Time Trippers: The Nights of the Round Table – Take a Ride on the Third Avenue El   Leave a comment


Capturing the Spirit of the Twenties:  The New York Elevateds: The Third Avenue El

The New York Elevated lines were alive and well in the 1920s. A nuisance to near by residents, they were eventually slated to be replaced by subways, at least that was the hope. The Interborough Rapid Transit or IRT ran the elevateds on Manahttan and the Bronx.

The Elevated lines began with the 9th Avenue El in 1870, single-tracked and cable powered. the cable proved so troublesome that it was replaced by steam engines. It was originally single tracked like a shuttle. The Sixth Avenue line followed and the Third Avenue line began service in 1878.

They were operated by two companies, the Metropolitan and the Manhattan Elevated, were merged and subsequently taken over by the first real New York subway, the Interborough in 1903.

The lines were upgraded over the years, especially with the Dual Contracts, a massive construction effort to add and improve subway and elevated lines beginning in 1913, with the Third, Second and Ninth Avenue lines getting center express tracks, for one way rush hour service. The express tracks were very cool, in that the line was so narrow that the express stations had to be built over the local stops, with the express track climbing up to the station and down again like a roller coaster. (the Ninth had a center express track earlier by default due to numerous rebuilding by the 1890s) – See photo insert with a Third Avenue  express climbing to an express station.

To get a sense of what the lines looked like, please see the track map at the New York Subway fan site:


Another view of the Chatham Square station where the Third and Second Avenue Lines met and interchanged from the Bowery in a 1917 postcard:


Excerpt from Time Trippers: The Nights of the Round Table: Wall Street

Monday morning, we got up early because I wanted
to show them Wall Street in action. Besides, I had a plan
to make some money in the market. We walked the short
distance to Grand Central Station after a quick breakfast.
It was, of course busier than Philly was, mobs of people
streaming out of the station, heading for taxis and the subway.
Eight o’clock and the height of rush hour. Instead of
the subway, we would take the elevated train

We walked past Grand Central two short blocks to the
3rd Avenue El. The old steel viaduct was built in 1878 and
modernized in 1913 and it stretched for miles. It was eventually
torn down in 1955. The beautiful Chrysler Building
next to the station was not yet built, but they were tearing
down some old buildings to begin its construction. A train
was just pulling in and making a terrible noise, the kids
held their ears and grinned.

We walked up the wooden stairway to the ancient twolevel
42nd Street station with its stained glass windows.
We had to buy tickets, not tokens, only a nickel. A guard
‘chopped’ our tickets to let us in onto the downtown local
platform, the express platform above us.
We walked upstairs to catch a downtown express. I
explained that the center track was a one-way express line
with limited stops. The El was so narrow that the express
stops had to be raised above the local platforms.
“Hey, this is like a roller coaster!” Jonathan said.
“Yeah, isn’t it? Not as much fun but a nice ride anyway,”
I said.

A downtown express rolled up the ramp to our platform,
old wooden open-platform cars like a train in a Western
movie. The ‘gatemen’ slid open the gates, no doors, as a rush
hour crowd got off. We got on the first car, and pushed our
way through the crowd to the front door. A pretty woman
sitting in front in a natty woolen rather man-like suit gave
the kids a big smile, Jonathan smiled back.

This express was going all the way to South Ferry. We
took off, the old traction motors groaning as we rolled
down the ramp, bouncing and rocking on the center track,
passing 34th then 28th Streets at a fast clip, briefly playing
tag with a local as it accelerated between stops.
The local was making bright blue sparks as its pickup
‘shoes’ tapped the unprotected ‘third rail’ along its track.
The kids asked me if that was what made it run?
“Yep,” I told them. “Each track has a third rail raised
up on insulators along side with 600 volts of electricity and,
look, it is not protected in any way so track workers have to
be very careful not to touch it.”

We climbed the ramp to a stop at 23rd Street station,
then down again, the kids enjoying the bouncing ride,
making a few more stops, rolling above the Bowery, a seedy
street even then, to the dizzy heights of Chatham Square station
complex, gateway to Little Italy and Chinatown,
where the 2nd Avenue El passes under us, our train staying
on the upper level. We could change there for City Hall but
we were headed for Wall Street.

Our train rolled on, screeching around the tight curves
of lower Manhattan, the line tracing the old narrow colonial-
era streets. It felt like it would jump the track, the kids
laughed in delight. We rode all the way to South Ferry and
its big El terminal also called The Battery, the big green
space on the tip of Manhattan, and enjoyed the vista of
the harbor and the skyscrapers of the financial district,
along with the Statue of Liberty. Only New York enjoys this
intimacy with the sea. The harbor was alive with ships and
seemingly countless ferries busily thrashing across the
Hudson connecting the many rail stations in New Jersey
with the financial district.

We walked up Broadway to Wall Street, old Trinity
Church looking small among the towering buildings with
its ancient graveyard. I thanked God that this was still 74
years before the obscenity of the attack on the World Trade
Center. Twin towers did indeed occupy that site, but they
were the very modest Hudson Terminal buildings. I pointed
out the Woolworth Building, which was now the tallest building
in the world at 792 feet. Only the Eiffel Tower was taller.
We walked down Wall Street’s narrow canyon. The kids
posed by George Washington’s statue at the Sub Treasury
building, where he took the oath of office as America’s first
president. The Stock Market fronted Broad Street, The
House of Morgan was the most prominent stock brokerage
on Wall Street, and nearby Mike Meehan & Company, a
more modest brokerage, was our destination.

To find out more, and have some fun along the way, take a walk back in time with us to the last week of September, 1927 to see Babe Ruth hit his record-breaking 60th home run. Hang out with the incomparably witty Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and Harpo Marx. Meet Dorothy’s friend, F. Scott Fitzgerald; run into a young and as yet unknown James Cagney, Ben ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, a certain Japanese Navy midshipman and many others. Based on actual events (including the goodwill visit by two Japanese Navy training cruisers), it provides an accurate snapshot of life at the height of the Jazz Age.
If you liked ‘Midnight in Paris’ or ‘Boardwalk Empire’ and enjoy Jack Finney’s ‘Time and Again,’ then you might like this book too! Enjoy! Available on Amazon both Paperback and Kindle editions!

Time Trippers: The Nights of the Round Table Amazon Page


Posted December 5, 2012 by mikeile51 in The Books

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