Accompanied by train buffs Mitch Waxman, David Silver, Emily Sharp and Mai Armstrong, In December 2012 I once again rode the MTA ‘holiday special’ in which the older cars from the Transit Museum are put together in one trainset and run between 2nd Avenue and Queens Plaza on the 6th Avenue Line.

Notice I said ‘train buffs.’ Another species of aficionado are the foamers, who are mostly between 14 and 25 and run in packs. The most noticeable characteristic of the foamer is that the foamer does not believe anyone else is not a foamer, and thus they will run through you, not around you, to get a photograph, and behave in a generally noncongenial manner, shouting where talking is sufficient. I have resented it in the infrequent times I have been lumped in with the foamers over the years. I am NOT a train foamer. I am a lamppost foamer.

The concession that the MTA makes for the Holiday Special is a wreath hung on the front and back doors of the trainset. Now, in Chicago, they have a real Holiday Train:

The spectacular train is an amazing sight – during the daytime and at night. The outside of the six-car train is adorned with holiday seasonal images. Thousands of twinkling lights outline the shape of the train and windows, with even more lights running across the tops of the cars.

Interiors of the cars are decked out with thousands of multi-colored lights, red bows, garland, and red and green overhead lighting. The hand poles are wrapped to look like candy canes.

As the train pulls into each station, Santa waves to the boarding passengers from his sleigh on an open-air flatcar carrying his reindeer and decorated holiday trees. CTA

Santa might get pushed off the platform here.

The oldest cars in the trainset were the R-1s, introduced in 1931 when the Independent Subway, owned and operated by the city (which purchased the IRT and BMT in 1940) first opened. The “R” in NYC subway nomenclature means “revenue.” If you’re of a certain age, you remember the wicker/rattan seats, bare electric bulbs, porecelain straps (earlier straps were made of leather) and overhead fans that made a ‘woop-woop’ noise. These cars remained in service on some lines into the 1970s.

Over the years, some cars had their rattan seats replaced by soft red foam-filled seats, which were attacked unmercifully by the local youth, which knifed them open with relish. This precipitated the move to hard plastic seating beginning in the Swingin’ 60s.


In 1948, train fares were raised to a dime admission. This was big news because ever since the very first NYC subway ran in 1904, the fare had been a nickel.

The R-4 was the second group of subway cars built for the IND, first appearing in 1935. They appeared quite similar to the R-1 with a slightly different door arrangement. In 1946, two cars were given “bullseye” lighting and a public announcement system. Both versions of the R-4 were in this trainset.


A couple of period advertisements. Bold colors, easy to read fonts, no-nonsense text. Not like today.

R-7A car. The one the Transit Museum uses was retrofitted to look more like the R-10 cars that came along in the late 1940s, and so has metallic straps and small fans that still didn’t do much on hot days. The best way to get air on non-AC subway cars was to stand at the end of the car and open the door when the train was roaring under the East River. When the train attained a 60 or 70 MPH speed you got a pretty good breeze.


In 1942 the Fulton El in Brooklyn was gradually being cut back and demolished. Riders could get a free transfer from the end of the el at Rockaway Avenue to the then-new Rock Avenue IND station.


The inspiration for Aunt Jemima was Billy Kersands’ American-style minstrelsy/vaudeville song “Old Aunt Jemima”, written in 1875. The Aunt Jemima character was prominent in minstrel shows in the late 19th century, and was later adopted by commercial interests to represent the Aunt Jemima brand. wikipedia Jemima finally lost her kerchief in 1989.








7 Responses to HOLIDAY TRAIN 2012

  1. Steve says:

    What the hell is a foamer? Huh?

  2. John Shea says:

    One who foams at the mouth when sighting a train.

    In approximate decending order of gentility:
    rail fan
    rail buff
    Trolley jolly
    rivet counter
    FLM (fan living with mother)

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  4. Sam Shear says:

    I will be riding this train between 2nd Avenue and Queens Plaza and back to Broadway-Lafayette on Sunday December 9th, 2012.

  5. Someone says:

    Is it a train in service on the M line, or is it a special line?

  6. Zen says:

    Just rode this train today, lots of FUN!! They’re loud, bouncy, fast, and it’s cool to ride in a peice of NYC history!! Today a lot of young people dressed in 30s-40s clothes, apparently this was a spontaneous event put together on Facebook. Pretty cool!

    • Kevin Walsh says:

      Yes, I think the ‘vintage tea party’ with the 1940s outfits is held once per year on the nostalgia train.

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