Sunday, February 13, 2011

Riding the El - 11 - Second Avenue


Last time we went uptown on the Second Avenue El to 125th St, about May 1940.

At the end of the Second and Third Avenue Els was a joint terminal filling the city block between 128th St and 129th St. The full-time Second Ave service was a local that turned left into that terminal. Another service of express trains, rush hours only, instead turned slightly right and went over the now-gone Second Avenue Bridge to the Bronx. We'll take a look at the terminal in this set of images.

Here's an aerial photograph of the area from 1924 with my annotations.

This comes from NYCityMap, provided by the City of New York. Evidently the City had the entire city photographed from the air, and fitted the images together into a mosaic. Who knew? The big '6A' is from the mosaic makers.

First we'll ride from 125th St station on Second Ave around the bend into the terminal.

135-5. Second Ave north from 125th St station.

Nobody's in sight as we look north to the Bronx. Downtown local track on the left, uptown local on the right. Only rush hour expresses take the ramp to the upper level of the bridge.

It's not a sunny day, so the striped awnings of the control tower are up. The switches here would not be in regular use outside rush hours.

135-5 detail.

The mundane pipe fittings of the lamp stands and station name sign must have been familiar sights to riders. And there's the sign about not riding on the front or rear platforms.

The photo tour will go up the local track on the far right.

137-5. Second Ave north at 128th St.

We'll be taking the track that curves left into 129th St terminal. The path straight ahead leads to the lower level of the bridge, and on the right is a small yard with cranes hanging over the Harlem River. The Ruppert Beer works was in the Bronx. Just below the sign is Second Avenue Bridge, a double-deck swing bridge for four tracks. (We'll get a closer look at it next time.)

137-5 detail.

I'd like to tell you the purpose of the small yard but I can't. As you can see, the sidings are only long enough for one or two rail cars. My guess is something to do with shipping or receiving from river barges, but it's hard to say what. This area was rebuilt around 1915, well after the steam locomotive era on the el, but would it be to get coal for stations and other buildings on line?

137-7. 129th St Yard shop building.

As the train turns into the block of private property, it passes a shop along the 128th St side. It's hard to see but there may be pits under the tracks to allow staff to see the underside of cars.

135-4. 129th St station looking west.

The platform straight head is the Second Avenue El terminal. The lefthand track continued, turning left to join the Third Avenue El, but no passenger trains made that move.

The next platform to the right is a terminal for Third Avenue El trains not going to the Bronx. A third platform barely visible to the right of that was the main platform for Third Avenue trains. The platforms are connected by an enclosed overhead footbridge.

The train on the left is on a non-passenger track alongside the shop building. Ahead, on a higher level, is the Third Avenue El single express track, which passed over the 129th St station without a platform.

135-4 detail. Second Avenue El station at 129th St.

Train men swap a few stories, hidden from view of passengers on the platform, if there are any. Things look pretty quiet in the station.

135-3. 129th St station looking west to Third Ave.

Seen from the uptown end of a Second Ave train, this is the track that connects to the Third Avenue El. It's the same track seen straight ahead in the previous view. The other Second Ave track ends at the bumper on the right.

And this seems to have been a good place to keep spare frogs and points.

137-6. 129th St station looking east.

Almost the opposite view to 135-4. We are on the Second Avenue platform looking back toward Second Ave. The train that was on the left in 135-4 is gone, so we can see the side of the shop building with its platform for staff. Notice the control tower in the distance.

137-4. 129th St station looking east.

The same tower. The tracks turn right to go downtown on Second Avenue.

Like 135-4, the photograph is framed by the roof and posts of the rear platform of the train. The photographer was shooting out the end door of the car body. After all he must have seen the nicely lettered warning sign about going out on the rear platform!

135-2. 129th St looking east.

Something a little different. This is the Third Avenue El through express track over 129th St, used only in rush hours. The platform below to the right is for most Third Ave trains running to the Bronx. To its right is the other shop building that was located beyond the end of the Third Ave terminal platform.

Second Avenue Bridge is ahead and to the left ; Willis Avenue Bridge (from the end of First Ave) is in the distant haze at center.

One of the things I've enjoyed about this whole series of pictures has been seeing the people living their lives in their 1940 clothes in their 1940 world with their 1940 ads. We sure didn't get much of that this time.

Maybe the photographer felt the same way, because while shooting roll 135 he tried to capture the interior of a train.

135-6. Elevated train interior.

The long exposure shows. I've had the same problem myself shooting in dark spaces without flash or tripod. The movement here is probably only the photographer's hands.

This is a wooden car, with rattan seats. Rattan is a kind of palm, by the way. Look at the wood trim in the panel on the left. Just amazing. Wood sash windows, open on a warm day.

The seating arrangement was known as the Manhattan plan. It had seats parallel to the sides near each end of the car, where people were likely to stand, and a few rows of cross seats in the middle of the car. Notice the leather straps for standees, the origin of the term straphangers.

The blurred woman in the middle has possibly a straw hat and possibly a floral print dress. She has some sort of bag next to her. Sitting in the end seat makes me think she's not going far.

Next time, the track less taken: Second Avenue El to the Bronx.


  1. 137-5 detail -- the car on the right illustrates an odd feature of the MUDCs -- the storm door slid to the right (facing the front of the car from inside).

    137-4 -- I never thought of the "FRONT and REAR platforms" in relation to the open platform cars, just to keeping people out of the end vestibules of the MUDCs.

  2. Each pair of open platforms between cars was supervised by a trainman who opened the gates by hand and prevented people from leaning out or jumping on and off moving trains, but there was no one to watch the front and rear platforms. Those dangers were eliminated with the MUDC cars, which had had their end platforms enclosed. But as the previous commenter knows, there was another reason to keep people off the front platform.

    The motorman's cab was inside the body of the car, not on the end platform. This was even true with the MUDC cars like the one on the right in 137-5. So if passengers stood in the first car's enclosed platform, they would block the motorman's view forward!

  3. Perhaps the photographer wanted to catch a memory of the woman. :)

    I like that what looked to be two trainmen at first turned out to be four or more on closer inspection.


  4. Thanks for these wonderful pictures and the descriptions that went with them. There is very little information available on the net about the 129th terminal. I had never heard of the Bergen Cutoff until I read about it on your site, and I wondered why the 3rd avenue el had two levels in the south Bronx. The link to NYCityMap was very helpful too since the only aerial pictures of NY I had been able to find were from and that site didn't have anything before 1954.