LIRR Steam Days at
Jules P. Krzenski
year was 1946 and it was nearing the end of summer.
It was a lazy afternoon in
We had always lived within hearing distance of the railroad station at
I sat on a 4-wheel baggage truck on the platform for almost an hour, watching the engine moving around. They were spotting freight cars at the freight house, on the team track, and then they moved east, past the station, to a point where they could reverse and shove a boxcar onto the lumber yard spur. All this activity was accompanied by much hand and arm signaling by the brakemen, who were constantly swinging on and off the moving cars and engine. It slowly began to occur to me that maybe I’d been something interesting on all those past summer afternoons...when I’d heard that faint “chuff, chuff, chuff, cheep.”
The engine eventually backed up to where the rest of the train, of about 6 or 7 cars, had been left standing, just west of the block signals at the west end of the platform. One of the brakemen had disappeared between the tender and the first car to couple the air. When he reappeared, he perched himself on top of the wooden fence, that ran along the rear edge of the cinder portion of the platform. I sat on my baggage truck, looking at the engine, and listening to the pump building up the brakeline pressure. I didn’t know what that throbbing sound meant then though! About that time, I decided that if I heard that chuffing sound again, in the future, I’d come back and watch the activities once more. They would be going back westbound the next day. I eventually learned that this train was a local freight, called L70 and L71, that worked 6 days a week, between Patchogue and Montauk.
About that time, two men came out of the station office. Both appeared to be in their upper fifties. One of them had what looked to be about a three week stubble covering the lower portion of his face. The stubble caught my attention because of it’s color...it was snow white! The other man, a little shorter than the first...but much heavier...had a real jolly looking face. What a Santa Claus he’d make! Both wore the same type of blue denim overalls, and two-toned, blue and white, striped hats, with solid blue visors. As they walked past me, on their way towards the engine, the man with the white stubble gave me a smile and a, “How ya Doing?” The short fat man, with the Santa Claus face, glanced up from a slip of paper he had been reading, and gave me a smile that would have matched perfectly with a red and white costume!
When they reached the engine, ‘Jolly Face’ pulled himself easily up the side and disappeared into the cab, followed by the brakeman who had been sitting on the fence. The younger man, who had been running the engine earlier, and had been leaning on the armrest in the cab window, talking with the fence-sitting brakeman, also disappeared into the cab. He was replaced by ‘Jolly Face’, who looked down and said something to ‘White Stubble’, who had remained on the ground below the cab. Jolly Face then pulled off four LONG and LOUD blasts on that shrill banshee whistle...that nearly cracked my eardrums! Shortly after, two short ‘peeps’ from the whistle barely made it past the ringing in my eardrums!
The train had begun to move. Out of the stack came a short “chuff, chuff’, followed by an even softer “chuff. chuff.” The next four chuffs were much louder, and then, suddenly, they became solid resounding barks, with the smoke shooting straight up into the sky. After all the times I’d seen trains leaving the station, I realized, now, that the exhaust had a definite 4-beat rhythm to it. As the caboose on the rear end of the short train rolled past White Stubble, he easily swung aboard the rear platform. At that point, the exhaust quickened...and became MUCH louder! As the engine thundered past my baggage cart, Jolly Face looked down and gave me that smile and raised his gloved right hand in a quiet wave...while his left hand jolted my eardrums again with two short...and LOUD... blasts on the banshee whistle. Suddenly...at that instant...the bedlam of sound passing by me became the greatest mixture of noise I had ever heard. It totally entered my being and the experience of it sent a tingling through me, and made my heart pound so hard that a lump seemed to come up into my throat!
I caught a glimpse of the younger man, who I now realized was the
fireman, sitting over on the other side of the cab.
He was leaning out of his window, looking up at the black exhaust, and
seemed to be adjusting something among the knobs and handles with his right
hand. The brakeman, who had
followed Jolly Face up into the cab, was standing behind the fireman, holding
onto the tops of the handrails between the engine and
tender, and looking back along that side of the train.
At that exact moment...with the ground trembling beneath my baggage
cart...I hired out firing on the
Trouble was, though, I was going to have to wait four long years before
I could inform the
The friendly wave and the yelled, “Take it easy!”, from White Stubble, as he stood on the rear platform of the gently swaying caboose as it rattled by, seemed like the period at the end of an incredible story! As I quickly returned his wave, the happy thought crossed my mind that, someday, four years from then, he would be waving to some other kid...and I would be up ahead in the middle of all that sound and furor...on the engine...sitting on the lefthand seatbox. Back then, you only had to be 18 and a high school graduate to start as a locomotive fireman on the Long Island Railroad.
In the months to come, I devoted myself to studying and learning as
much as possible about the
I became good friends with Jolly Face, better known as “Tanky”
Up until the time I turned 16, I spent many Saturday afternoons riding
the cab between Southampton and Montauk.
Yes...it WAS against the rules!
But, during the 1940’s, out on the east end of
One incident comes to mind, when the crew showed how much confidence they had in my knowledge and ability. I think it also indicated how much respect they had for my serious attitude towards railroad safety. I forget the exact location now, but it was at one of the stations between Southampton and Montauk. I had used the station restroom while they were finishing the setouts. As I came out of the restroom, Rich Bishop, a brakeman, asked, “All set?” Then he added, “He’ll pick us up here.” Princey already had the train moving towards us. Without a word being said I knew what to do, and I stood alongside the track. Bishop continued maybe another 30 feet toward the slowly approaching train, and then stopped and waited. the exhaust went silent as Princey closed the throttle, letting the engine drift at about the speed of a (now) fast jogging pace. Bishop glanced over his shoulder at me and then swung aboard the engine as it passed him. He pulled himself up the side and into the cab. As the engine approached me, Princey gave me a “thumbs up” and nodded.
Concentrating on my timing, I reached out and up with my right hand and grabbed the engine handrail as it went by. At the same time, I lifted my left foot, letting the momentum swing me around and up, and planted that foot on the bottom step...and at the same time, grabbing the tender handrail with my left hand. The act of grabbing the engine handrail, as it went by, caused all these movements to easily flow together. As soon as I was off the ground, and had started pulling myself up to the cab, the exhaust came loudly back to life as Princey hauled back on the throttle. Leaning out at arm’s length, I pulled myself up into the cab. Rich looked at me as I stepped onto the deck and gave me a wink. I felt completely accepted!
Besides the H10s Consolidations, the
Bishop did something that afternoon that would be totally unthinkable
nowadays! As if doing 65 miles per
hour through the Promised Land between Montauk and Amagansett on a
Pennsy K4s was not enough of an experience for a
15 year old, he later got up from his right-hand seatbox
and crossed the cab to where I was sitting, on the fireman’s
seatbox (on the front edge of the seat...the
fireman was sitting sideways behind me).
Cupping his hand to my ear, he asked if I was familiar with a whistle
post, and if I knew the signal for a grade crossing.
NATURALLY! This was while
we were approaching Bridgehampton, where we would not be stopping.
There is a road between Bridgehampton and
As we hit the whistle post, I grabbed the cord, draped above my head, and started with the ‘two longs’ and one ‘short’, followed by another ‘long’. I spaced them out so that I could taper off the final ‘long’ as we hit the crossing. What a sound that deep K4s whistle had! Bishop, with a big grin, tapped my left shoulder and yelled, “I’ll give you a grade A on that!” He then added, “OK, back where you were!”
Some cars had been lined up on my side of the crossing, and I often
wondered about the reactions of the people in them. Maybe...”That engineer
looked like a kid!” Luckily, the
Road Foreman of Engines, from
The engines that really stole my heart, though, were the graceful
speed-demons that flashed through Southampton each summer with the
“Fisherman’s Special,” between Jamaica and the Montauk charter and party
boats...with only one stop at the Shinnecock Canal
for the boats that operated from that point.
Anyone who has ever experienced, and can still remember, the hurtling
blur of a Pennsylvania RR E6s Atlantic, at speed, with a string of coaches,
can easily understand what is impossible to put into words!
Usually on the westbound (return) trip, the engineman would close the
throttle when approaching the
If I was not at the station (rarely!), I would be out in front of my home, about three quarters of a mile west of the station. The track was across the street and behind our neighbors’ homes. Luckily, there was no house directly across the street from us. I would be out there, waiting to hear the rapid exhaust approaching from the east. Then the grade crossing warning signal on that high-pitched whistle...followed shortly after by the exhaust suddenly going silent. I could easily tell when the fireman’s arm took the string off the hoop. That rapid exhaust would suddenly come back to life, as the engineman hauled the throttle back to its original position. When that E6s went past my home that exhaust was an almost continuous staccato again...the 4-beat rhythm blending into one never-ending sound! The fireman would either be standing beside the engineman, waiting to see the paperwork, or he would be braced on the deck...swinging the scoop. The E6s was a hand-fired bomber. Memories...Memories!!
Over time, I learned that the
I learned of the existence of the PRR designed L1s
Mikes, that were used in freight transfer service between the
Although fate decreed that I would be employed in