NY Central Shops At Harmon

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Metro North FL9 in New York Central colors at Harmon Shop

Photo courtesy of Wayne Koch

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Harmon was a New York Central-created community and came into existence because it was a logical point to be the outer limit of the electric zone.

See some great pictures of New York Central electrification.

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Harmon in Hurricane Irene

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Harmon and Croton had several important signal towers

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Above and below.Old pictures of Harmon

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Above: P-Motor 241 at Harmon

Below: MOW equipment at Harmon

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NEW YORK CENTRAL SHOPS AT HARMON: IMPORTANT TO THE RAILROAD

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Left: ALCO getting underway; Right: Crew change

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Croton-Harmon

1913 saw the completion of electrification of Grand Central Terminal and the lower stretches of the Hudson and Harlem Divisions. Harmon, which is 33 miles from Grand Central Terminal, became the transfer point where electric locomotives were exchanged for steam and later diesel on through New York Central passenger trains. It also became the starting point for electric commuter service into the city.

Harmon was a New York Central-created community and came into existence because it was a logical point to be the outer limit of the electric zone. There was plenty of room as this was a requirement for an interchange point. Not only was there room for sidings and yards, but also for repair facilities. The steam engines that pulled the Great Steel Fleet to Chicago rested here. As the small, but powerful, electrics pulled in from Grand Central Terminal, the steamers quickly hooked on and took off up the Hudson.

Exchange from steam to electric started in 1908 at High Bridge, progressed to Hastings-on-Hudson, then Tarrytown, and finally to Croton and Harmon in 1913. Electrification actually runs about a mile north of the Croton-Harmon station to Croton-North (Croton-on-Hudson). There is a freight yard here and electric commuter storage tracks across the main line.

The shops handled all servicing, inspection and repairs for all electric locomotives and MU equipment. They also handled servicing, inspection and minor repairs on steam (later diesel) in the area. The shops were built in sections starting in 1907 with the final stage erected in 1928. For as long as I could remember, there was a large sign “Harmon Diesel & Electric Shops”.

Older MU car seats were upholstered in cane but shifted to synthetic fabric as authentic material too hard to get.

There were no third rails inside the shops. Instead, there were long 600-volt cables on reels hung from the ceiling. These were called “bugs” and were clipped to a third rail shoe when power was needed.

Harmon was basically a commuter passenger station and never developed into a transfer point. Stays were short as it only took a minute or two to change power.

There were two roundhouses west of the station area. One was a 25-stall building erected in 1913 with an 85-foot turntable. A portion of this survived into the 1960’s as a storage barn. A larger roundhouse was built in 1928. It had a 100-foot turntable for the increasingly larger locomotives and 31 stalls. A 900 ton trestle-type coaling facility south of the roundhouses served the area adequately.

Yards on each side of the main tracks were connected by a semicircular track crossing the main by means of a girder bridge.

There was once an inspection shed for electric equipment ready for assignment. When this burned in the early 1960’s, servicing was performed out-of-doors.

The freight yard at Croton-North is still active. Croton-Harmon is a big center for electric commuters, but AMTRAK no longer needs to swap power here.

By 1970, there were 76 trains on weekdays being handled by 16 “P” and “T” motors and 8 “S” motors. The roster included 227 MU cars, 40 road diesels, 45 diesel switchers (road and yard) and 17 RDC cars. It took 400 employees working 3 shifts 7 days/week to run the complex. $300,000 was spent annually on new windows. By then, the power station out of service as purchased power was used.

No story about Harmon would be complete without a description of some of the equipment which was unique to the Electric Division.

The pioneers of electric service were the S-motors. This entire class of 35 electrics survived fifty years and some served over sixty years. They were designed by William J. Wilgus, the Chief Engineer of the New York Central & Hudson River RR, who also designed the electrical current distribution and utilization system for the entire electrification project. He had little else to copy as the field of locomotives drawing trains by amperage instead of steam was so new. He made his design simple, durable and efficient. The “S” had four small but powerful gearless bipolar motors. The prototype Alco-GE appeared in 1904 with the remainder of the first order built in 1906. They weighed 95 tons and were rated at 1,695 horsepower. They drew power from an underrunning third-rail shoe but had a pair of small, pantograph-type trolleys for gaps in the third rail.

Two engines were needed when doubleheading as no provision for multiple unit controls was made. The only major modification was the replacement of two-wheel pony trucks with four-wheel bogie trucks. Another dozen Class S-3’s were built in 1908-9. They were bigger and had a train-heating boiler. The last of the S-motors were scrapped in the early 1980’s.

T-motors were a logical outgrowth of the “S”. These box-cabs had 8 motors powering all 16 wheels. The gearless bi-polar motors were built with the armatures on the axles. Blowers were required to ventilate the motors. The weights of the three sub-classes of T-motors varied from 126 to 146 tons. A pneumatic rail sander was required to start heavy trains. The first ten (Class T-1) were built in 1913. Six more (Class T-2) were added in 1914 as well as another ten in 1917. Ten Class T-3’s were built in 1926. Because of changing requirements, most of the T-motors were scrapped in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

P-motors were huge box cabs that came from Cleveland Union Terminal in 1953 when electric operations ended there. They were rewired for third-rail operation and became the workhorses of the Hudson Division until the early 1970’s.

Q-motors were rated at 1330 hp. These were built in 1926 by Alco-GE for light to medium duty in the third rail zone. All were retired by 1955.

R-motors were for heavier freight service. Class RA was built in 1926 and consisted of a married pair of box cabs. In 1931, 42 Class R-2 motors of 3000 hp were delivered. Later, some of these went to Detroit and ten went to the Chicago & South Shore in 1955. The rest were retired soon after and the West Side Freight Line was de-electrified in favor of diesels.

Everything wasn’t pure electric. In 1930, Alco, GE and Ingersoll-Rand jointly built a series of diesel-battery-electric locomotives for the Central. They were serviced at Harmon and mostly used on the West Side Freight Line.

In addition, the first successful diesel electric locomotive for road freight service in the nation was #510 which was based at Harmon. It also was produced jointly by Alco, GE and Ingersoll-Rand. It was built in 1928 as #1550, renumbered to #1510 and finally to #510. This locomotive was based in Harmon. The generator was a six cylinder diesel from IR and the four electric motors were from GE.

Since the inclusion of the New Haven in Penn-Central, another unusual locomotive appeared – the diesel-electric-electric FL-9. Built in the late 1950’s, several have been rebuilt and today serve both Metro-North and AMTRAK.

The original MU’s used in suburban service were built between 1906 and 1929. The Central bought upgraded cars in 1950, 1961 and 1963. The first truly “modern” cars were the M-1 Metropolitans acquired between 1972 and 1975 for the Hudson and Harlem Divisions. 178 of these were built by General Electric. The Port Authority funded these cars. They are efficient, but rigid with fixed seats, some of which always face backwards. They hold 122 passengers in moderate comfort. An improved M-3 built by Budd (142 of them) appeared in 1983.

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Old Picture of Harmon Shops.

Courtesy of Wayne Koch

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Harmon in the 60’s

There was a yard engine handling company material for the shops, cripples for the freight car shop (west of the loop bridge, on the land side) and so on. Then the “East Yard Engine” with an R motor that normally switched head end cars for the westbound passenger trains. Most of that traffic came from the 29th Street Post Office and 33rd Street Railway Express House in West Side M&E trains, which were extras in 1960 but later showed in the timetable as 800 series trains.

The pick-ups were assembled in the East Yard. When the diesels came from the house for a westbound, they would either cross over to the East Yard, couple onto the pickup, and then head west of HM on Track 1 to wait for their train, or else they would go right to Track 1 and the East Yard engine would shove their pickup against them. I don’t really remember which was more common, but I think it was the first because the yard engine was usually at the west end of the yard.

The motor from an arriving westbound would cut off and go into the pocket, then the road power would back onto the train. The hitch, with air brake, air signal and steam connections, was made by the car inspectors. After a good air test, they were on their way. It was all done in five minutes most of the time. The air had already been tested on all head end cars, so all they needed was a good set and release at the rear.

No. 4 arrived around supper time, and terminated at Harmon. He had all mail and express for the West Side and GCT, sometimes more than 40 cars. That was all broken down by the East Yard Engine. Most of the cars went down the West Side on those M&E shuttles, along with cars that had been cut off with the road power from the eastward passenger trains.

One night in 1960 the diesel fuel station caught fire, and it was nasty. Apparently a Budd car had a tachometer cable loose and it caught on the third rail through the fuel station, igniting the fire. The electric motor inspection shed between Mains 2 and 4 burned down in September 1960.

There is a photo in “Rails Along the Hudson” showing No. 26 passing the smoldering ruins of the inspection shed. The caption says the train is on a yard track, but it is really on Track 4. The eastward mains split around the inspection shed. That way the motors didn’t have to cross track 4 going to or from the shed, and they were available for eastbound trains on either track.

From Gordon Davids in NYC-RR Forum March 19, 2005

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How Harmon Got Its Name

Real estate entrepreneur Clifford Harmon acquired much of the Van Cortlandt property in 1903 to develop a country retreat for artists, writers and musicians, among them Wagnerian soprano Lillian Nordica. The Playhouse Clifford Harmon built enjoyed more than a decade of success, with guests such as Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.

Around that time electric trains began operating on the Hudson Line out of Grand Central Terminal. Harmon sold the property on the neck of Croton Point to NY Central Railroad for a train yard with the stipulation that the Station would always bear his name – hence Croton-Harmon Station. Many railroad employees chose to make the Village their home because of its close proximity to the yards.

The name “Croton-Harmon” was a Penn Central innovation, from when they quit serving Croton-on-Hudson with local passenger service. The station, shops and yard where power was changed was Harmon. The next suburban station to the west, the last within 3rd rail territory, was Croton-on-Hudson.

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Old Picture of Harmon Yards.
Courtesy of Wayne Koch

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Charlie Smith spent 40 years in the Mechanical Depts. of NYC-PC-CR.


He remembered Harmon in the Central days when he used to go up periodically for various reasons and the guys used to call him ‘The Hat’ because he always wore a hat. “Here comes ‘The Hat’,” they would say!

Most interestingly was the type of repairs Harmon could do. Charlie said they could do just about anything. Except a full blown rebuild. For that locomotives had to go to Collinwood (or I think Beech Grove until later on, maybe around 1960??).

Could they do a wreck rebuild at Harmon? He asked did that mean repair of the body or mechanical? He said that they definately could. He reminded us that with diesels wreck repair meant ordering parts from the manufacturer and then installing them.

He said that the EMD passenger units, the E7s and E8s, were based out of Harmon Shops. Recall the shop stencils on the units too; to guide employees as to where a unit had to go at monthly inspection time. I think technically a diesel could get a monthly at any shop but NYC preferred their “home shop” do it if at all possible. He also mentioned that Harmon’s role as an EMD shop was the reason why they assigned GP7s to the suburban trains there. They already had the EMD parts and the expertise.

He said the Alcos (on the Harlem Div) were actually based out of DeWitt, but for big jobs they went to Collinwood.

Quite a place!

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GM Tarrytown Plant

Here’s the story when it closed in the 90’s

Fast facts;

The plant was first built in 1903 – they built MAXWELL automobiles.

The plant was purchased by GM in 1916 and assigned to it’s CHEVROLET Division.

Tarrytown was linked to New York City by the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad in 1849.

In the past 50 years, the plant manufactured Chevy Impalas in the 50’s & 60’s. 1971 – 1977, lots of VEGAS rolled off the assembly line there which have all rusted into dust with their little aluminum engine blocks, the ultimate death of that car. Yes, the Lumina was the final vehicle manufactured in Tarrytown. Here’s a shot of the plant being torn down with a view of the railroad in 1999;

Something hard to believe now in looking at the wasteland along Metro North in Tarrytown is that in 1980, this plant was the MOST EFFICIENT plant that GM owned with it’s best worker/management relations on record. At that time, the plant was riding high with the production of the popular front-wheel drive Chevy CITATION.

It’s a sad story that the plant died, but for a change, this can’t be blamed on nor linked to it’s rail service in any way. The State wouldn’t give them a tax break to keep production in Tarrytown, Tarrytown was too expensive for the workers to live nearby (they commuted two hours one way, ROUTINELY) and poor management in predicting consumer trends killed it. Japanese cars helped kill it too. Let’s be honest. Chevrolet cars didn’t hold up well, and fell sooner to rust than the competitors.

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Steam Leaves Harmon


(Photo clipped from an old New York Central Headlight)

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Old yard along the Hudson in the days of steam

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An old picture of Harmon

courtesy of Wayne Koch

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