Article From the Winter 2005 Issue of


The Journal of the New York Museum of Transportation


Our knowledge of the past…what we call history…is often built bit by bit from the debris of everyday life—the stuff that usually gets tossed out and is lost forever. Collectors don’t call it "ephemera" for nothing. Sometimes fate manages to intervene, and these details are saved for future edification... and perhaps amusement.

A glorious early fall day in the 1960s set the stage for a visit to the Newark, NY station of the New York Central. The struggling carrier’s shrinking "great steel fleet" no longer called at the attractive brick structure, and the windows had recently been boarded up as part of the decommissioning. Laborers had apparently cleaned out the attic too, as the incinerator on the west side of the station property was heaped with the residue of a bon fire, the history of Newark’s place on the "Water Level Route" gone up in smoke.

Ah, but not quite. The employees responsible for all this must have decided lunch was more important than hanging around while history burned, as some items had blown out of the untended conflagration, ready to be picked up, examined and taken home.

There were agent’s stubs from tickets sold in the 1940s, including numerous Pullman accommodations. Some were for a "Mrs. Richard Comstock", wife of the President of the Comstock Canning Company, later to become

    New York Central’s "Empire State Express" ignores the closed
    Newark, NY station as it rolls east September 23, 1967.

Borden’s pie filling division. Each stub tickled the imagination as it noted the date, train number, car number and berth (upper or lower), with the appropriate fare indicated. Each one brought visions of a late-night train heaving to a stop at the small town, the Pullman step dropped onto the platform, the cool air conditioning in an August heat wave, or the enveloping warmth of steam heat as a blizzard raged.

There were also pages of correspondence, revealing all the backstage activity that no one thinks of as the drama of passing trains holds the attention at center stage. Neatly hand-typed letters on thin paper seem like ancient relics all by themselves, in this day of word processing and email. But the content too seems to come from another age. There’s the 1948 letter from the Mills Automatic Merchandising Corporation of Long Island City, New York, arranging to send a replacement for the "six-column stainless steel vender" that had arrived at Newark damaged in transit. Apparently, the answer to whatever financial woes the Central was experiencing back then would be chewing gum sales at the Newark station. The letter goes on to instruct the agent to keep it filled at all times.

Other extramural communication came from the President of Wm. C. Moore & Co., Inc., a part of Newark’s once thriving nursery stock business ("Hardy, field grown fruit trees, shade trees, shrubs, perennials and roses"). He was returning an unused round trip ticket, in a bedroom, and requesting his refund of $65.56. On the other side of the ledger, a letter went out from the Division Passenger Agent (with a copy to the Newark agent) informing Miss Joyce Johnson at Cortland State Teachers College that the agent had only charged her the one-way fare for a recent trip to Lake Placid and back. $6.99 was therefore payable to the railroad. "Will you please attend to this at an early date, greatly obliging".

But the great bulk of the papers that escaped destruction were bureaucracy in action—many levels of administrators, assuring that procedures were being followed. There are notices of job postings; all kinds of forms for all sorts of purposes; memos to remind people to use the forms; memos to notify people they are using the wrong form.

And then there’s the Great Exchange. In August, 1948, the Newark agent reported sale of a 3-month round-trip half-fare ticket to Buffalo, and collecting $2.93. By October, this news had wended its way to C. H. Maurice in Detroit, whose laboriously typed letter informs the agent that the one-way child’s fare should be ½ the one-way adult fare of $2.93 "ending in full cent or $1.47". The round-trip for the child would therefore be twice the one-way fare or $2.94. A whole penny…clearly worth all the time to write to the agent and correct her befuddled mind.

There’s more. The agent has apparently written back (there’s no copy in the file), and C. H. Maurice is now (December) pointing out that there is no 3-month fare in effect for the travel in question, so Form BL1RC (one-year) should have been issued. The letter goes on to quote "Rule 1 (e) on Page 4 of Tariff No. 377-Second Issue, and Tariff No. 377-Third Issue", just to make sure his point is clear.

Apparently it wasn’t, as it’s now late January, 1949, and C. H. Maurice has fired off another one to our hapless agent. It seems that after all the instructions to the contrary, the agent has submitted Form APA-294 with the notation "Buffalo round trip $5.86 – ½ - $2.93". She is instructed to "…return the attached Form APA-294 with your reply". If C. H. Maurice had anything further to pursue in this matter, the evidence must have been lost in the incinerator. And all over one cent.

Other, hopefully more profitable, company correspondence deals with special stops of train #90 for local luminaries, extra cars on #38 (with the club-lounge car "to be amply stocked with liquors, beer, etc.") for Rotarians going to a New York Convention, and arrangements for 50 third-graders from Marion Central School to ride "X-158" from Palmyra to Newark leaving Palmyra at 9:46 a.m. and arriving Newark at 10:01 a.m., where they would be retrieved by their school bus. The ticket window was to open "30 minutes prior to departure of X-158 and be prepared to have some change to handle the sale of tickets".

Thank goodness they weren’t going round trip!