My parents were separated early in my life, so every weekend found my sisters and I shuttling between NYC and Cold Spring NY via the Metro North Railroad. For those of you familiar with the mostly clean, efficient Metro North of today, nothing could be further from the case back in the late 70’s and early 80’s.
Known in those days as Conrail, it was a mismatched fleet of old dusty rail cars pulled along by giant diesel belching locomotives. Many of the rail cars were hold overs from the 1950’s and 1960’s. It was not uncommon to find commuters sprawled out on large lounge chairs, drinking whiskey, smoking cigars and playing poker…..all the while cruising down the coast of the Hudson River. Other cars you stumbled into would be bright, clean and packed with wives and mothers going to Sing Sing to visit there troubled loved ones….
The trains where never on time, and if we were lucky, my mother would get us to Grand Central Terminal just in time to sprint down the platform and jump on to the 7:50, at 8:05pm!
Announcements on the trains where careless and sporadic at best…..but to this day the thought of the conductor yelling out “Cold Spring! next station stop is Cold Spring!” brings me back to those bygone days.
(photo via Penn Central Online)
I would bring friends from the city up to my Dads for some cool suburban fun. Mark Vincent aka Vin Diesel, came up a few times. Back then Mark (or Vin?) was a skinny guy who ate like crazy, including one night when he ate about 12 taco’s my Dad had made…and then we were off to Friendly’s Fishkill for the “Giant Sundae”…..which was a big as a fish bowl!
One very scary situation happend on a snowy night when my sister and I were exiting the train in Cold Spring. Once again the lack of proper communication came into play. She stepped out on the wrong side of the train directly into the path of another oncoming train! The train whistle blew, but my sister was stunned and caught in the oncoming lights. I yelled out to her, and finally she came to and jumped back into the train. Disaster averted. No conducter to be seen…..or heard from.
Another thing about that time period was the condition of Grand Central Terminal. It was dark, dirty, dangerous, and full of gaudy advertising. You would not dare use the restrooms without risking picking up some disease. Restaraunts? Forget about it…although the Oyster Bar was always around. Nowadays, if you look up at the ceiling in the main hall you can see a small square spot that was left uncleaned by the renovation. This mark is to let people know just how dirty the station use to be.
(photo via rogerand frances)
Those days are now long forgotten. Grand Central Terminal was renovated and transformed into one of the stellar land marks of New York City. Conrail gave way to Metro North…..the fleet was modernized and timetables are now strictly adhered to. Progress is good, but in some ways I miss those old “funky” days….It was a transitional time, the day of pay phones and subway tokens. I just feel fortunate to have been there to have a glimpse into the past every time I stepped onto one of those dusty old trains.