Southampton and James V. Osborne


Jules P. Krzenski


     During this period of time, I spent countless interesting hours in the station office at Southampton with a man named James V. Osborne.  Back then, train movements on the eastern portion of the Long Island’s Montauk Branch were controlled by a manual block system, combined with train orders and clearance cards.  Southampton was designated as “SN”..and Jim Osborne was the block operator.  He and my dad were acquainted, which, I guess, helped to open the door to the block office for me.  Jim Osborne became like a second father to me!


     Luckily, both my mother and father encouraged my railroad interest.  I guess they realized how seriously I really felt about it.  Once the bug had bitten me, that Saturday in 1946, I was totally contaminated!  I had become completely dedicated and determined.  It was not just my future was my future way of life!  I became convinced that, for me, a perfect life would consist of a wife, a family, our own home...and lifetime employment in railroad engine service...with eventual retirement covered by the Railroad Retirement Act.  I wasn’t just a railfan...I was a future railroad employee in training!


     Fortunately, Jim Osborne also had an abiding interest in railroad operation.  He was always more than willing to talk shop with a teenager...who was always more than willing to sit and listen.  Thanks to all those hours I had spent in those H10s cabs with men like George Bohne, my knowledge of engine service had grown quickly.  Now, because of all the hours spent in that block office with Jim Osborne, I learned more and more about railroad operation in general.  I remember one day when he gave me his copy of the Long Island’s employee’s timetable, when it was replaced by the new issue.  He also gave me an extra copy of the LIRR rulebook that he’d had in a drawer.  He told me, “Here, start studying!  They’re yours now, take them home with you and keep studying!”  The Long Island’s employee’s timetable was the same type and format as the Pennsy’s operating timetables.  It listed all scheduled trains in the front section...followed in the rear section by pages and pages of special instructions, charts, lists and diagrams.  The rulebook became a bible to me!  I knew I’d have to eventually pass a book of rules exam, once I was employed, so I was getting a great head-start!


     Thanks to Jim, I also began a train order collection, along with “K” Cards (clearance cards), that grew to include not only the Long Island material.  By way of the “Switch List” in “Railroad Magazine,” I accumulated train orders from most of the American railroads...even the Oahu Railway & Land Company, in Hawaii!  I also had some train orders from Mexico...written in Spanish!  Also, through the “Switch List,” I built a collection of Pennsylvania Railroad employee’s timetables...that covered EVERY division of the “Standard Railroad of The World!”  The Pennsy was my second love, next to the Long Island RR.  Most of this material was eventually sold, in later years, to a collector in New Jersey.


     Jim Osborne made a habit of making an extra copy of most of the train orders that were dictated to him, by telephone (closed railroad communication lines) by the dispatcher in Jamaica.  They were not the flimsy type at that time.  They were made of heavier yellow paper, with carbon backs.  Those extra copies were for my collection.  I’m not sure when the LIRR changed from the flimsy type order forms.  However, Jim had saved a lot of copies of those older style train orders, over the years that he had been blocking trains on the Long Island.  A lot of those old ones also became part of my collection.


     “JVO,” as Jim would often sign train orders and clearance cards, had worked for the Long Island since sometime in the 1920’s.  I don’t recall the date that he told me he had started.  However, a photo that he shot during the early days, was published in Ron Ziel’s and George Foster’s classic book, “Steel Rails To The Sunrise.”  The photo in mind was shot by JVO from the semaphore signal mast at “PT” in Eastport, which controlled the junction point where the Long Island’s old branch from Manorville, on the Main Line, joined the Montauk Branch at Eastport.  It shows the early version of “The Cannonball” coming down the Manorville Branch and approaching the interlocking at “PT.”  I don’t remember the details now, but Jim also talked about spending time as an operator/towerman on the old New York Central’s interlocker at Spuyten Duyvil, north of Manhattan...before being employed on the LIRR.


     Jim had my home telephone number, and would call to tip me off if something interesting, or out of the ordinary, would be happening at the station.  If I wasn’t home, he would give my mom the message so that she could relay it to me if I got home in time.  I remember one time, on a Sunday (one of my two days off at the theatre), he called and told me to get down to the station if I wanted to see a “saw-by” meet.  In those days, the Long Island operated what were called “potato trains” during the extensive potato harvest season (Long Island potatoes were famous back then!).  These were long trains for the LIRR: strings of boxcars, temporarily fitted with heavy lumber, that blocked the open doors.  They were handled by a single H10s Consolidation.  These trains operated empty (MTY) eastbound and loaded westbound, on both the Montauk Branch and the Main Line to Greenport.


     On that particular Sunday, the dispatcher had set up a meet, at Southampton, between an MTY potato train and the westbound “Fisherman’s Special.”  Known as “The Fish Train,” this was a seasonal high-speed hotshot, handled by a Pennsy E6s Atlantic.  Remember, I mentioned this train in a previous anecdote.  It brought fishing enthusiasts out from Jamaica (Penn Station and Flatbush connections), and the western portions of Long Island, early in the morning, to the Montauk docks.  From Montauk, the charter and party boats would take them out for a day of ocean fishing.  For those, who were ready to return home, the westbound trip was made in the late afternoon.  Now, when I say it was a high-speed operation, I mean just that!  NOTHING got in the way of the Fish Train!  It was a priority hotshot in the true meaning of that term!  The high stepping E6s Atlantics were perfectly suited to that job!


     Now, what occurred on that Sunday afternoon really became V-E-R-R-Y interesting!  When I arrived at the station, there was the slowly moving H10s just pulling into the siding...with the hack still, somewhere, far out in the western portions of Southampton!  I don’t recall, now, how many cars he had.  I do remember that it had to be at least two or three times more than what that passing track could hold!    It would have been bad enough if that westbound passenger had been just a regular train,  that would be stopping at Southampton anyhow.  It would have been delayed somewhat, but it would have simply been a little longer that a normal station stop.  But this was the Fish Train...and it DID NOT STOP at Southampton!  They would usually pick up a clearance card, and possibly a “19” form train order, on the fly, as they went past JVO.  Jim would be out on the platform, holding up the wooden hoop (shaped like a capital ‘Y’) with the folded paper forms paper-clipped to the string that was stretched across the upper arms.  But THAT barely slowed them down!


     This time, Jim was out on the platform alright...but he didn’t need the hoop! He was out there for the same reason that he had called me to tell me to “come on down!” watch the fun!  By the time the hotshot came drifting in to a stop, with that big Atlantic in front of the block office, the H10s, at the head of the potato train, was just starting to move slowly through the switch, at the east end of the siding...well to the rear of the now stopped Fish Train.  The skipper came down from the first car and headed towards JVO.


     I was standing just a short distance away.  To say that the man in the uniform was livid would be totally accurate.  He was that, and he was also cussing up a storm!  He ended with, “I don’t believe this!”  Then he apologized with, “I’m sorry,’s not your fault!”


     Well, by the time the hack came slowly around the curve and over the bridge, west of the station...and then rolled through the switch and into the clear...the Fish Train had lost more time than it could ever make up between there and Jamaica!  The rear brakeman on the potato train had dropped off the hack before it cleared the switch...waited...and threw it over as soon as the rear truck cleared.  He waved a “come on” to the engineman on the E6s...and quickly got out of the way!  In his haste, the Fish Train’s engineman slipped those big drivers twice, before he had dropped enough sand to get a bite!  By the time the Fish Train had disappeared around the curve, the potato train’s hack was slowly rolling past the block office.  The conductor, rear brakeman and flagman were all out on the rear platform...big smiles on their faces!  Now, I realize all this sounds like a “fish tale,” but I swear, it’s all true!  Next to those hours in the cabs, it’s one of my favorite memories of those days!


     Another time that Jim Osborne called me at home was the time that the Long Island was using a diesel unit as a demonstrator.  I’m not sure, now, if it was being leased from the builder before being sold, or from the Lehigh Valley, the road that bought it.  Anyhow, it was Lehigh Valley No. 200, a Baldwin DRS44-1500 road switcher.  Jim called me that day and said to get down to the station...if I wanted to see a diesel locomotive!  It was running on a train that would be stopping at Southampton.  As I remember, it was to be the first diesel locomotive I actually saw...and person!  If I had been more history minded back then, I would have borrowed my mom’s camera and shot a photo of it!  However, in 1969, I did buy a 5X7 print of the 200 from a gentleman, named Bert Pennypacker (sound familiar, old timers?).


     Actually, that engine fascinated and impressed me at the time.  I think, even though I may not have realized it at the time, that fact indicated that I had railroad blood in my veins...regardless of the type of motive power!  Maybe I did realize that I was looking at the future of the Long Island least as far as the type of motive power was concerned...if not the builder.  Baldwin never became a major supplier to the Long Island.  Sure, I loved steam locomotives, but in my mind, a locomotive was a it steam, diesel or electric.  They were all interesting and impressive.  The railroad was still the railroad!  But I never dreamed, back then, that the diesel locomotive would eventually eliminate the job classification of locomotive fireman!


     Still another time that I received a telephone tip from JVO was when the two Fairbanks-Morse 2400hp C-Line demos were giving their mechanical sales pitch on the Long Island.  I was at the station when one of the big cab units arrived with the eastbound passenger.  I don’t recall, now, if it was the 4801 or the 4802 (another missed photo op!).


     But I do remember that, as the train rolled in along the platform, Jim was outside  the office, on the platform, holding up the hoop, with a clearance card clipped to the string.  The fireman had the right side cab door open, and was squatting down, with his right arm outstretched to hook the string.  The engineman, a slightly-built, wizened old gent...with one shoulder slightly higher than the other when he was walking...with a limp...was sticking his head out of his open cab window...eyes glaring at JVO!  The old (I think he was at least in his seventies!) engineman’s name was Jimmy Amott.  I feel that name should almost be totally capitalized.  He was probably one of the best-known enginemen the LIRR ever had!  A block-limit station was named in his honor...AMOTT.


     Anyhow, as the big C-liner approached, Jimmy was not only sticking his head out of the window...he was also making a expression that literally screamed, “THIS THING STINKS!”  Besides making a face, Mr. Amott was demonstrating that sentiment by pinching his nose with his thumb and index finger!  Later on, Jim Osborne, with a masterful understatement, said, “I don’t think Mr. Amott likes the diesel!”  As for me, I was really impressed by that locomotive.  The Long Island eventually owned eight of the 2000hp units, Nos. 2001 to 2008, and four of the 2400hp units, Nos. 2401 to 2404.  I didn’t feel that I was being unfaithful to the H10s, the K4s and the E6s steam power of earlier years when those F-M C-Line units became my favorites.  I was attracted to their body lines...and that huge, opposed-piston prime mover had a unique and smoothly powerful sound of its own.  The railroad was still the railroad!  And engine service would still be engine service...regardless of the type of motive power!


     I have to admit now, though, that the C-Line unit was not really a successful model.  They could not MU with Alco power because F-M used Baldwin-Westinghouse controls while Alco naturally went with GE.  If I had worked in the Long Island’s diesel shop, the C-Liners would definitely NOT have been my favorites!  That huge prime mover, with its opposed pistons, was pure hell to work on...from what I recently heard.  The father of the man who unwittingly inspired me to write these memories down, worked as an electrician in the New York Central’s Collinwood Shops (Cleveland).  John told me of how his dad would talk about the Fairbanks-Morse prime mover!  Nevertheless, I’ll always remember the C-Liners...and that smooth sound of power...with a warm feeling.


     In June of 1950, I graduated from Southampton High School at the age of eighteen.  My interest in the railroad had broadened considerably by then.  Maybe I had matured a little more.  My personal connections with the Long Island still existed, but I was also, by then, a die-hard fan of the huge Pennsylvania Railroad!  My favorite divisions were the Middle Division and the Conemaugh Division.  The New York Region, with its catenary and the fabulous GG1 electrics, also held a powerful grip on my attention.  How many readers remember the time, shortly before Christmas (year?), when the GG1, approaching Washington, DC, with a clocker, lost braking ability...and went through the bumper post and then through the floor of the concourse...ending up in the basement...of Washington Union Terminal?!


     The Lehigh Valley, Delaware & Hudson and the Bessemer & Lake Erie were high on my list of favorites.  The Norfolk & Western, with its incredible steam power, held a special place on that list.  The Virginian Railway’s electric operations under the catenary also grabbed me immensely.  The VGN’s huge multi-unit boxcab electrics, with their jackshafts and side rods, absolutely fascinated me.  I’ve always been more interested in freight operations, with its motive power, as compared to passenger motive power.  That’s why the N & W’s big “Y” class AC (articulated-consolidation) engines always excited me more than their ‘J’ class bullet-nosed passenger engines.  Remember...I never really saw any glamour in railroading.  It was always purely an incredibly fascinating industry...of which I wanted to become a small part.


     Anyhow...there I was...eighteen, a high school graduate...and 1A in the draft...and North Korea had invaded South Korea!  Actually, the impact and possibilities of that historic tragedy had not really sunk in yet.  I was totally focused on obtaining railroad employment.  The Long Island, right then, had no vacancies for new firemen.  But I was determined!  Jim Osborne coached me by suggesting that I may find more opportunities in an area that contained a large number of railroads.  He suggested the Chicago area.  Using the “Official Guide” (is that still published?!), he made a list of the names and addresses of the Road Foremen of Engines of most of the roads in that area.  If that official’s name and address was not listed, he used the Personnel Director’s name and address.  I wrote letters to each individual, inquiring about employment possibilities as a locomotive fireman.


     The only positive answer I received was from the Road Foreman of Engines on the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern, at Gary, Indiana.  That road was also known as the Chicago Outer Belt Line.  It was a freight-only carrier, connecting and interchanging with every railroad entering the Chicago area.  The reply had stated that the EJ&E was hiring new firemen at Gary, and that my age and draft status “would not be a bar to such employment.”  My mom and dad encouraged me, undoubtedly with mixed feelings, to go for it!  Jim Osborne helped to arrange for a reserved, reclining seat...with observation car privileges...on the EMPIRE STATE EXPRESS from New York to Cleveland.  Needless to say, most of those miles were spent in that round-end observation lounge car...observing the New York Central...broken up by meals in the diner!  After a lengthy wait at Cleveland Union Terminal, in the middle of the night, I boarded a long mail train, containing a couple of coaches, for the final leg.  I arrived in Gary, Indiana, at 5AM.  I DO remember that time!


     Now, to make a long story short, between the time that letter was mailed from Gary and the time I arrived in Gary, the “J” (that’s what they called the EJ&E in Gary) had experienced a reduction in traffic, and had some firemen furloughed...thus preventing any new hires at that time.  This seemed strange, considering the situation in Korea.  But it was true, and I heard it from several people.  As U.S. Steel had a huge steel mill in Gary, with its own railroad operation, I applied at their employment office.  They had no vacancies.  I discovered that the Wabash Railroad had an office on the south side of Gary. I openings.


     After five days in Gary, my money was dwindling away.  I was staying at the ‘Y’ and was paying by the night...and was eating in restaurants every day.  I discovered that I had enough money left for a coach ticket on the New York Central back to Grand Central Terminal, in New York.  There was then enough left for a ticket on the Long Island RR from Penn Station to Patchogue.  I would have to hitchhike from there to Southampton!  In New York City, I had to walk from Grand Central to Penn money for a taxi!  Leaving Gary, I rode that coach seat on a train that was handled with complete authority by one of New York Central’s beautiful 4-8-4 Niagaras.  Remember them? When I was standing on the Gary platform, up on the embankment, with the city to the south, and the incredible U.S. Steel mill (a city in itself!) to the north, and saw that engine approaching with its train, the instant I saw those elephant ear smoke lifters on each side of the front end, I knew what it was!  I guess the Niagaras were the last mainline steam power on the New York Central.


     Knowing what was up ahead, on that trip back, lifted my spirits somewhat.  Every time the fireman lowered the scoop into the track pans to pick up water on the speed...followed by the water splashing over onto the westbound track, I forgot, for awhile at least, those frustrating days in Gary.  Little did I know, then, that real and intense frustration and disappointment lay the years to come.