted!
Thinking about it now, I have a strong hunch that my friends were
playing a game with the trainman...to see if they could smuggle me past him!
Maybe they even had a bet between them!
In any event, he passed the time of day with a couple of the guys...we
were the only occupants in the car.
When he got to where I was sitting (really fast pulse now!), he stopped
and looked at me for a second.
With no expression at all, he asked how I was doing.
I answered, “Pretty good.”
He stood there, looking at me, still no expression, glanced at the brakeman’s
lamp next to me...and then continued towards the rear of the car.
I guess he sat down...I wasn’t about to turn and look!
Pretty soon, as we approached Amagansett, he walked forward through the
car and into the next one ahead. At the
rest of the stops to
When we arrived
My cab riding
days finally came to an end on
Those had been the real “Happy Days” for me! However, a new era in my railroad education was about to begin. I now think of it as “The Era Of J.V.O”.....James V. Osborne.