A Story of a Trolley Rider PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 01 September 2008 21:12

Below is a biographical piece by Walter Kehoe of Astoria. His memory of riding the trolley over the Queensboro Bridge and the "old" upper east side are great reading. Enjoy

I was a Queensboro Bridge trolley rider for many years and also a bicycle rider on the bridge. By bike I took the elevators from Vernon Blvd tower. Sometimes I carried my bike up and down the tower stairs on days when the elevator was not running.

I read, with interest, your piece about MR. Fiore, the operator of the traffic lighting on the bridge. I saw his deftness in operation many times. It was especially interesting when a vehicle was leaving the ramp from the storehouse/elevator building to go to Queens. On those occasions the East and West bound lanes were both stopped short of the ramp. That allowed the vehicle to cross the west bound
lanes and turn left into the eastbound which was free of traffic as it had been stopped just to the west of the ramp. The traffic lighting was also used to alternate the number of lanes going east and west. The center lane was alternated by changing the lights to Green going west in the morning and then reversed to green going east at evening rush hour. The lighting was changed in the late 40’s or early 50’s from red and green to the red Yellow and Green configuration used today.

Of course the traffic lights have been removed and one lane replaced with the present divider. I related a story, to Bob Singleton, of my childish pleasure in jumping from a passenger seat on the trolley to the non operational engineers seat on the end opposite the direction of travel. I would imagine myself as the engineer. Once the engineer guided the trolley past the plaza and was on the outer roadway, on his way towards Vernon Blvd, I would ring the trolley bell, with impunity, which had a left foot operated control on the floor. I did not fear retribution as he, the engineer, would never stop in mid stream, so to speak. He continued on his way first stopping at Vernon Boulevard, then Welfare, now Roosevelt, Island then past the First Avenue tower, which may have been a stop in the early days of operation. Then a little jog to the right and down the ramp towards the concourse before Second Avenue. As soon as the trolley stopped I ran as fast as I could out the rear doors and up the stairs and exited out the southernmost Kiosk and crossed 59th street on my way to Kips Bay Boys Club at 301 East 52nd Street.

What a wonderful journey that was for a nickel. It went up to a dime shortly before it ceased running but it was still cheaper than the Bus which was , by then 15 cents. I used to walk from my apartment building at 32-15 30th street to Queens Plaza just to save a nickel. Then take the Trolley for a dime. That gave me 10 cents saved, on the round trip, which bought me a bag of potato chips a coke, vended in a green bottle, from a machine at Kips Bay Boys Club. The walk down Second Avenue was marvelous. It brought me past Antique Shops at 59th St Which I would browse through. I also would visit the cigar maker’s shop on the South east corner of 58th Street where I would watch the cigar man, hand roll the cigars then carefully place them into the tobacco stained wooden molds that gave them their final shape. I usually watched him make one board of cigars then said good by and continued on my path down the east side of the avenue.

I would pass the elegant White Turkey Restaurant on the corner of 57th Street and meander past A large Chinese Restaurant, whose name eludes me today, Past more Antique Shops then past the two steps down, which led  down to Moe’s Delicatessen at 1000 Second Ave. On I would continue past Gasnick’s Hardware Store with his beautiful collection of Russian Bronzes and pieces of old wooden water mains, excavated from the streets of Manhattan. What a fabulous family owned and operated that business. Mr. Gasnick with his full head of pure white hair held court in the rear of the shop with his sons Jack and Walter while Mrs. Gasnick was the greater at the front of the store where she handled all the requests for screws, nuts, bolts and washers all picked out to order from 1 gross boxes. You might remember the phrase “Cross at the Green Not in Between” that was created by Jack Gasnick the Son of Mr. and Mrs. Gasnick. After Mr. Gasnick’s death Walter and Jack moved the Business one or two doors South where they ran the business and Mrs. Gasnick continued to work the front of the store until she retired and continued to live above the store until her passing.

Walking past Gasnick’s I made a left turn on 52nd Street and walked into 301 East 52nd up the stairs and into the best environment a young boy could ever wish to experience. There was everything there to help the neighborhood boys escape the pitfalls of a less than affluent neighborhood. You could learn to be skills in the Metal and Jewelry Shop, Wood Shop, Ceramic Shop, Art Shop. There were two gyms, two pool rooms (one for Senior and the other for Junior boys), An all purpose room that had a stage , where I saw the Kingston Trio Perform.  They had dances on Friday nights and Martin Block’s Orchestra provided the music and he also brought the best singing Artists of the day to entertain. On Saturdays this room became a free theater where we saw many Cowboy and Indian, Flash Gordon, Cartoons and other films to keep us amused. They had a Dentist and a Doctor that gave you a physical before you could use the pool, in the basement. The pool was where I learned to swim there were no bathing suits required you just dove in au natural.  In the summer John Fallon started camp Sky Hi, on the basketball court on the roof of the building. There the neighborhood kids were taught how to cook on a charcoal fire and sleep in the outdoors in the safety of the building and under the cover of a tent. It was wonderful.

When I got old enough I went to Camp Valhalla, which they operated under the Direction of Mike ? and Archie Mangini. We walked the three miles from the Valhalla Train Station after the Steam Locomotive brought us there from White Plains, in those days you had to change at White Plains from the electric train which brought us from Grand Central Terminal in NYC. It was a wonderful place they had about 20 Cabins for about 10 boys each and a counselor to supervise. There was also a larger cabin for arts and crafts and dining room. The cabins had roll up screens to shield us from rain but were open from about 4 foot to the roof line. We had good food, plenty of activities, fresh air and in later years a pool. How those two weeks would fly even with a visit from parents and relatives at the ½ way mark. The memories that Kips Bay gave me will last a life time and they still bring a smile to my face when I think of them.

Well I rambled way too much

But I loved every minute of it, hope you do also

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