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To Boston on the Night Owl -- 1987

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MARC Rider

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This was the first time I rode the NEC all the way to Boston.

In December 1986 I started dating a young woman from South America. Over the holiday break, she visited family in Montreal and rode up and back on the Montrealer. I picked her up at the station when we came back, pleased that I found someone to date who liked to ride trains. Soon after, we talked about taking a weekend to Boston so she could see more of America than just Baltimore. To maximize our time in Boston, we decided to take the Night Owl, which was what Amtrak was calling the equivalent of today's 65/66/67. Not quite equivalent, as it terminated in Washington instead of Newport News. At the time, this train had a sleeper, but when I checked the fares, I though they were too high, so we bought coach tickets. Ah well, what do I know, I was a strong young man in my 30s.

The train left Baltimore about 10:30 Friday evening. We decided to go downtown earlier and have dinner out before we boarded the train. Unfortunately, for some reason I suggested the Akbar Indian Restaurant on Charles St. This is a good restaurant, not far from the station, but I'm not sure that Indian cuisine, at least the way they make it here in the US, is the best thing to chow down on right before an overnight train ride sitting up in coach. (If I ever get a chance to go ot India and ride the trains, I'll obviously have to eat Indian cuisine while I'm riding the trains.)

The train finally came in, it had a heritage sleeper, an Amfleet cafe car, some sort of heritage buffet car, and a mix of heritage and Amfleet 2 coaches. Somehow, we ended up in an Amfleet 2 coach, which was maybe a mistake, as I passed through the train to the cafe car and saw that the seats in the heritage coaches looked more comfortable and with more seat recline than the Amfleet 2 coaches. Then there were also these 2 skinheads we didn't notice at first sitting in the seats across the aisle from us. They looked like 2 really tough customers, and I was a little worried about falling asleep with potential thieves nearby. But at Aberdeen, the two guys got off, and all of a sudden it registered in my brain that these guys weren't skinhead thugs (at least probably not), they were probably soldiers returning to Aberdeen Proving Ground after a day's leave in the big city.

These were the old red fabric seats in the Amfleet 2s, and despite the generous legroom and leg rests (which I find useless), they were very uncomfortable. Between that and our dinners lying heavily on our stomachs, we found it hard to get to sleep. We rolled through New York Penn. Soon we were riding through Queens, and I was looking out the window as we rolled over the neighborhood on elevated tracks. Then we went over the Hell Gate Bridge. The night-time view of Manhattan was spectacular! Some time after that, before we got to New Haven, I finally dozed off and got some fitful sleep. I woke as we approached Westerly, Rhode Island. Slowly, it began to get light, and we made our way to the buffet car where we managed to find a nice hot strong cup of coffee. I don't remember whether we had anything to eat then or whether we ate breakfast in Boston. We drank our coffee as the train was passing Narragansett Bay. When we got to Boston, I recall that South Station had low-level platforms at the time, but I don't remember much else about it. The next time I went to Boston was in 1998, and it was a different place.

We arrived in Boston more or less on time and took a taxi to our hotel, the Lenox in Back Bay. Back in those days, it was a perfectly nice, bu modestly priced hotel. When I went there in 1998 for a government conference, it seems to have been gentrified, although they did find a very luxurious closet for me at the government rate. Now, it's totally out of my price range, and when I go to Boston, I don't stay there. We did all the tourist stuff -- walked the Freedom Trail all the way to the USS Constitution, shopped on Newberry St. a bit and visited the Computer Museum in the Seaport area. We had a nice New England lobster dinner, that's something you can't get in South America!

On Sunday morning, we got a nice brunch somewhere on Newberry street, and walked around downtown until our train left in the early afternoon. This included a visit to the original Filene's Basement, which is now nothing more than online shopping.

Our ride home was in Amfleet 1 equipment. It stayed light long enough for us to enjoy most of the coastal scenery in Connecticut and the engine change in New Haven, where we switched from a diesel to electric locomotives (I think they were using AEM-7s by this point). We finally got home on schedule, retrieved our car from the lot on Lanvale St. (The garage at Penn Station hadn't been built yet) and went home. A nice weekend.
 

Dakota 400

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but I'm not sure that Indian cuisine, at least the way they make it here in the US, is the best thing to chow down on right before an overnight train ride sitting up in coach. (If I ever get a chance to go ot India and ride the trains, I'll obviously have to eat Indian cuisine while I'm riding the trains.)
Interesting report, MARC Rider. Thanks for writing it.

I found Indian cuisine in India to be good, but it is different. I am certain there were spices in much of what I ate that I had never had before. First introduced to Naan during that trip and came to really enjoy it.
 

jiml

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Does anyone remember when the northbound Night Owl dropped the sleeper in NYP in the middle of the night and you got to occupy your room until morning? Did it once... interesting experience.
 

railiner

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Does anyone remember when the northbound Night Owl dropped the sleeper in NYP in the middle of the night and you got to occupy your room until morning? Did it once... interesting experience.
Yes, and they also allowed early occupancy (around 9 PM) for a set-in sleeper, from New York to Washington. These cars were in addition to the thru Boston Washington sleepers. At first with Heritage cars, and then, the first Viewliner's. When the Heritage cars operated, they had to place "honey buckets" in the trackbed under each toilet. This was a nationwide practice back in the Pullman era, at many locations.
 

Willbridge

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Yes, and they also allowed early occupancy (around 9 PM) for a set-in sleeper, from New York to Washington. These cars were in addition to the thru Boston Washington sleepers. At first with Heritage cars, and then, the first Viewliner's. When the Heritage cars operated, they had to place "honey buckets" in the trackbed under each toilet. This was a nationwide practice back in the Pullman era, at many locations.
Set-out sleepers were an endless source of trivia. One problem with standard sleeping cars with open sections was that when parked the noisier snorers could be heard throughout the car. Amtrak went for all-room sleepers when it was rounding up rolling stock.
 

Palmetto

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Does anyone remember when the northbound Night Owl dropped the sleeper in NYP in the middle of the night and you got to occupy your room until morning? Did it once... interesting experience.
Yes, it was called the Executive Sleeper.
 

Twinkletoes

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I remember the Night Owl sleeper very well. I used it a lot in 1987 when I traveled frequently between Boston and Washington in connection with moving to Boston for job reasons. It avoided the need to pay hotel bills in Boston before I rented an apartment, and similarly I avoided DC hotel bills for the few followup trips I had to make back to DC. So, I was never in the NY drop off section, but I was fascinated that the option was possible. I also remember that the NY layover was long even for those who were going through to Boston.
 

railiner

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Here's page's from the October, 1987 timetable.... the layover at NYP wasn't so long, when you consider besides the switching in/out of cars, they handled checked baggage, package express, and US Mail BMC container's. Also note, the separate "train number" for the Executive Sleeper.
When I was an usher there, passenger's would check in at the Station Services office, and then we would escort them down individually to the sleeper for boarding.


 

MARC Rider

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Here's page's from the October, 1987 timetable.... the layover at NYP wasn't so long, when you consider besides the switching in/out of cars, they handled checked baggage, package express, and US Mail BMC container's. Also note, the separate "train number" for the Executive Sleeper.
When I was an usher there, passenger's would check in at the Station Services office, and then we would escort them down individually to the sleeper for boarding.


It's interesting to see how the schedules have changed. The Night Owl ran about an hour later in both directions than the current 65/66/67 runs. I wonder if that has to do with the fact that the current service extends south of Washington into Virginia.

The current 67 leaves Baltimore at 6:10 AM. I would sometimes take it, either to earn AGR TQP or because I missed my ~5:40 AM MARC train. Back in 1987, it didn't arrive in Baltimore until 7:14 AM, and didn't get into Washington until 8:10. And back then, there were many fewer MARC trains than there are today.
 

railiner

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That's a new job category of which I was unaware. What were your duties?
It's a very old occupation, that dates back to the very beginning or even further, than the opening of Penn Station. The title 'Usher', was a PRR one that lasted into the Amtrak era. Other names include 'Gateman', etc...

The basic job, is to load trains, similar to a 'gate agent' at airports. Each bid position, was assigned specific trains for the tour of duty. You went down to the train, early, and when the conductor told you they were ready to board, you went up to the gate, and then called or radio'd the train announcer to post the track number and announce boarding. You then stood at the gate, and for reserved trains, you checked tickets. When departure time arrived, you closed the gate, went down to the platform, and reversed the escalator, to go up. You then gave the conductor, "the gate", meaning passenger's had been boarded, and he was clear to depart. Prior to boarding, you had to print out the manifest, consist, and transportation notices to give to the crew.

Other duties covered by usher's, was staffing the information booth, and the train announcer position. F,or the latter, I had the high honor of being trained by the legendary Danny Simmons. He taught me how to operate the Solari Board.
Usher's also staffed the Station Services office desk, paging for red caps, and seeing to the needs of ADA passengers, unaccompanied minor's, elderly, celebrities, groups (including at the time, American European Express passenger's), and the aforementioned escorting to the Executive Sleeper. The desk clerk was also responsible for filling vacant position's within the department.
And anything else that wasn't already accounted for...

It could be a fun job, but could also be very stressful at times....but a lot better than being stuck at a ticket window for 8 hours...;)

I should add, that we also boarded NJT trains....LIRR did their own...
 

NS VIA Fan

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Memories of the Night Owl !!

On my first Amtrak trip back in July 1973......after taking the Washingtonian from Montreal to New York and spending a couple of days there I then continued on to Boston on the Night Owl. I spent the late evening riding out to Long Island and back and waited in Penn Station until departure around 3am. I was 19.....on a limited budget so just riding coach!

Here's Amtrak #66 the Night Owl at Providence on July 9, 1973 at 7:25am
289 E8A
293 E8A
3506 Baggage
Swift Stream - Buffet Sleeper
1576 Coach Lounge
5467 Coach



The next couple of times heading to Boston I would get a southbound evening train and intercept the northbound Night Owl along the way and a lot better than hanging around Penn in the wee hours of the morning.

My very first ride on the new Amfleet was on the Bi-centennial departing Penn at 11pm and arriving in North Philadelphia at 12:40 where I connected with the Night Owl to Boston at 1:10am. (connecting at 30th St was just too close!)

After that I did start riding in the sleeper and had several trips from Boston to Washington and would always try to be awake for that view of Manhattan on the climb up and over Hell Gate Bridge then on down into Penn Station.

I also rode the Executive Sleeper a couple of times between New York and Washington......and I remember checking in and being taken down to the sleeper. I usually woke when we were coupled up to the southbound train and would lie in bed and watch the lights as we rolled down the corridor to Philadelphia...... then got another hour or so sleep after that.
 

MARC Rider

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Memories of the Night Owl !!

On my first Amtrak trip back in July 1973......after taking the Washingtonian from Montreal to New York and spending a couple of days there I then continued on to Boston on the Night Owl. I spent the late evening riding out to Long Island and back and waited in Penn Station until departure around 3am. I was 19.....on a limited budget so just riding coach!

Here's Amtrak #66 the Night Owl at Providence on July 9, 1973 at 7:25am
289 E8A
293 E8A
3506 Baggage
Swift Stream - Buffet Sleeper
1576 Coach Lounge
5467 Coach



The next couple of times heading to Boston I would get a southbound evening train and intercept the northbound Night Owl along the way and a lot better than hanging around Penn in the wee hours of the morning.

My very first ride on the new Amfleet was on the Bi-centennial departing Penn at 11pm and arriving in North Philadelphia at 12:40 where I connected with the Night Owl to Boston at 1:10am. (connecting at 30th St was just too close!)

After that I did start riding in the sleeper and had several trips from Boston to Washington and would always try to be awake for that view of Manhattan on the climb up and over Hell Gate Bridge then on down into Penn Station.

I also rode the Executive Sleeper a couple of times between New York and Washington......and I remember checking in and being taken down to the sleeper. I usually woke when we were coupled up to the southbound train and would lie in bed and watch the lights as we rolled down the corridor to Philadelphia...... then got another hour or so sleep after that.
Providence back then sure looks a lot different than it does now!
 

Steve4031

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I rode the executive sleeper too. I remember being escorted down to the sleeper. The porter used a broomstick to keep the door at the end of the car from being opened from the outside. I was hungry and got permission to go back up and purchase a cheeseburger and fries for a late night snack.
 

NS VIA Fan

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What's a Buffet Sleeper?
A little Google searching turned up the following:

Amtrak 3204 Swift Stream was a 6 Double Bedroom Buffet Lounge and was an exPenn Central car built by Budd for the New York Central in 1949.

In similar cars the Buffet was about the size of a bedroom and provided light meals and beverages.
 
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railiner

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Brings to mind the two Union Pacific 6-6-4 sleeper's, American General, and American View, that were modified in 1962, by having two opposite sections removed, and replaced with a dining table for four on one side, and a small galley opposite. These served on the tri-weekly Butte Special, right up to Amtrak Day. One of the few Pullman cars that served meals to Pullman passenger's. During its final couple of years, they no longer cooked on the stove, but still served cold sandwiches and drinks.

This was one of the last two American trains prior to Amtrak that had open section sleepers. The other was the Jacksonville/New Orleans 'Gulf Wind'.
(Not counting VIA's Atlantic Limited across Maine.)
 

Rasputin

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I believe that in the early 20th century, Pullman used to operate a number of broiler buffet sleeping cars on some routes and you see these cars mentioned in timetables. I have never seen much written about these cars but I believe they had a space where light meals, such as toast and sandwiches (perhaps only cold sandwiches?) could be prepared. I don't know if there was any space for dining or whether sleeping car passengers ate at their seats. I believe the Pullman Porter prepared these meals in addition to their other duties. I believe on some of these routes coach passengers could obtain some food from the car on request.
 

Dakota 400

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A little Google searching turned up the following:

Amtrak 3204 Swift Stream was a 6 Double Bedroom Buffet Lounge and was an exPenn Central car built by Budd for the New York Central in 1949.

In similar cars the Buffet was about the size of a bedroom and provided light meals and beverages.
Thank you for the information. Should have thought of using Google myself.
 
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