"Even more striking [than Penn Station] is Grand Central, which towers over several blocks. The train skims through the air at a height of three or four stories. The smokey steam engine is replaced by a clean, non-spluttering electric one – and the train plunges underground. For a quarter of an hour there will still flash below you the green-entwined railings – chink of quiet, aristocratic Park Avenue. Then this too finishes and there stretches out half an hour of subterranean city with thousands of arches and black tunnels, streaked wit gleaming rails: every roar, thump and whistle pulsates and hangs on for quite some time. The gleaming white rails go yellowish, then red, and then green from the changing colors of the signals. In all directions, there seems to be a tangle of trains, choked with arches. They say that our emigrants, arriving from the placid Russian quarter in Canada, at first cling dumbfoundedly to the window, and then start whooping and lamenting, ‘We’ve had it, mates, we’re being buried alive! How can we get out of this?’"
We arrived at the appointed time and place, and there milling around the track entrance we met Paul and several other club members. After corralling the troops, we were taken up a nearby service elevator and through the catwalks inside the windows above Grand Central’s main concourse to the Williamson Library. The library has been the home of the New York Railroad Enthusiasts since 1937, and inside is a treasure trove of material befitting the club’s name.
In addition to a fascinating lecture, Russell, who had traveled all the way from Maine to speak, brought with him surprise – he donated all of his great-grandfather’s papers to the Williamson Library. Russell had come across the papers by accident more than thirty years ago while visiting his great-grandfather’s former home in New Hampshire, and he has spent the intervening years poring over the correspondences, architectural drawings and photographs. Now the collection will be passed on to the worthy stewards at the NYRRE.
We would like to extend our thanks to the the New York Railroad Enthusiasts for their warmth and hospitality. We hope they occupy a special place in Grand Central for 70 more years, and we look forward to attending more of their events in the future. To learn more about the NYRRE, visit their website. Their library is open by appointment for research purposes – just send an email to their general information address (firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you would like to learn more about railroads in and around New York, visit the NYRRE’s links page, or check out some of these suggestions:
The New York Transit Museum, the official museum of the MTA, located in downtown Brooklyn.
Take a tour of the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel (and read our blog post about it).
The New York Museum of Transportation in Rush, NY (near Rochester). This museum has the only surviving cars of the Rochester subway – yes, Rochester had a subway.
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