Wednesday, March 12, 2014

War Stories - Episode 14: " Now arriving 30th St Station, Philadelphia - ME!"

30th Street Station in Philadelphia is a fabulous place.  It's one of the last, grand train stations built in the US and one of a few that is fulfilling it's original purpose handling large volumes of passengers every day in the structure designed for that purpose.   No "diappearin' railroad blues" here!  The cavernous concourse echos the train announcements almost to the point of being undecipherable.

"Noooowboardinnngggstairwayyyysssevennn, traaainoneoooohfiiiiive, thenineforrrrrtyeiiiightMetroooolinerrrr, makinggggstopsssatWilmingtonBaltimoreCapitolBeltwayandWashhhhinggggtonnnn!  Allllaboarddd, Stairwayyyysssevennn!"

That was part of the charm, though.

But, what you might not know is that there is a significant amount of office space in wings on each side of the main concourse.

See those windows at the end past the statue and columns?  There are hallways in those windows that connect the offices on each side of the concourse.  Six floors of them.

How do I know this?  I worked there for a couple years.

It's February 1979 and my class of trainees is supposed to rotate from their freight terminal locations to a commuter operations location.  Conrail ran all the legacy commuter routes that used to belong to the PRR, NYC, NY, DL&W, Erie, NH, Reading and CNJ.  They were paid a subsidy by the appropriate state agency, SEPTA for the routes out of Philadelphia for example, but the day to day operation was in the hands of Conrail.  However, by 1979, Conrail was pushing hard to shed itself of this so it could concentrate on hauling freight.  That wouldn't occur for another year or two, but the handwriting was on the wall, so they killed that part of the training and put us to work!

There was some amount of preliminary interviewing before placement.  After that, jobs were handed out to the 16 of us.  Some got jobs as assistant general foreman, mostly at car shops in out of the way places.  I probably wouldn't have hung around too long if I'd been placed in those jobs.  Some got Quality Control inspector jobs in Juniata Locomotive Shop.  Interesting, but I'd lived in Altoona long enough. (no offense!)  Some of us got jobs in the Equipment Engineering Department in Philadelphia.

That included ME!  Just the kind of job I wanted!  First day was Tuesday, February 20, 1979, the day after President's Day holiday.  I was supposed to be there at 8:30 AM.  I had packed up my stuff in Columbus and driven back to the folks house in NJ that weekend. I'd stay there until I could scout out a place to live on my own.

Great plan.  Except on President's day it snowed.  A lot.  More than a foot.  In fact it's still the 9th highest day total for Philadelphia ever. Take a look!

Snow, with some pretty good drifts...
I pretty much dug my car out that day, but I got a bit up early Tuesday morning in case I had to do some more digging.  I did some more digging.  Quite a bit.  It took me an hour of digging to get 150 feet to the end of the street!  The snow was wet and heavy and the car wouldn't make it it's own length before it got hung up on the snow again.  I finally got going, drove to the High Speed Line at Lindenwold without much trouble, took that to SEPTA's Market Street Line and took that to the 30th Street Station stop, navigating the underground concourse into the station.  It was nearly 10:00AM!.  The whole way, I'm worried about what kind of trouble I'm going to be in for being so late on my first day of work!

I walked in the office door wondering what kind of reception I was going to get.  What I found when I opened the door was, in an office of over 60 people, there were only a half dozen present!  I wasn't the only one who had travel trouble.  In fact, the few there were kind of surprised to see me so early!  Phew!

The offices in 30th Street Station were in original condition from 1928.  The furniture was a hodge-podge.  A lot of it old oak.  There were rugs in some offices that were rarely, if ever, vacuumed.  There were filing cabinets stained with 50 years of tobacco smoke.  There was the faint smell of ammonia wafting up from the blueprint machine at one end of the office.  It was not a glamorous place.  My desk was in an open area right by the front door.  I didn't care.  This was just the place I wanted to be!

It was a couple hours before everyone else showed up, including my new boss.  I was "Assistant Mechanical Engineer - Service Tests".  That meant I had to set up a test and monitor any new part, device, or change to locomotives, cars or cabooses that came along.  That include whatever cursory analysis that needed to be done before the item or change was placed in service.  I got to go places and see things and meet lots of people along the way. I got to work with vendors.  Some nice, some pushy.

I enjoyed that job and the subsequent ones I had there. But, best of all, I got to come to work every day to fabulous 30th Street!

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