Sunday, May 31, 2009

Beach Train

There was once a little railway in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, called the Beach Train. The two-foot gauge track was laid in the sand, parallel to the boardwalk. The trains took riders the half mile from Jenkinson's Pavilion to Manasquan Inlet.

If a thing like this had been established in England, it would have had its own corporate title, a band of enthusiasts, and several small books devoted to its history and operations. But this one was just the Beach Train.

I rode it when I was a kid. I remember being puzzled at the three-rail main line, and I remember the fun of riding a little train along the beach.

Years later I rode it again with my own little kid. The Beach Train was down to a single track two-rail main, and a tenth of a mile had been cut from the north end after housing was constructed at the inlet. But it still had the same trains, now in their last years.

Here's a southbound train on a foggy early evening in June 1990.

(We've got a lot of images in this post. Click them for larger versions. They are all my own photographs, except the next four.)

Charles Jenkinson opened the Pavilion in 1928. It transformed Point Pleasant Beach from a quiet seaside town to a popular day tripper destination. The pavilion itself was a large open building on the beach side of the boardwalk, offering various refreshments, and facing it on the land side was another Jenkinson building with a store and swimming pool. The business flourished even in the harsh economic times of the 1930s. Jenkinson established a second
pavilion at Manasquan Inlet in 1934, and in 1938 his son and successor Orlo Jenkinson acquired the 2,000 feet of beach that separated the two. For historical reasons the food and concession facilities were located at each end of the combined property, but this had the pleasing effect of leaving a large central area relatively open with just the boardwalk and the beach. (For a little more history, see Amusement Parks of New Jersey by Jim Futrell, Stackpole Books, 2004.)

The railway opened in 1949. It served both as a gentle amusement ride and as transportation between the two Jenkinson's units. Both round trip and one-way tickets were sold. This almost made it a common carrier, but what I suppose exempted it from regulatory red tape is that it ran entirely within the property of one company.


Historic track plans are not available, but the basic plan was a main line parallel to the boardwalk with a loop at each end. The Inlet station was on the north loop. The Pavilion station however was located on a single track extending past the south loop. Trains had to back out a
short distance past the siding switch, and then run forward into the south loop to turn.


The three aerial views below, from postcards published circa 1955 to 1960, show the Beach Train layout. The postcard images are from Point Pleasant History.


Blogger Emil Salvini at
Tales of the New Jersey Shore writes:
At one time there were three shiny locomotives that pulled seven, two seat cars each and a pair of them always ran in seven-minute intervals often passing each other at 20 MPH.
I know of two engines: 311 delivered in 1949, and 312 delivered in 1953. They seem to have been from the same unknown builder, since later evidence is that the parts were interchangeable. Orlo Jenkinson did not go for railway nostalgia, but ordered engines that looked similar to the most modern main line power, Electro Motive Division F units, although they are not scale models. As J R May commented in 2008, they were amusement park trains "but the locomotives are hefty".

The main line was laid with three rails, with a full four-rail passing siding about halfway. The three-rail section was cheaper than full double track and still had the advantage of eliminating switches at the loops.


Another postcard view, below, gives a good view of most of the line
looking south from a point over the north loop. This shows how the three-rail main line avoided a switch where the loop starts. The passing siding is clearly visible in the distance.


Below, engine 311 leads a northbound six-car train at the reverse curve near Inlet, on three-rail track. This is the same curve seen in the previous view. Postcard view from Point Pleasant History.


Below, engine 312 leads a southbound train on three-rail track. Photo by J R May, late 1970s, used by permission of The Two Footers.


I took the four photographs below in October 1989. They show the trains laid up in the off season. It amazes me that they were not covered at all, allowing wind-blown sand to beat them and blow into the engine compartments. The entire fleet at this time was the two engines and seven passengers cars numbered 1 to 7.

Below: Pavilion station. The stairway, left foreground, led to a concrete platform with benches for waiting passengers. The sidewall differences between engines 311 (front) and 312 are apparent, as well as their general similarity.


Below: Close-up of engine 312 and the identification text of 311.
Both engines had notations "JBT" (Jenkinson's Beach Train), and stated the year delivered. They also had an "F" designating the front end, as unnecessary as that may seem!


Below: Looking north from Pavilion station. The south loop is visible in the near distance. It's about six weeks after the line closed for the season, and the track is already disappearing under the sand.


Below: Looking south from the north loop, at almost the same location as the postcard view of 311 a few images back. The Pavilion is the white building in the distance. The loop is the track in the right foreground and it returned just this side of the fence in the near distance. Inside the loop the siding is visible together with some extra rails.



__________________


Let's take a ride! The following are from a set of photos I took one evening in July 1990. The film exposure has some problems, but the images preserve scenes on a now-vanished railway. Jenkinson's closes the beach when the lifeguards go off duty at 5:30, so we don't see anybody out there at this hour. Engine 311 will be protecting the schedule today.

Below: We back out of Pavilion station until we are past the switch. There (not shown) the brakeman gets off the train and armstrongs the switch to point into the loop, and we proceed forward into the loop.



Below: The engineer pauses the train in the south loop. The brakeman has reset the switch for the siding, for the return trip, and approaches the train. In a moment we will begin our journey north.


Below: The spring switch where the south loop joins the main. The northbound train (coming in from upper right) pushes its way through.


Below: The main line, looking north. This is why track is not usually laid in loose sand! In the distance is the dark pile of housing built at the inlet, seen looming over the white refreshment pavilion that was now the only public facility at the inlet end of the line.


Below: Running northbound.



Below: Northbound train, seen trackside. The brakeman sits sideways at the back of the engine. The Pavilion is in the left distance.


Below: The later Inlet station, after the railway was cut back, consisted of a bench and blue garbage can.


Below: On the other side of Inlet station, one passenger car waits on the siding inside the loop.


Below: Leaving the north loop, heading back south.


Below: Running southbound.


On this same date I came upon the scene of an accident. A passenger car of a southbound train had derailed at the spring switch coming out of the north loop. The engine pulled away so that the brakeman and two other men from the company could loosen the switch and right the car. The passengers appear dazed from the experience.


__________________


The third generation of Jenkinsons sold the business in 1977 to Pasquale Storino and associates, who had been previously in the gambling machine business. Storino quickly upgraded the old pavilion and other buildings, and began acquiring the other boardwalk properties. At the inlet, a large residential complex was built where there had been a kiddie park and later a miniature golf course. The Beach Train railway's north loop was relocated about 500 feet south, and more importantly there were now no amusements at the inlet to draw visitors.

Emil Salvini writes,

By the mid 1990s the new owners of Jenkinson's lost interest in the train and the Zitarosa family purchased the train running it as a labor of love. Parts were impossible to locate so locomotive parts were pirated from each other and by the end one locomotive could barely run at 5 MPH on a single set of tracks. The family struggled to find a buyer as they dealt with the constant deterioration of the tracks caused by the sand and heat. In the end they gave up the good fight and the old beach train became a Jersey Shore memory.
Engine 311 may have been the survivor. It is the one seen pulling a train in my 1989 and 1990 photographs.

The Beach Train's last run was on Saturday, August 31, 1996. The New York Times reported, "The train's owner, Rick Zitaross, said that an amusement park in New York State had expressed interest in giving the train a new home."

However the train ended up in private hands. J R May wrote late in 2008 at The Two Footers, a periodical for narrow gauge enthusiasts:

I have now joined the ranks of two-foot gauge ownership with my recent purchase of the "remains" of the Jenkinson's Beach Train which ran on the beach here in Point Pleasant, NJ for nearly 50 years. I rode many times as a kid and even collected tickets on it and ran it back in the 1977 summer season. The more complete of the two locomotives is here in my garage in Wall, NJ, and the four cars and second locomotive are down in South Jersey with my 3' gauge Porter.
Therefore that much of the rolling stock survives. The Beach Train railway though will not be seen again.


Next time: Growing smaller.

19 comments:

  1. I remember riding this train as a child in the late 70's. Too bad it no longer exists, but thanks for preserving a bit of history here, and bringing back some good memories.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


    Patricia

    http://lioneltrains.info

    ReplyDelete
  3. There are many comments on this page at:

    http://www.railroad.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=127&t=62923

    It calls this page an "outstanding article"! One of the comments has a recent photo by J R May showing engine 311 in its current state.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I WAS VERY SAD, YET MELANCHOLY, TO SEE THESE PICTURES AGAIN! I REMEMBER THE BEACH TRAIN AND MISS IT. THANKS FOR SHARING. BTW, WAS THERE EVER A SKYRIDE IN PT PLEASANT?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Oh does this bring back memories. I rode this train way back in 1945. My grandfather lived in New York and when we visited him he took me to the Jersey shore and we rode the train. Wonderful memories. Thank you so much. Sharon Deckard now President of the Illinois Prairie Railroad Foundation

    ReplyDelete
  6. hi was great to see some pictures of my younger self working on the train That was the good old days. Thank you. Alex Crawford

    ReplyDelete
  7. Great article! I rode this train as a child. Got a job digging out the tracks in the beginning of the summer and after any storms as a teenager in the early 90's. Worked on it for 2 seasons and was a conducter for the 2nd. Brings back alot of memories. Thank you. I wish it was still there to ride with my son.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I worked for Jenkinsons and I also ran the Holiday Playland train--an MTC 16 diesel replica---that was number 726--restored after the boardwalk fire--it is in Florida with a Southern Pacific paint scheme. I still think The Jenks train can be redone and ran on tracks someplace---even Allaire airport or put tracks at the Marconi Heritage Museum in Wall. Mr. May--thanks for keeping the beach train in our area!!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I have a picture of the train framed and hung here at home in Dayton, Ohio. My hometown was Point Pleasant Beach as a child. My memories are vivid.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thank you so much for posting these pictures. I spent every summer of my childhood at Jenkinson's Beach and loved every minute.

    ReplyDelete
  11. after the recent super storm Sandy, there have been many old-time postings on facebook about the shore area, and my sister came across the beach train picture and posted it to me and my other sister because our grandfather was the engineer for some time back in the 70's...maybe even into the early 80's...this prompted me to do a google search and so glad I did...loved your story....thank you so much

    ReplyDelete
  12. Thank you for these pics. My Grandfather drove this train in his retirement years and there are 2 pics of him you have. I was a passenger on that train alot in the summer brought back a lot of memories

    ReplyDelete
  13. AS a young child, my uncle would invite us to shore houses he and my aint would rent. I so remember this train and LOVED it so much. The hum of the engine, the slight rock back and forth and the slight smell of exhaust mixed with the sea/beach air. And taking it when it would start to get ever so twilight and see all the lights of the arcades and rides lit up...I miss those days terribly.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I remember working on the Beach when the train stopped running, it was after hurricane Felix caused erosion that several bulldozers dug up most of the tracks, we still found remnants of the tracks for many years thereafter, especially near where the "loops" once were

    ReplyDelete
  15. I'm a 35 year old guy from Staten Island, NY and I would spend my summers in Pt. Pleasant Beach when I was younger. Working on this beach train that this blog is about was my very first job! I remember I was paid $3 an hour to shovel the tracks in the morning. On Wednesday nights I would shovel the tracks because there used to be a free orchestra on the beach (which was run by Father Alfonse from St. Peter's church). I also used to shovel the tracks on Thursday nights after the free fireworks show! When I worked on the train each summer my boss' name was Rick. Rick also ran the old waterslide because I remember after my shift on the train I would go across from the little depot to the waterslide and hand mats out to the people.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I was born in Point Pleasant and lived in Manasquan for many years. Well remember the beach train, rode it many many times. I always remembered the engines as being painted blue and white. I think the cars were basicly roller coaster cars adapted to steel rail. I also remember that the equipment was stored in the winter in a garage at the north end, very close to where the " monkey house" used to be. I can recall as a young kid one year, early in the season a crew of employes unloading the cars at the north end off of a large flat bed truck and rolling them down the ramp to the track. They would then man handle them on the track and give them a shove to get the cars out of the way. Years latter I talked to one of the engineers and he told me that the motors in the engines were ford, the same I believe were used in small ford tractors. The flange ware was extreme, the sand wore them down to a knife edge!
    I know there was another small train operation at the south end also. I believe it was prior to Jenkionson's train. It was a real steam engine and ran on a small loop of track. Twelve or maybe eighteen in gage. So sad to see it gone....

    ReplyDelete
  17. Great photos, thanks for the info

    ReplyDelete
  18. These photos bring back so many good memories of my dad back when life was simple and Sundays were the day to spend with the family. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete