Coney Island

Transit Museum Takes You to Coney—1930s Style

July 14, 2014 By Raanan Geberer, Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Robert Silver on board the Transit Museum subway car
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The Transit Museum hosted a nostalgia ride to Coney Island last Saturday using a train made of 1930s subway cars.

The ride began at the Transit Museum, which is located in an unused subway station in Downtown Brooklyn, then went down the F line to Coney, with a detour over the Fulton Street (A/C) line for switching purposes.  On the way back later in the afternoon, the train took a different route, over the Q line.

The cars originally ran on the city-run Independent (IND) system, now part of MTA New York City Transit’s lettered system. Some cars had wicker seats, others had red cushioned seats. While there was no air conditioning, the overhead fans were so fast and efficient that you hardly noticed its absence. The ads in the cars, which dated from the 1930s through the ’60s or ’70s, were mainly public service announcements (“Don’t hold the doors open”) but also included period advertisements for products such as Planter’s peanuts or Heinz pickles as well as pictures of contestants in the famed Miss Subways beauty pageant.

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Some of the passengers were old-time rail and subway fans who had been going on these trips for years; some were younger people who were curious; and some were people who had grown up in the city but hadn’t been here in a while. They offered their reflections on the subway system, the old train cars and Coney Island.

David Singleton, a longtime member of the Transit Museum, said he didn’t remember these particular trains, but he did remember taking the Bay Ridge local, which later became the R train, from 95th Street in the late 1940s and early ’50s.

“I went to Coney Island a lot, starting when I was 3 and 4 years old, and I used to call it `Pony Island’ because one of the rides, the Steeplechase ride, used [mechanical] horses,” he recalled. “I also remember fried clams at Nathan’s.” 

This was his first visit to Coney Island in five years.

Mohammad Suleman, a student at Parsons School of Design from Pakistan, became interested in the trip in a roundabout way. He and two fellow students, who were also passengers on Saturday, were doing a design project for the Transit Museum.

“I saw the old trains, and asked, `Do you ever run these trains?’” he said.

Staffers told him about the trip. He compared the old train cars with today’s models: “The lighting in the new trains is worse, harsher, but they do have air conditioning.” Asked about trains in his native land, he answered, “There is no subway, but the railway probably is still like this [using older equipment].”

Patti Howe, who was on the trip with two of her college friends, said, “These are the trains I rode to college on, and I’m very nostalgic for them.”

After college, she left her Queens home for New Jersey in 1971, although she still rides the subways occasionally. The newer trains are quieter and have air conditioning, she said, but are “less charming.”  This was her first visit to Coney Island.

During the train ride, the tour leaders circulated among the cars, displaying items such as a late 1940s subway map and a brake handle from a motorman’s cab. As the trains approached Coney Island, they were informed that we were passing the Coney Island maintenance, repair and storage yards, the largest such rapid transit facility in the world. When the ride finally ended at Stillwell Avenue, a frenzy of photo- and video-taking ensued. 

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