Some of the best recordings that John Prophet made were at Tower 49-A, a signal tower controlled by the New York Central Railroad which served as a junction between the Central and the Pennsylvania railroad. The tower was located on the Central's mainline about 1 mile west of Central Terminal.
The series of recordings made at this location were absolutely tremendous because Prophet captured the activity of several railroads heading in and out of the downtown Buffalo area. Some recordings capture the loud horns of the freighters plying up and down the Buffalo River. Some capture the activity in and out of the Larkin factory. All of them capture the industrial life of Buffalo's bygone era.
Prophet's presence at Tower 49-A became so routine to all the tower operators that he had the luxury of being able to set up his recorder at any time, day or night, and achieve excellent results. The most unusual sound you will hear are Pennsylvania trains backing down the New York Central tracks, and then switching over to their tracks and proceeding forward to destinations like Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Washington.
The backing-up option was a question often asked when people saw these Pennsylvania trains. Why was it done? Consider the fact that the PRR didn't have a station in Buffalo that was all their own -- they leased space in the New York Central Terminal which was one mile east of their main line. In order to use the Terminal as their passenger station , they had to back out on the Central's tracks and then be switched on to their tracks which were located just east of Exchange Street. This was a slow but very common occurrence and was the accepted practice.
Another aspect of Prophet's Tower 49-A recordings is that all of the hustle and bustle of the tower's interior can be clearly heard throughout the recordings. The tower operators announce the trains as they thunder past, casual conversation about daily railroad operation can be heard, as well as talk between several different towers on the line.
This recording, made on the evening of October 21, 1951, begins with the sound of a New York Central "Beeliner", a stainless-steel rail-diesel car, running past the tower. These streamlined cars were used for the Central's Buffalo to Niagara Falls route. The above photograph shows a Beeliner as it has just come off of the Terrace Street tracks and onto Church Street. It will then pull onto the Central's Niagara Branch (which still exists along the I-190) and head toward Niagara Falls. In this recording however, the Beeliner has just come from Niagara Falls and will stop at Central Terminal.
Next, train number 32, a Mail and Express bound for New York, pulls past the tower on its way to the Railway Express station at Curtiss Street near Central Terminal. This train, pulled by NYC Hudson #5240, made it's daily run between Chicago and New York in the early evening hours. In this photo, John Prophet captures train 122, pulled by NYC engine #3145, as it arrives at the Curtiss Street yard outside of the Railway Express Agency at Central Terminal. The photograph is from June of 1952.
Finally, a Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo train, number 374, heads east past the tower. Engine #501, a Hudson, pulls this train from Toronto as it head to its final destination at Buffalo and Central Terminal.
To see a map of this area, click here.
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The Buffalo History Works