LIRR Crossing Shanties

Discussion in 'Long Island Railroad' started by nyandw, Mar 30, 2012.

  1. nyandw

    nyandw TrainBoard Member

    Each shanty had an electric box connected to the track circuit. There would be 2 lights . . . one marked Eastbound and one marked Westbound.

    When a train entered the circuit, the light would go on emitting a noise to attract the attention of the crossing watchman.

    He'd then go out and hold up his stop sign, or red lantern or lower the gates if his crossing was so equipped. He had to be notified well in advance, because he'd have to have time to go across the tracks and lower the far side gates, by hand cranking them and then return and lower the near side gates by hand cranking them.

    Assuming this was an express train traveling at 70 mph and not intending to stop, he had to move his ass.

    Then there were the REALLY busy guards who worked double track territory, especially electric territory. Trains ran along the Babylon-Jamaica portion of the Montauk branch every 30 minutes in each direction. That was a lot of light indicators flashing, and crossing watchmen running back and forth to lower both sets of gates . . . especially when an eastbound AND a westbound passed each other at or near his crossing!

    You may have fallen asleep on the job had you been guarding the crossing at South Country Road east of Patchogue, (past MP 54) but you'd be quite awake if you were guarding the crossing at Little East Neck Road west of Babylon or even Deer Park Avenue for that matter with trains going in and out of the yard east of the station! Research: Dave Keller - Railroad Ave. - North - 5-43.jpg
  2. Ocala Mike

    Ocala Mike TrainBoard Member

    I spent lots of summer days as a kid riding my bike from Jamaica to Floral Park to watch the action circa mid-50's at the Floral Park crossing just east of the station. That guy was busy! Four tracks, as the Hempstead branch was still merged with the main line at that point. Never forget during the summer of 1955 watching a steam-powered train (probably OB branch) roar through the station at speed showering the platforms with tiny black coal cinders.

    Ocala Mike
  3. LBuddy

    LBuddy TrainBoard Member

    Some of the last locations to have manual crossing gates were Ocean Avenue, Patchogue (1970), Franklin Avenue, Garden City (late 1960's); Birch Hill Road, Locust Valley (1970); Greenpoint Avenue, Long Island City (around 1971) and Maspeth, Queens. At the Nassau/Suffolk locations, I suppose this was due to the close proximity of an operating control tower (PD, Garden, Locust). First location to get the automatic Model 10 highway crossing gates was Bay Shore in 1944. Other locations soon followed: Port Jefferson (late 1940's); Hempstead Branch (late 1940's); Montauk Branch (Merrick through Lindenhurst) mid-1950's and Main Line (New Hyde Park / Mineola) around 1955.
  4. nyandw

    nyandw TrainBoard Member

    Shanty Photos

    A few examples. Holban Yard 1919 were they built them for transport to the locale. Art Huneke archive

    Patchogue: Crossing View NE at Railroad Ave view North 05/1943
    Photo: F. Weber, Archive: Dave Keller

    Attached Files:

  5. LBuddy

    LBuddy TrainBoard Member

    In multi-track territory, if the operator was out cranking down the gates and a second train came on the circuit, how would he know this besides seeing or hearing the train (he would be outside the shack when the electronic alert activated)?
  6. nyandw

    nyandw TrainBoard Member

    If he were out cranking down the gates, it wouldn't matter if a second train came on the circuit. The gates would be down anyway! He'd go back to the shanty before raising them to see if anything else tripped a circuit light.

    Also, guys who owned these jobs knew the regular schedule of trains . . . . . . If two came by at 11:30 every day from opposite directions, and it was 11:25, he would KNOW that two were heading his way.
  7. ch00ch00

    ch00ch00 New Member

    It got a little more complicated. At some of the crossings, the gateman was required to Buzz the next crossing (E or W) of an on coming train. The lights on the boards would stay lit in case he was ouside. I worked the crossings in the late 50's and the North & South side gates were operated from one side. The telephone poles in Islip were an exception that I remember. Two different gate operators(machines) were operated by one man in the area of the entrance to Bushwick yard. That could be unnerving in the winter with snow and ice on the ground. The local freight, coming from ?????yard (up the hill) would come on the bell and you would have to get one set of gate down and run to the other operating station(about 50 feet west, away). I had close calls there when cars or trucks slid onto one of the crossings. Sorry, my memory for names isn't very good. I'll probably remember tomorrow.

  8. LBuddy

    LBuddy TrainBoard Member

    From reviewing period photos, it appears Hicksville and Babylon were the last locations to have groups of several shanties before they were phased out. Photos of the 62-64 grade eliminations show manual gates present on the temporary tracks at both locations. After that, all that remained were the few scattered locations mentioned above until their complete demise by the early 1970's.
  9. nyandw

    nyandw TrainBoard Member

    Thanks ChooChoo, please email me at as I would like to discuss something about the LIRR offline, thanks!
  10. nyandw

    nyandw TrainBoard Member

    I asked noted LIRR historian Dave Keller to clarify the last multiple shanties question:

    Hicksville and Babylon (1962-64 and 1963-64, respectively) were not the last locations of multiple crossing watchmen.

    I photographed the crossing shanties at Patchogue between 1968 and 1972 on multiple occasions (i.e. 1966, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1972) with the exception of South Country Road because I never knew there was one there at the time. Perhaps there wasn't and it was already gone . . . who knows. I never ventured that far east from PD tower as a teenager on my bike.

    I believe the shanties were all gone starting sometime in 1973. I stopped hanging around the tower after 1972 and was full-time as a junior at SUNY @ Stony Brook and no longer had the free time to hang out, otherwise I'd have been made privy as to when the shanties were being removed and I'd have made it a point to get some photos of their removal.

    Also . .. it was one of those quick changes where I drove by the crossing one day and the shanty and watchman was there and I drove by it a week or so later and said "woo woo woo? Where'd the shanties go?"

    There were simultaneously-manned crossings one avenue apart from each
    other: River Ave., West Ave., Ocean Ave. (PD tower), Rider Ave., Bay Ave.

    Railroad Ave. no longer existed as a crossing after the 1963 rebuild of the station facilities and yard, however West Avenue got a new metal shanty as a result of the rebuild. Perhaps the West Ave. shanty was more decrepit than the others and needed replacement, or perhaps it fell apart upon removal.

    You'd think they would have saved a buck and moved the Railroad Ave. shanty one avenue over to West as the replacement, but they didn't.

    River, Rider and Bay all retained the original wooden shanties, but they were well out of the rebuild zone. That may have had something to do with their original structures being left in situ.

    There was NO buzzer or communication between the crossing shanties at PD tower.

    The towerman had the model board that showed the approaching trains with lights that lit up on the board. And, technically, as block operator, had the power to stop said trains if required.
  11. LBuddy

    LBuddy TrainBoard Member

    So there were crossing shanties at locations without manual crossing gates? Where in Patchogue were there manual crossing gates besides Ocean Avenue? What did the shanty operator do to stop trafffic if there were no gates to crank down (lantern / stop sign)? When we picked up the 1967 Cadillac Coupe de Ville that I still have at Barrie Brothers Cadillac/Oldsmobile on July 21, 1967, the only crossing protection on Evergreen Avenue was a plain Crossbuck, no lights or gates. Last time I was on Evergreen Avenue, the road no longer crossed the tracks and barricades were in place to effectively eliminate the crossing. They did the same thing in Bayshore (I think it is First Ave) where they barricaded the road where the it previously crossed the tracks. Glad to hear Dave Keller rode his bicycle to take LIRR photos, I did the same thing.

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