It is a rainy afternoon in September of 1951. Near the corner of Tonawanda and Niagara Streets was the New York Central's Tower F -- a signal tower used for controlling the movement of trains between the Canadian National trackage coming from the International bridge and the New York Central's Niagara Branch going north and south.
This area was a haven for rail activity because the International Bridge served as a crossing for trains of the Michigan Central, the Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo, the New York Central, and the Canadian National. The CN owned the trackage coming from Canada and was also responsible for the Black Rock passenger station that stood just off the bridge from Squaw Island. Tower F, a small, wooden clapboard styled building, served as the "traffic cop" for this entire area. Railroad traffic was heavy and frequent. There was never a dull moment as John Prophet found out.
Tower F was situated immediately next to the New York Central's Black Rock freight station which was, and still is, located directly on Tonawanda Street. At the south end of the freight station was the New York Central's Black Rock Station which served as a ticket window and office for trains from Niagara Falls to Buffalo only. Across the street from the freight station was the stamping plant for Pratt and Letchworth and you can hear the stamping process occurring way in the background of this recording.
Prophet was able to use the electricity supplied by the tower and held his microphone out of the window facing the tracks. The sequence that he captured was breathtaking. All of the trains belong to the New York Central.
First, train #351, the Empire State Express, pulled by Engine 5362, slowly pulls past Tower F and switches over to the track leading toward the International Bridge. It stops at the CN's Black Rock station and gets a load of passengers bound for Detroit. The Empire arrived at Central Terminal as one big train, but was split in two with a section bound for Cleveland and one for Detroit. This recording features the Detroit section.
As the Empire waits for the highball, a Canadian Pacific train, number 383, pulls past the tower. You can hear the loud crashing of the stamping operation at Pratt and Letchworth after this train passes.
Next, the "Main Special", a troop train, pulls away and heads south on the Niagara Branch. As it fades into the distance, it whistles for Forest Avenue. Many of you may raise your eyebrows at this fact, but Forest Avenue actually extended much further toward the Erie Canal (or in this case the Erie Barge Canal as it came to be known) as did many other streets that seem to end at Niagara Street.
Don't even blink because you might miss train BN-2, pulled by a Fairbanks-Morse diesel locomotive, as it speeds past the tower. Its horn is barely audible because of the train's incredible speed. This was one of the Central's "Pacemaker" trains -- a special freight operation made up entirely of red and gray box cars that was billed as the fasted freight service between Buffalo and New York, and Buffalo and Boston. The train is coming from Niagara Falls and is heading to New York.
Finally, train #366, pulled by Pacific class locomotive #4749, pulls away from the freight station with only 2 cars in tow. It heads south and whistles for Forest Avenue.
To see a map of this area, click here.
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