Sunday, December 19, 2010

Riding the El - 5 - 155th St


We're going to look at more of the '120' negatives we started in Riding the El - 4.

If the film roll numbers are chronological, our photographer visited 155th St again a little later in 1939 or 1940. This time, he definitely had access to non-public areas, so we get a better look at the yard and Putnam Bridge.

And there are some wonderful images in this group.

140-1. Looking south from control tower toward 155th St station.

What an array of switches, on six-track wide elevated railway.

Passenger trains either ended at 155th St or continued over Putnam Bridge, on the left. The tracks below us lead only to the train yard. On the right is a special platform for fans leaving the Polo Grounds.

The closest two cars on the stub track on the left are Composites, the original equipment for the IRT Subway from 1904. They were wooden with copper sheathing. The development of steel cars, which were stronger and more resistant to fire, progressed so rapidly that the Composites were all replaced and moved to the elevated division by 1916. The center doors were added during the cars' time in the subway. The other elevated cars did not have center doors.

140-2. Tower operator, 159th St yard entrance.

The handles controlled signals and switches at the yard entrance. The board hanging above shows 155th St station, lower left, and the array of yard tracks on the right. I love the phones. The striped awnings aren't bad either. The homemade chairs have the same kind of rattan seats as trains.

140-3. 159th St Yard looking north from control tower.

The last track on the right is alongside the Harlem River, and materials could be loaded off barges using the rig that's partially visible.

The sign on the shed says: MOTORMEN & SWITCHMEN / WILL INSPECT ALL / TRAINS BEFORE LEAVING / THE YARD. Was the paper on the floor left by an exhausted employee who thought he had to look at a hundred trains before going home?

One of the work cars has "I. R. T. Co." on the side.

The trains in the background are New York Central Railroad coaches in a storage yard that is still there today between the Hudson Line and the river.

140-4. 159th St Yard looking north from control tower.

A great general view of most of the yard and the repair shops. Just about all of this is on elevated viaduct, not ground level. In the background is High Bridge Park and the heights of upper Manhattan.

As far as I can see, all of these are wooden cars built for service on the elevated system. Most of them are gate cars with open end platforms. On the left (see the middle picture) you can see side by side two sets of gate cars and one set of converted "MUDC" cars that had their end platforms enclosed in a modernization program.


I wonder what this is. It looks like it would tap the third rail shoe.

140-6. Looking west on Putnam Bridge toward the Polo Grounds.

Notice the point of view. Last time (131-6) we had a view like this from the walkway, but now the photographer is up on the bridge structure.

On the right side at ground level is the Polo Grounds Beer Garden. Beyond it is another weird support column just like the one I mentioned last time.

140-7. Looking west on Putnam Bridge toward the Polo Grounds.

Same point of view, looking a little to the left. I scanned this one a little darker to give a better view of the station and the viaduct.

In the foreground is a dilapidated boatyard.

140-8. Harlem River near Putnam Bridge, looking west.

The boatyard was Wessner's Gas Station (for boats), and they have a few customers.

I'm not sure whether the photographer was on the Bronx shore or in a boat when he exposed this one.

Up on the bridge there are a pair of towers (for purposes unknown to me). The one almost off frame on the right was the viewpoint for 140-6 and 140-7.

141-1. Looking south along the Harlem River from the 159th St yard.

This is looking the opposite way from 140-3, above, and from ground level instead of up on the structure.

Putnam Bridge and Macombs Dam Bridge were almost twins. Both would turn 90 degrees on the center pier to allow tall ships to pass.

141-2. Looking north along the Harlem River from about 162nd St.

At the extreme north end of the yard, a few tracks came down to ground level, with third rail, but the switches were not controlled by the tower. A gentleman not in trainyard work clothes demonstrates how to move the "armstrong" switch with one's full body weight.

The stone wall at the left is still there. It supported the Harlem River Speedway, which came downhill from 155th St to river level at this point. The speedway was originally used for amateur horse racing. The grade is now an entrance to the Harlem River Drive.

On the Bronx side we can see some New York Central trains on the Hudson and Putnam lines. High Bridge is in the haze at far left.

That's it for this time.

I added one photo, 132-3, near the middle of Riding the El - 4, because it might have been taken the same day. It shows the viaduct looking north, with a good view of the south side wing, similar to the wing seen in 131-3.

The next group, I promise you, are not at 155th St. It's time to go somewhere else, isn't it?


  1. I thought the yard was referred to as 159th St. The light standards on the Polo Grounds suggest 1940, the year the Giants installed them. Great stuff!

  2. The first picture of the throat of the 158th St will become my desk-top image with two double slip switches and a host of other x-overs. A railfan's dream picture. These yard pics compliment those in my collection at

  3. Publications confirm that the correct name of the yard was 159th St Yard.

  4. I had an anonymous comment to moderate, and it looks like I clicked Delete instead of Post, since it has not shown up. I'm sorry that happened especially since the reader said this series is AWESOME.

    The reader thought that the photos must have been taken on the very last day of service, because of the Composite cars visible in 140-1. He wrote they never ran in service on the Ninth Ave El and were brought in on the last day to work the Polo Grounds Shuttle.

  5. I saw Mellow One's comment about making 140-1 his desktop wallpaper, and I did the same. What a phenomenal picture, and a phenomenal series altogether. I've been waiting for years for photos like these to turn up. Thank you (and your anonymous benefactor) for posting them!

    Having enlarged the photo to fit my desktop, I noticed a puzzling thing. It appears from this view (and confirmed by photo 130-8 from the opposite angle) that the track on the left, where the three-car train is, dead-ends at a bumper at the south end; in other words, this train would have to proceed north and switch back to the next track in order to go in service. What then was the purpose of this track? It seems an inconvenient place to store trains, given so many other tracks with direct access to the station without doubling back.

  6. Thanks for the photos, big NY Giants (and SF) fan and rail fan.

  7. Here is what it looked like in 1903 after electrification with the water tower bridge still in place.