New York Central Song


“Twilight of American Rail Travel” means different things to different people. To me, it meant the period in the 1960’s until Amtrak when passenger service went downhill. More specifically, it was the “Empire Corridor” running along the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers to New York City. Before the “twilight”, well maintained, well patronized New York Central trains ran this route.

My favorite song is

“City of New Orleans” written by Steve Goodman and sung by Arlo Guthrie. It talks about the same period, but on the Illinois Central Railroad. Lots of similarities!

“Riding on the City of New Orleans, Illinois Central Monday morning rail Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders,”

Yes, rode on train like that too. Although lot of those cars were “head end equipment”.

“Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail.”

Loss of that mail was what really did in rail passenger service. Always heard stories of how President Lyndon Johnson pulled the mail off trains to pay off his airline buddies for political favors. Imagine! Entrusting our mail to people who seem incapable of moving our luggage between two cities and not losing it!

“All along the southbound odyssey. The train pulls out at Kankakee. Rolls along past houses, farms and fields. Passin’ trains that have no names, Freight yards full of old black men And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles.”

Yes, the Hudson Valley was in the process of change. Industry was gone and the “yuppies” (“millenials”) had not yet built their country homes. Lot of abandoned factories, rusted rail sidings.

“Good morning America how are you? Don’t you know me I’m your native son, I’m the train they call The City of New Orleans, I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.”

Yes, the New York Central, was New York State’s Native Son. It was one of the biggest factors in making New York great.

“Dealin’ card games with the old men in the club car. Penny a point ain’t no one keepin’ score. Pass the paper bag that holds the bottle. Feel the wheels rumblin’ ‘neath the floor. And the sons of pullman porters And the sons of engineers Ride their father’s magic carpets made of steel. Mothers with their babes asleep, Are rockin’ to the gentle beat And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.”

Never any offense to the train crews. Railroad problems came instead from “greed run rampant” at railroad headquarters in Philadelphia. Passengers were only the ones who hadn’t or couldn’t get enamoured with America’s “Car Culture”.

“Nighttime on The City of New Orleans, Changing cars in Memphis, Tennessee. Half way home, we’ll be there by morning.”

How about changing engines at Harmon?

The beautiful (ugly to many) P-Motor is waiting for an East-bound passenger train to go 33 miles right into the heart of New York City. Does not matter how many diesels pulled the train from Chicago. The single P-Motor can pull it! Thanks to Wayne Koch for great photo.

“Through the Mississippi darkness Rolling down to the sea. And all the towns and people seem To fade into a bad dream And the steel rails still ain’t heard the news. The conductor sings his song again, The passengers will please refrain This train’s got the disappearing railroad blues.”

Even the huge Chevrolet plant in North Tarrytown would be gone by the end of the 20th Century and turned into condos!

“Good night, America, how are you? Don’t you know me I’m your native son, I’m the train they call The City of New Orleans, I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.”

Good night New York Central!

See Penney Vanderbilt’s Blog on Arlo Guthrie and Alice’s Restaurant

You will also be interested in our page on the 20th Century Limited

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