"The Final Run"--The End of Steam on Staten Island

The war was over. In 1945, rationing of food, shoes and gasoline was almost phased out. On a warm summer's day in August, a small boy just a few days from his seventh birthday was at the Harbor Road station of the Staten Island Rapid Transit with his aunt. She was taking him on the train for a day at South Beach, treating him to an early birthday present with rides at the amusement park by the boardwalk.

SIRT 329 at ArlingtonWith eagerness for the trip itself, he looked up and down the tracks, out to Arlington and back to St. George in hopes of seeing a train. Especially, a freight train. But anything that rode on rails would do.

Soon a dark shape with a yellowish glow near the top was coming on the line from St. George. Somehow it was different from anything else he had seen on the S.I.R.T. It looked bigger and darker. A wisp of white came from its top every now and then. "Look!" he exclaimed, tugging at his aunt, "Something is coming!" She turned to look back down the track. Then she said, "Oh my, you won't like this! Come here! Step back with me!" while pulling him back behind the white safety line of the high level platform.

It was coming. Rails groaned and pinged as it drew near. A dull, rhythmical clunking noise steadily grew louder. The platform shook and it was here! The big, black shape rolled by spilling smells of coal smoke and hot grease along with hissing steam and a steady, high pitched whine. And it was hot! Feeling its wave, the boy jumped back even farther. The bell was ringing slowly and a few short toots came from its whistle. First a big number "29," then golden yellow letters slid past spelling out "S-t-a-t-e-n I-s-l-a-n-d." Men riding on it were waving and shouted back, "Last run! No more steam!"

Quivering with excitement, the boy peered after the locomotive heading west, as a lazy trail of brown smoke mixed with puffs of steam. The crewmen on the tender were still waving to him and he waved back. Slowly, it disappeared beyond the Arlington station and into the freight yard just a half-mile away.

In a few minutes, the eastbound passenger train eased up to the Harbor Road platform, its air brakes sneezing softly. A faint smell of ozone mixed with the scent of creosote from the ties. From under the car, an air compressor started up with a whining hum and rapid thumping sound. The doors slid open and they both got on.

That ride and visit to South Beach would never quite hit the high excitement of the moment when S.I.R.T. number 29 passed by. The boy would be a half century older before he learned it was on that bright summer's day in August 1945, when the last Staten Island Rapid Transit steam locomotive operated in revenue service. It was passing by on its way to Arlington and retirement after its work shift at the St. George yard was done.

So he built a 1/4" / foot scale model of it, to rekindle the memory of that day when as a little boy, he witnessed "Extra 29 West- Final Run."

SIRT Loco 29 Model by Edward F. Bommer

Link: The Essential History of the Staten Island Rapid Transit in The Third Rail Online.

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©2002 MyRecollection.com. and Edward F. Bommer
Monday, May 13, 2002