Chapter IX - New York City
Mom had a fixed a huge pork roast with mashed potatoes, and one of my favorite dishes - long yellow asparagus spears in a rich cream sauce.
Dad was stretched out in his favorite chair. Normally, he would be "sawing logs" about this time, and trying not to swallow a gigantic wad of Union Workman that he stuffed into his mouth immediately after dinner.
He cleared his throat, as he sat up a little straighter in the chair, and said, "Bill, there's an envelope in my jacket pocket. Would you please get it and bring it here"? Bill said, "Sure, Pop"! He brought back a small envelope, and handed it to Dad. We all let out a squeal! We recognized what it was at once - a railroad pass! Dad said, "How would you boys like to take a train trip to New York City?" "Can we Dad?" He said, "I'll try to save a few dollars out of my next paycheck, and we'll go. Maybe we can stay in a hotel one night, but we will really have to scrimp by on what I have." We were well aware of the definition of the word scrimp - we had to scrimp every day.
Dad had a B&O timetable. He always liked the Baltimore and Ohio Line, more than the Southern Railroad that we rode to Mobile, Alabama a few years before. We got a geography book out of the closet, and started to plan our trip. We can leave Cincinnati at night. It will take one day and two nights to get there. It's 720 miles by rail, from Cincinnati to New York City.
We will have to go part of the way on "Milk Trains". Dad said, "I figure, if we layover in Washington, DC, we can catch a night train at 8:00 o'clock, and sleep on the train like we did before. We'll get to New York City early in the morning.
We can see the sights and get a good night's rest in a hotel. Then we will catch the train home the next night". We asked, "How soon can we go"? "Right after I get paid", Dad said. On the evening of August 16th, we rode the bus downtown, and transferred to the streetcar that went past the Union Terminal. The terminal still looked pretty much the same. We had to wait a little while until it was time to get aboard. Dad figured Bob was big enough now to stand the ordeal of traveling the way we did.
The conductor helped us on board and we ran through the coach to select our seats in the middle of the car. We were the first passengers aboard. Dad put our suitcases up in the overhead luggage racks. We adjusted the backs of our seats so we would be facing each other. By this time, the excitement had peaked, and drained much of our energy. Bob was tired and getting cranky, before we even got started. We curled up in seat and dreamed of New York City. I think Pop was zonked before any of us.
We didn't feel the train jerk as we started to move. I guess we were sound asleep when we pulled out of the terminal. The sun was up when we rolled into Parkersburg, West Virginia. Dad said, "We will be here long enough to stretch our legs and get a cup of Java.
Bob started drinking coffee about three days after he was weaned. We all had a cup of coffee and a Danish with nuts in a little diner near the station. Then we climbed back on board, as the conductor waved his lantern and gave that familiar call - "Allabooaarrd". There was a blast of steam from the locomotive, followed by several jerks, and we were on our way. We were studying the timetable, looking up the places we were going to stop like Clarksburg and Parkersburg, Front Royal, and Washington D.C.
It was early morning, and there was a beautiful blue haze like mist hanging over the mountaintops. Dad said, "Look out there! Those are the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. They are a part of the Alleghenies, which run into the Appalachian Mountains. We learned a lot more about geography on those trips than we did in the classroom. Living the experience can not be compared to reading about it out of a textbook.
Dad could never afford the frills of a real vacation in the traditional sense, but those trips we took on steam locomotives were the most thrilling and memorable events of our young lives. Moving across the platforms between cars, while the train was racing fifty or sixty miles per hour, was really exhilarating. The sights and sounds of passenger cars and freight cars, being attached and detached, added to our excitement.
We were extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to travel across the country on a Free Pass during this time of utter destitution for so many. Even though our resources were very meager, we enjoyed many fantastic Train trips. These adventures we would relive time and again for many years, often remembering things that had been forgotten in years past.
When the train pulled into the Union Station, we were raring to go and see the sights. Dad took our suitcase out of the overhead rack, and we left the train. Then we caught a bus over to the Capitol Building and strolled around looking at the statues in the Hall Of Presidents. We walked up Pennsylvania Avenue and saw the White House where President Roosevelt lived. We didn't get to see him though. Our train wasn't scheduled to leave until midnight, although it was in the terminal. A couple freight cars had been attached to the end of the train in front of the caboose. They were being loaded with freight. It was quite common for passenger trains to pull several freight cars on occasion, especially on milk trains.
These trains were called "Milk Trains because people jokingly said that they stopped to pick up milk every time the engineer saw a cow.
We climbed aboard our milk train about 9:30. By that time, the three little travelers we running out of steam. Dad rented two pillows from the Red Cap.
We curled up, totally spent, and drifted off to dreamland. Our puffer belly chugged into Grand Central Station in New York City about 7 o'clock in the morning. We climbed a flight of stairs and walked down a long hall that led to the grand concourse. It was enormous! There must have been a zillion people coming and going every which way. Dad said, "You boys hold hands, and stay close to me." We sure didn't intend to let him get out of our sight, not in this zoo!
Grand Central Station was really magnificent! It looked about three times as big as our Union Terminal back home. We gawked around the station for a little while. Then, Dad told us we were going to the Automat for breakfast.
He had been to New York City a couple times with Don, so he knew his way around pretty well. The Automat was a fantastic automated diner. There were vending machines spread across one entire wall of a long room. A huge steam table lined the other wall. A long counter had a row of stools next to it. This gargantuan vending machine had every kind of food that you could possibly imagine.
Most entrees were fifteen cents. Salads, vegetables and desserts were ten cents. Danish rolls were five cents. You just put coins in a slot below the item you selected, that released the lock on the access door. You would remove the item and park your carcass on a stool. The whole place seemed incredible. The line of hungry patrons seamed endless.
The subway station was just about a block away from the Automat. We ran down two flights of concrete stairs, into the subway station. Dad gave each of us a token and said, "Put this in the slot on the turnstile. That was a weird looking gate that had three short pipes sticking out. It blocked your path to the subway trains. We slipped the tokens in the slot and pushed the pipe around to walk past it. In a few minutes, the subway train came roaring down out of a dark tunnel. The tunnels were called tubes. The train had about twenty cars hitched together. One of the cars stopped right in front of us, and all the doors just flew open at once. POW! When we got on the train, all the doors slammed shut and we whistled out of the station.
A conductor walked through and called out the different stops. "Next stop 34th Street. When he said, "Next stop 56th Street, we went to the door.
When it stopped, and we piled off. We climbed up the stairs into daylight and civilization.
Several blocks down the street a hotel called the Penn Post Hotel. Dad signed the register. A "bellboy" took our suitcase and led us to our room. It wasn't very fancy. It cost five dollars for all of us, but five dollars was a lot of money. That would compare to sixty dollars today.
We stretched our tired bodies across the beds for a short nap. Bill said, "Hey Dad! Can we see the Statue of Liberty?" I said, "I want to see the Empire State Building." Dad said, "We can go and see any thing you want - that's what we came here for." We rested a while, then took off for the New York Harbor and a place called Battery Park. It was right near the ocean. The sights and sounds are impossible to describe. Our necks were stiff looking at all the tall buildings. It seemed as though we had walked into a forest of skyscrapers. Everybody was in a rush to get where they were going. They were almost running. Men were pushing all kinds of carts out in the streets. They were loaded with all kinds of stuff especially racks of clothes.
We thought the harbor in Mobile, Alabama had a lot of boats. Compared to the New York Harbor, Mobile Harbor in the Gulf was a lagoon! A big six or seven-story building was on fire near the edge of the water. There were three fire boats squirting huge streams of water on the fire. The water was pumped out of the ocean through things called water cannons. They looked like the deck guns on a submarine, but were much bigger. They could throw a stream of water about one hundred yards.
There were ships of every description lined up in the harbor. There was a large queue of people forming, some of them were yelling there it is, pointing out to sea. Then we saw what they were waiting for. A very loud deep blast of a ship's whistle sounded from the ship. Then it seemed like every ship in the harbor blew its whistle loud and long. It was a salute to welcome the French Luxury Ocean Liner NORMANDIE on her maiden voyage to the United States. It stopped about a quarter of a mile from the harbor, and six tugboats were on their way out to escort her into her berth.
Dad told us that large ships cannot maneuver into a dock like a small boat. They need to be pulled and guided into port by very powerful little boats. That's why they are called Tug Boats.
To Chapter 10
Back to Introduction