John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: October, 2018

The Malbone Street Train Wreck

November 1st marks the 100th anniversary of the most devastating rapid transit disaster in our nation’s history. Ninety-seven New Yorkers lost their lives when Edward Luciano, a novice motorman crashed his train. Luciano had never piloted a train before that fateful day. He had been drafted into this service because of a wildcat strike by the motormen’s union.


Last September, I joined a walking tour of the crash site sponsored by the NYC Transit Museum with by my son-in-law, Tom and his eleven-year-old son, Cace. Kathryn, our young guide filled in many gaps in the narrative as I knew it. “The more I learned about Luciano, the more I came to sympathize with him. For example, Luciano was recovering from the Spanish Flu and he had buried his middle daughter, a victim of the flu, two days earlier. He was heart-heavy believing he infected her. “


Normally a train dispatcher, Luciano started his first run at 5 am that morning after receiving minimal instructions. He was due to be relieved at 4:30 pm but was ordered to drive one more train back to Brighton Beach from Manhattan. Stress, fatigue and the coming darkness took their toll and complicated braking system so befuddled the rookie motorman that he made several serious mistakes. Almost 400 of the 1,000 riders abandoned this train due to his obvious incompetence before he wrecked it.


Just before the right-of-way descended into the Prospect Park Station it reached a complex passage, a tight “S” curve that had only opened 13 days earlier. A small sign just outside the tunnel entrance posted the speed limit as 6 miles-per-hour. Accounts of Luciano’s true speed vary but it was estimated between 40 and 50 MPH.


The front trucks of the first car remained on the rails leaving Luciano uninjured. The rear third of that car was damaged. Cars two and three were destroyed as their wooden exteriors and glass windows splintered and shattered as they smashed into the tunnel’s steel columns and concrete sides and ceiling. The fourth car escaped serious damage and the fifth uncoupled coming to rest outside the tunnel, partly derailed but upright and intact.


Most of victims were killed in the second and third cars that rocketed into oblivion. Ordinary fixtures turned into missiles, Rattan seats, the bars that supported the leather straps for standees, window panes and glass ripped into the occupants. The wooden framing, sides and even the roof split open and shattered killing many trapped in wreck. Others were thrown from the train against the steel and concrete tunnel. The coroner’s office listed the cause of death for 88 of the 93 souls who died that day as being due to massive blunt force. (Four passengers subsequently passed in hospitals.)


First responders faced difficult challenges when they arrived at Malbone Street. The wreck was partially in an open-cut trench about than 100 feet below the surface and partially in the tunnel. Ladders had to be procured. A block and tackle system had to be rigged to remove the seriously injured victims needing stretchers. The Spanish Flu outbreak complicated rescues. Ambulances were in short-supply and hospitals were already overcrowded. The dead were set aside and ultimately removed to an armory for identification.


The public was furious, and the Brooklyn District Attorney indicted Luciano and five BRT executives for manslaughter. The defense forced a change in venue from Brooklyn to Mineola, Long Island for obvious reasons. After lengthy trials, none were found guilty.


For this and other long festering reasons, the Brooklyn Rapid Transit was forced into receivership. Ultimately, re-christened, the Brooklyn Manhattan Transit, Management of the BMT eventually compensated the victims with a fund of $1.4 million, ($18 million today.)


Malbone Street ceased to exist. Forever tainted by the horrific loss of life, city fathers re-christened it, Empire Boulevard


All that remains of the line is a short, three-station shuttle that moves passengers between Prospect Park and Fulton Street. The wall of death also remains but is in limited revenue service.


No plaques or recognition. Perhaps the one hundredth anniversary will correct that?


Kathryn pointed out that when Luciano emerged from his motorman’s booth, his obvious path of escape was to open the front door. He stepped off the front platform and walked 142 feet away from the wreck to the Prospect Park Station without having to look back at the carnage.


When Luciano opened the operator’s compartment, he ran into a dazed passenger, Charles Darling who asked what had happened? Darling subsequently reported to the police that Luciano, in an incredible moment of candor replied, “I don’t know. I lost control of the damn thing.”




E-Bikes: One – Delach: Zero

The young man who worked at the bike shop in the port town of Avalon on Catalina Island began his five to seven-minute tutorial as soon as we signed the waivers holding them harmless for all liabilities including injuries we could sustain by riding electric powered bicycles (E-Bikes) during the next two hours.


He walked us through how to increase and decrease the gear ratios to help us pedal the E-Bikes over the numerous up-hills and down-hills we would encounter, how to work the electric motor throttle and the front and rear brakes. “Remember, these are disc-brakes, not traditional hand brakes. To use them, don’t press and hold them. If you do, the bike will suddenly stop, and you may go flying over the handlebars. Squeeze them gently, on and off.”


I knew he didn’t see the weird look on my face as he explained braking. As if by magic, his words transported me back to the summer of 1957 in Cutler Ridge, Florida. My father had put me on his Vesper motor scooter and was explaining how to brake it. The old man was bit more elegant but less P.C. than the young man, “John, touch the brake like you are squeezing a girl’s breast.”


Mary Ann returned me to the moment with her worried question and plea, “Do we really want to ride these things?”


“Yes, yes, of course we do. C’mon, lets do it, we’ve been looking forward to this.”


I hoped my adamant reply concealed my own doubts and any panic in my voice.


But our guide only raised more red flags as he took out a map and set out his recommended route. “Head out on the coastal road that gives you about a half mile to get used to the bikes. Remember, they weigh over twenty pounds so don’t make sharp turns or brake hard. Use your electric motor judiciously and brake easy and often on the downhills.”


When he warned us about watching out for other tourists driving rented four and six-passenger golf carts, I really became nervous.


Again, came the warning, “Do we really want to ride these things?”


Thanks to male ego or call it what you will, I stayed the course with, “C’mon, let’s do this.”


And so, we started off. Leading the way, I had only gone about fifty feet when I was forced to stop for a woman inching a golf cart out of a parking area. Seeing me she stopped. I clearly had the right-of-way and began to move forward when she looked beyond me to see if the road was clear and pulled out. “Son of a bitch,” I murmured to myself as I jammed on the brakes to let her pass.

From the back seat, one of her companions who witnessed this near miss said as he passed by, “Sorry, rookie driver.”


I learned what I could during that first half mile but any confidence I acquired evaporated as we climbed a series of switchbacks that led us up the side of a mountain, especially those stretches where we had to navigate on the outside half of the road. I was able to climb even the steepest hills by peddling while keeping the motor at full throttle.


But I had to force all my attention on keeping a line away from the edge while not straying out of my narrow lane. By the time we reached a scenic overlook, my state of mind was such that I really didn’t observe the spectacular scenery. The many houses that clung to the hillsides should have been impressive as the beautiful harbor filled with boats big and small, but my preoccupation trumped enjoyment.


Realizing how high we had climbed only intensified my state. A group of twenty-something young adults took a photo of the two of us and asked us how we were doing. “Okay, so far, but we hate having to stay close to the edge.”


One young man responded, “You don’t have to, this road is one way.”


How do you say “relief?” “One way!”


We made it the rest of the way and back into town. Still in the lead, I decided to halt at a stop sign to check our location and discuss where we could go next. After I brought my bike to a stop, I turned off the battery to prevent inadvertently using the throttle and stepped off to use the kick-stand. I moved my left foot onto the ground. Holding the bike steady, I lifted my right foot to clear the relatively low bar,


My right leg failed me, the combination of a seventy-four-year old knee and a replacement hip. The weight of the bike won out and over I went. First response: check all body parts. All good, but my left leg was pinned under the bike held fast by my right leg that remained on top.


Slowly I lifted the bike to free my left leg. It was then that Mary Ann arrived. “Oh my God, are you all right?”


“Yeah. A few bruises, nothing of concern.”


I was able to stand and right the bike. We biked for a while longer before returning them. My left knee had the kind of blood wound that seven-year-olds regularly suffer.


God bless Mary Ann for remaining silent about the folly of our adventure. Instead she accompanied me to a local pharmacy to purchase Neosporin and over-size band-aids to cover my wound.


We had a pleasant dinner before boarding the ferry for the return trip to Dana Point and our car ride home to Carlsbad.


Jim Taylor: One Tough S.O.B.

Jim Taylor died on October 13th in a hospital near his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana at the age of 83. If you were interested enough to read any of the obituaries or commentaries dedicated to his life as a Hall of Fame NFL running back, you’d have noticed that Taylor’s greatest attribute was being one tough S.O.B.


I witnessed his determination on a bitterly cold afternoon in Yankee Stadium on December 30, 1962. The Green Bay Packers beat the New York Football Giants that day: 16-7 in the NFL Championship Game. Lacking today’s winter wear, I endured 17 degrees coupled with a 40 MPH wind only to suffer through my Giants inability to best Coach Vince Lombardi’s superior team.


Taylor was the key to the Packers success. This I can testify to as I watched, hid every carry up close and personal looking through my powerful 7×50 binoculars.


Robert Riger reported from the game:


“The Giants defense was mean and fiercely aggressive. They gave Jim Taylor the same treatment they had given Jimmy Brown over the years – the maximum physical effort on every play. ‘It was terrible,’ Bart Starr, the Packer quarterback confided, ‘The huddle would form, and I would watch him come back after Huff, Grier, Robustelli and the rest of the Giants defense had hit him, and he was bent over holding his insides together. I didn’t want to give it to him so much, but I had to. He’s our best man and I needed him and the 31 times he carried the ball was more than he has all season. But I’ll tell you something, if there were six downs instead of four I would have given it to him all six times and he never would have complained. He has never given anything less than his best.”


1962 was a vintage year for the both the Packers as a team and for Taylor as a player. The Packers won the Western Conference with a 13-1 record, Taylor led the league with 1.474 rushing yards and was the named the NFL’s MVP.


Richard Goldstein reported in The New York Times obituary: “Taylor engaged in a private war that day with Sam Huff the Giants middle linebacker and the leader of their vaunted defense. Taylor confessed:

‘I don’t ever remember being hit so hard. I bled the whole game. My arms bled from hitting the frozen dirt and my tongue bled after I bit it in the first half. “


Taylor’s 31 carries in the championship game netted him an additional 85 yards but Genaro C. Armas pointed out how difficult these yards were to gain: “Taylor sustained a gash to his elbow that required seven stitches at halftime and cut his tongue during the game.


“If Taylor went up to get a program, Huff was supposed to hit him. Wherever Taylor went, Huff went with him. (Taylor’s teammate,) Jerry Kramer told The Associated press in 2008, ‘I remember sitting next to Jimmy on the way home (on the flight to Green Bay) and he had his topcoat on. He never took it off. He had it over his shoulders and the guy was shivering almost all the way home. He just got the hell beat out of him that day.”


Goldstein continued: “After the game, Taylor accused Huff and some of his teammates of piling on after stopping him.”


‘Taylor likes to crawl,’ Huff responded. ‘The only way to stop Taylor is to make sure that he’s down.”


Taylor’s toughness was personified by his instinctive running style. Other premier backs like Jim Brown and Gale Sayers used finesse to make potential tacklers miss while they hurried by these frustrated opponents; but not Taylor. Lombardi explained: “Jim Brown will give you that leg to tackle and then take it away from you. Jim Taylor will give it to you and then ram it through your chest.”


Abe Woodson, the premier 49er’s defensive back also explained Taylor’s M.O.: “Most people run away from a tackle, not Taylor, even if he had a clear path to the goal line, he’d look for a defensive back to run over on the way.”


The longer I watched Taylor on that frozen afternoon, the more I became in awe of him. By the fourth quarter, the winter sun had settled and a mind-numbing cold had enveloped the playing field and we, the faithful fans, Taylor was hunched over, reduced to hobbling back to the huddle like a cripple, bent over and spitting up blood. Still, when Starr called the next play, Taylor, lined up in the “T” formation behind Starr and charged ahead at the snap of the ball either to carry it or to block for Paul Horning, his running mate. He did this repeatedly with the same ferocity until the referee fired the shot that ended the contest.


Taylor scored the only offensive touchdown in the game and this is how he described his score, a seven-yard run, and rest of the game:


“It was the only play of the game they didn’t touch me. But they made up for it the rest of this miserable afternoon. It was the toughest game of my life. They really came to play.”


Jim Taylor: RIP



Gulliver’s Gate

I would not have discovered the existence of Gulliver’s Gate had it not been for a letter from an old colleague and model train enthusiast, Fred Fort. Fred has experienced the ultimate HO model train exhibit in the world, Minatur Wunderland in Hamburg, Germany. When Fred’s daughter alerted him that a similar exhibit is on display in Manhattan, Fred passed this news to me knowing I shared his love of model trains.


It’s true, both as a kid and a young teen, I made an annual pilgrimage to the Lionel layout located at 15 East 26the Street just to the north of Madison Square Park. I traveled there with my cousins, Bill and Bob on a given Saturday between Thanksgiving and Christmas during the mid-1950s. O Gauge ruled s kid’s world of trains making Lionel the king of electric trains far more important than American Flyer or Marx. The release each fall of their annual catalogue was a national holiday in Lionel’s kid’s kingdom and the Lionel layout was our Mecca.


Most of us grew out of our trains. Lionel itself went out of vogue, their layout closed, and we too, ceased to build our Christmas layouts. Trains were boxed and put away, plywood boards were relegated to garages, cellars or basements and we moved on with our lives. Having children brought about a resurrection. Now mature adults (more or less,) we added switches, elevated routes, bigger transformers and the capability of running multiple trains at the same time. Some converted to HO, but I added to my O Gauge motive power and rolling stock.


A second resurrection followed the arrival of grandchildren. I joined the Train Collectors Association, (TCA) and journeyed to York, Pennsylvania where I gladly joined an army of old men ogling over various locomotives, diesel engines, rolling stock and accessories. We justified all the stuff we bought by telling ourselves, it was for the grandkids.


What a seasonal layout I created in our family room. A town trolley, an elevated subway train, a long-distance passenger train and a grand and varied freight all running at the same time. Mary Ann created the scenery that gave it class. We proudly watched as each child took it in for the first time with eyes wide open and disbelief at this miracle of electric technology.


How dated. How obsolete, one by one, each of the five outgrew interest as new electronics accelerated their loss of interest. It ended one season when the only times I turned them on and ran them was for my pleasure…sad, and so it goes.


Now I attend train shows when convenient, so the knowledge of Gulliver’s Gate was a welcomed invitation to enjoy one close to home. My companion, my youngest grandson, Cace, eleven. Tickets in hand, we set out on the last day in August for 214 West 44 Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. I’d watched several videos about this exhibit and I warned Cace: “I think there’s a big difference between this layout and the one in Germany. The one in Hamburg is train-centric and this one is architecture-centric with the trains playing a secondary role.


However, I was perplexed about its location. How did the designer find a space big enough in mid-Manhattan to build an exhibit as large as I imagined this one must be? As we walked east from Eighth Avenue, I had my answer. “Of course, it is domiciled in the vast second floor of the old New York Times printing plant.” The exhibit partially fills a vast space once filled with old linotype machines and other equipment that printers used to publish the daily paper.


As soon as we entered the space, I knew my observation was correct. If you plan to see Gulliver’s Gate, leave your engineer’s hat at home. It is a terrific exhibit, but trains are a minor part and many of them were not operating. I don’t believe they were out of order. My impression is that the operators choose which trains will run that day. Nonetheless, the builders have created excellent renditions of important structures from all over the world. New York City has received the prime focus that includes the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, the World Trade Center Memorial and all the major sky scrapers. The High Line Park is included, and Grand Central Terminal has trains running in its basement (not operating that day.) The exhibit is capped off with a working model of the Thanksgiving Day parade.


The exhibit took us to London, Rome, Paris, St. Petersburg, Moscow Beijing the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Mexico and South America. Panama included two working locks from the canal. Model ships enter the locks, the gates are closed, water is either pumped in or pumped out lifting or lowering the models to the correct level. Cace and I thought this was the best working feature of the exhibit until we visited the airport located in a separate space.


The Airport has timed takeoffs and landings. Before the takeoff, a model airliner taxies out to the end of the runway. First, white Take off lights come on, then, they intensify just before the aircraft begins to move. The sound of jet engines fills the room as the plane accelerates, rotates and climbs with the assistance of a rod connected to the belly. It stops on a metal platform above the end of the runway where the rod is disconnected, and a device transports it into a passageway out of sight behind a wall.


The plane reappears and enters a second platform at the other end of the runway. A rod is re-connected that brings it in for a landing and a final taxi to the tarmac.


Pretty neat and worthwhile seeing. But, and there is always a but: From the videos I’ve seen, I truly doubt if it competes with the airport operation at Minatur Wunderland.


Minatur Wunderland is the major leagues and Gulliver’s Gate is AAA minor leagues, the best of the minor leagues but still the minor leagues. Then again, taking a train ride to Midtown Manhattan from Port Washington is considerably easier than making a flight to Hamburg.





Super Bowl XLII

“On any given Sunday, any given team can defeat any other given team.”

Bert Bell: NFL Commissioner 1945-1959


February 7, 2008; my son and I witnessed our 12-7 Football Giants take on the 18-0 New England Patriots whose fans expected victory and the Pats coronation as the greatest NFL team ever.


The Giants started the game by keeping the ball for 9:59, a Super Bowl record for an opening drive. It ended with a field goal; Giants 3-0. Michael and I decided to forego our seats at the top of the upper deck to stand behind a handicapped seating area considerably closer to the field. A security guard confirmed we could stand there. “You just have to stay three feet from the last row of seats.” So that’s where we stood for the rest of the game.


Tension filled the day as the first half continued. Even though the Patriots scored in the second quarter; the score was only 7-3. It remained fixed at this number when the Giants forced Tom Brady to fumble at the end of the first half. I said to Michael, “I’m glad that we are standing. I’m too stressed to sit. This is insane. I think the key to this game will be the Patriots opening drive in the second half. If the Giants stop them, we have a chance.”


I looked around Phoenix University Stadium during halftime. The girders supporting the closed retractable roof are impressive, the sightlines were good and the field; first rate. But the scoreboard was garish and so busy with junk that it was hard to find the score, down or yards to go. The P.A. announcer was awful. His voice was a far cry from Bob Shepherd’s melodious voice.


What I saw in the Giants so far was complete focus and intensity. They retained it as the third quarter began, stopping the Patriots and forcing them to punt. And they accomplished this despite having a penalty called on them for having twelve men on the field for a previous punt gave the Patriots new life on that drive.


The score remained 7-3 at the fourth-quarter began. That was when the Giants seized the moment and scored on their first drive on a 5-yard pass from Eli Manning to David Tyree that Tyree caught in the end zone right in front of us; Giants 10-7.


Oh boy, oh boy. I thought I was going to explode. The Patriots stalled and punted on their next possession as did the Giants. Now 7:54 remained in the game as the Patriots started their next drive at their 20-yard line. Brady finally got his act together and engineered an 80-yard drive scoring on a third-down pass to Randy Moss with 2:42 left in the game, Patriots 14-10.


A Patriot fan standing near us pulled out a cigar held it in the air and announced, “This game is over.”


“I’m not so sure.” I said to Michael. “There’s a lot of time left on the clock and the Giants have all three time-outs.”


By now many of the stadium employees had stopped working and were watching the game. A big, bald security guard stood next to me. As the Giant offense returned to the field after they had run the kickoff out to the 17-yard line, I turned to him and said, “What do you think?”


He replied, “I think the kid can do it.”


And so, he did.


Manning put together a 12 play, 83-yard drive highlighted by his great Houdini-like escape from the Patriot linemen when they had him on the brink of ending the game. Manning escaped their clutches, sprinted away from them, turned and flung the ball 32-yards. At the receiving end, Tyree made an impossible one handed catch off his helmet. A few plays later, when Plaxico Burress put a move on Ellis Hobbs, all he had to do was catch Manning’s lob and get two feet inbounds – he did, Giants 17-14.


I kissed the security guard on the top of his head.


The Patriots had one last chance with 34 seconds and three time-outs left. When rookie tackle, Jay Alford, nailed Brady on second down, I had the hope that the Patriots wouldn’t reach field goal range, but I held my breath when Brady tried to hit Moss on a pass he must have thrown 75-yards. Corey Webster knocked the ball away at the last second. Ten seconds left on the clock and I was still holding my breath. When Brady’s next pass went incomplete, I lost track of the downs and Michael had to remind me that last pass was on fourth down and the Giants now had the ball for the one second remaining on the clock.


When Michael lifted me in the air, I knew the Giants had won. The fellow with the cigar stood in stunned silence. Michael yelled to him, “You know where you can put that cigar now.”


We couldn’t hear the trophy presentation and we were too far away to watch it, so Michael and I jubilantly exited the stadium to meet the drivers, wait for our mates and enjoy victory beers.


As we filed out past a sea of ticket hawkers now trying to buy used Super Bowl XLII tickets for souvenir re-sale, I asked Michael: “If we had to play these guys ten times, how many games do you think we’d win?”


“We just saw it, Pop.”


Our mates arrived in short order. We didn’t stay long and began the crawl out of the parking lot. The mood was overwhelmingly joyful. We had just seen the greatest football game any of us had ever seen. Then Michael noticed a young woman wearing a Brady jersey walk by. He leaned out the window and said, “Don’t worry, Tom, 18-1 ain’t bad.”


“F**k off.” came her reply.

Brilliant, Michael had nailed her!


(On the Outside Looking in will publish on Thursday next week.)