John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Category: Uncategorized

Blood Donor

In times of trouble, the New York area blood banks spring into action to appeal to the public for donations. This time Convid-19 is the reason. If I could donate, I would, and this is the reason why. 

I didn’t donate blood until I was well into my forties. It wasn’t that I was averse to the idea of giving blood that prevented me from becoming a donor earlier or fear that I would lose it, faint, or otherwise embarrass myself.

Rather, I led a world wind business life throughout the 80’s and 90’s with frequent travel to domestic and international destinations. I had places to go, flights to make, people to see to negotiate big deals, put out fires and keep my customers satisfied. Needless to say…  I lived in the fast lane.

A few things about that life, admittedly, it didn’t suck, but the risk / reward quotient was constant and without end. To describe what it was like, I have always taken pleasure in recounting a story told to me by the mother of my son’s best friend.

Diane explained, “I had picked up Mark and your son, Michael, from PYA, (our local little league association.) Driving home, Mark asked Michael: ‘Your father travels an awful lot; what does he do?’

Michael replied: ‘I’m not sure but he gets on airplanes, goes to different places, tells people what to do, and when they do it, he comes home.”

I kid you not, his version beat the hell out of reality.

My ignorance about giving blood ended the day my boss, Hobey Lockett, walked into my office to tell me that our colleague, Chuck, had terminal cancer and was receiving transfusions at Sloan-Kettering.

 “How can I help,” I asked?

Hobey replied: “Come with me tomorrow to donate blood in his name.”

I signed on and we donated the next day. Chuck didn’t survive but we continued to donate until his blood transfusions were paid back. Good deed done; I now knew that giving blood was a can-do event for me. I gave at office blood drives, at our local parish and a couple of one-off blood drives.

One day I received a call from the New York Blood Bank informing me that my A- blood was in high demand. They explained that it was especially needed for premature babies. Of course, I signed on and became a regular donor. As soon as they cleared me for my next donation, I would make my way to the blood bank’s facility located in the basement of Citicorp’s New York headquarters.

When someone would ask why I gave blood so often, I’d reply: “The blood bank folks have determined that my blood has an ingredient vital to premature babies, (wait for it) –  (wait for it): Alcohol.” Ha-ha.

One day, when I arrived for my appointment, a crew was filming a public service commercial for blood drives. Asked to participate, I agreed, and my pretty face ran on local TV ads for almost two years.  

But times change. Late in the 90’s a new question appeared on the list of restrictions that would prevent me from continued donations. At first blush, the question appeared to be innocuous: “Between 1975 and 1995, how many days did you spend in the United Kingdom?”

I read the question a second time. Now somewhat in shock, I called one of the nurses over and asked: “What is this question all about?”

After reading it, she explained: “Mad cow disease. The World Health Organization has decided that if a non-UK resident has spent over a year in Britain during those years, they are no longer eligible to give blood.”

“Kind of arbitrary, wouldn’t you say?”

“Perhaps, but that’s the way it is.”

Instinctively, I knew I had exceeded that time limit by my extensive travel to London during that very period. Reluctantly, I excused myself. Later, I called Rita C, the wife of one of my contacts at Exxon and a former UK RN. Rita simply said: “You have to obey the rules.”

Spoken like a true professional and someone I respected. Still, I felt the pain. Damn, I was doing good but, through no fault of my own, I had become unclean. Damn…and so it goes.

Oh well, I had my time at bat and life is good.

 Please GIVE BLOOD-It’s an absolute feel good thing to do and America needs your donation at this time of crisis. Understandably, blood banks reserves are at an all- time low as giving blood requires a huge leap of faith. You must abandon sheltering in place,  get into your car to reach your nearest blood bank, enter a strange building, wait with other strangers for a nurse, fill out a form, answer lots of questions and then take a blood test.

Only then will you be able to accept the needle and give blood, that is, if I didn’t miss a step.

Before the fact you will be nagged by friends and family not to do this and afterwards, you will be made to feel foolish, or simply a moron.

Nothing about giving blood in this time of National Emergency is easy. It is hard, very hard, hence the shortage of blood. No nagging from me. If you can, as the Marines’ recruiting slogan commands: THE FEW, THE PROUD…

And yet, to your own heart be true.

The Perfect Time to Buy a New SUV

Good God Almighty, if I listen to the President of the United States, the Governor of the state of New York, Comrade Mayor Bill DeBlasio or other prominent politicians, scientists from the CDC, WHO – all I hear is blah, blah, and blah. By their accounts, both Mary Ann and I will probably be infected, maybe die – as- collateral casualties in the war against COVID-19!

We are told the purpose of their broadcasts is to express caution to protect us. Alas, their daily doom messages spread fear and panic. Meanwhile, more draconian measures are introduced daily reducing our freedom of movement. Each day, restrictions and prohibitions increase.

On Friday the 13th, President Donald J Trump declared a National Emergency to combat the COVID-19 virus giving our government dictatorial powers to do whatever is necessary to combat this virus.

Quarantine, is only a question of time. Slowly, but surely, the USA is heading to an emergency of biblical proportions where all normal activities cease by government mandate.

Oops, then comes the bad news news: Of course, the compromised and elderly are at extreme risk. “They should hunker down in place, avoid all contact with all organisms in the known universe. They should spend their lives washing their hands, live in fear and be prepared to bend over as far as their old, tired, arthritic bodies will allow to kiss their asses goodbye.”

A silly thought: What if the virus is part of a vast military / industrial /business / international Western governmental conspiracy to thin the herd by eliminating the old leaches who are sucking the system dry by our pensions, social security and socialized free medicine? We are their targets because we refuse to leave the planet on our own.  What if they developed this virus to take us out? Think about how much they will save by our elimination!

And what about our fearless leaders? For example, here in the USA, three old white men out of touch and living in the past are our only choices to be our next fearless leader. The Donald, the current and controversial president, Bernie the Red and sleepy Joe. Seriously, if you don’t believe this cabal of three are working under cover and in unison, you are playing into their hands. (Just a thought.)

What to do? Faced with this enormous crisis at 76, my only escape was to buy a new SUV. I picked out the brand-new Hyundai Palisade because I could enter it without banging my head and it had lots of bells and whistles at a reasonable price.

I enjoyed the fact that the salesman was oblivious to the stock market meltdown and the COVID-19 panic. He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse so, what the hell, I took the plunge. I signed all the paperwork, put down a serious deposit on Wednesday, March 11 and took delivery that night.

Since then the world continues to implode. But what me worry? Hell no, I can stay in my new beauty of an SUV in quarantine until hell freezes over.

Since all of sports leagues and the colleges have voluntarily ceased for the foreseeable future, learning how to operate all these new systems will help me to survive our quarantine and I’ll have a complete understanding of my new vehicle ito escape Uncle’s wrath for telling the truth and spilling the beans.

Pick your poison; I picked mine. See you on the highway to freedom: Live Free or Die.

The Sky Is Falling

Here we go again. Err on the side of caution is becoming the general order of the day with interruptions, cancellations or restrictions multiplying geometrically and all because of the Corona virus or the COVID-19. American colleges and universities are banning travel and soon to come, cessation of attending classes replaced by virtual classrooms accessed on-line. Looks like University of Phoenix and like on-line colleges had it right after all.

In Italy all soccer games are being played for TV only, the stadiums being locked shut. Not just the one-percenter are abandoning commercial flights for private charters. So are the five, 10 and 20 percenters. If you got it, flaunt it.

Adios March Madness at least for fan participation, Pity the XFL. OMG, what about The Masters! And the ultimate casualty, the Tokyo Olympics. How do you say WTF in Japanese? Entertainment events like South by Southwest have been cancelled while passengers scramble to cancel overseas vacations and scheduled cruises. Chaos reigns supreme as the stock market vainly struggles to get it right opting instead for a daily rollercoaster ride to hell and back.    

Our fearless leaders demand that we don’t panic while they pour out news and statistics that broadcast doubt, anxiety and worry. Don’t panic, really? Instead, whistle a happy tune for twenty seconds while we wash our hands.

In the 70s we had gasoline crises. A good deal of the shortage was caused by hoarding. Today, folks are hoarding hand sanitizers, wipes, paper towels, nose and toilet tissues. One wag told us to use vodka but the folks at Tito’s reminded us that the minimum alcohol content should be 60% and their content is 40%. Even Smirnoff 100 is 10% short. Perhaps drinking it is the better alternative, especially Tito’s!

Meanwhile businesses announce plans to minimize employee contact with each other, customers and others. Bloomberg LLC intends to divide facilities to spread the risk. Others will push the exploding universe of working remotely. Our fake media broadcasts hysteria and panic. What a time for an infodemic, (an overabundance of information.)  A vicious tornado that tore into a suburb of Nashville didn’t have a chance to compete with the COVID-19 infodemic.

What’s a girl to do? Hoard antiseptic cleaner, toilet paper, soap and paper towels? Stock up on cereal, soup, Spam, fruit cocktail and peanut butter in expectation of an imposed fourteen-day quarantines that lurk around the corner?

Does Chicken Little’s battle cry: “The sky is falling,” have a familiar ring?” Or, has Homeland Security upped the terror threat to fire engine-red, albeit, a completely different terror threat – or, has NORAD issued a DEFCON Five alert? “The sky is falling; the sky is falling.”

Memo to file: Delach, get your ass to Total Wine, chop-chop to stock up on two weeks supply of Jameson’s, Johnny Walker Red and Kettle-One. Hell, make that a month’s supply!  And don’t forget mother’s hooch too. After all, THE SKY IS FALLING!

Truth be known, most humans, especially those of us who live in the free world, in my case, the USA, be us Trumpers, Bernie addicts Joementumers and everything in between are insecure and believe that we don’t deserve what we have. Instead we secretly believe we are under attack because we are blessed. Linda Ronstadt reminded us in “Back in the USA:”:

I’m so glad I’m living in the USA:

Yes, I’m so glad I’m living in the USA

Anything you want we got it right here in the USA   

Many of us suffer from the feeling too good blues. In our hearts, we believe we have it coming which is why we buy into Armageddon: Sooner or later something bad will happen: War, a natural disaster, a plague, a climate catastrophe, or attack from outer space are but a few examples.

If only we just relax and: Don’t worry, be happy. Valium or a stiff drink can help.

Once COVID-19 runs its course, and it will, we’ll go back to normal and leave the unpleasant memory behind. This too shall pass; that I can guarantee.

Certain changes will remain. The work-place and university structure will never be the same. Virtual and remote will be the legacy of the COVID-19.

Can We Lessen the Noise?

Something remarkable happens when I sit down at my computer to begin the process of creating a new piece like this one. I am alone with my thoughts. In the background I can hear the soft purr of Mary Ann’s sound machine. Her pleasure is to go to bed between 9 pm and 9:30 to catch up on social media comings and goings and to read her latest e-book.

Part of my motivation is to escape the noise of talk TV. The noise began with the Bush – Gore disputed election of 2000 especially Florida and the “chads.” Since then, it has multiplied beyond belief.

Some may point out that it’s my own fault that I am electronically challenged. Perhaps? Yet I deliberately decided to avoid any and all social media forums. It’s bad enough knowing that my name and countless things about me are bouncing around the internet but, at the very least I can refuse to participate in the process. I don’t care what others think when I have a birthday, start something new, eat a meal or go to the toilet and I certainly don’t care to know about others’ birthdays, eating or bathroom habits.

My resolve several years ago when I received a message from a friend asking me to become one of his Facebook friends. Having already heard horror stories of innocent victims being sucked in by Facebook’s siren song, I deleted his invitation and replied to him via an email message that went something like this:

Dear Friend,

Please don’t take this the wrong way, but, if Jesus Christ himself asked me to be his Facebook friend, I’d tell him to f***-off.

Your loving friend,


Yes, I have an iPhone and an iPad, but, to the best of my knowledge, I am not a member of any social media outlets which is not an easy thing to accomplish. As of last June, there were approximately 65 outlets. The top site remains Facebook with 1.59 billion monthly users. Second, Whats App with 1 billion; third, QQ with 853 million; fourth, WeChat (697MM); fifth, QZone (640MM); sixth, Tumblr(555MM); seventh, Instagram, (400MM) and Twitter (320MM), eighth. Baidu Tieba, Google and Skype filling out the last three each with 300 million users. One could point out that this means I miss out on a significant amount of information but consider that it also means that I have successfully lessened the amount of noise directed at me.

Like Custer, I fear one day it will overwhelm me. Am I fighting a losing battle? Already our political polarization has poisoned the radio and television airways, great newspapers have lost their way and the entertainment industry has gone bonkers in their support of a progressive agenda. In the process civility has been obliterated as collateral damage by these out-of-control clashing ideologies.

Even the ultimate safe harbor of professional sports reporting is under siege thanks to the Houston Astros rigging their first World Series win. The 2020 baseball season will be a horror show, that is of course if there is a 2020 baseball season.

The Corona virus may go pandemic taking the all organized sports with it from Major League Baseball to the Tokyo Olympics. The stock market has already fled the scene in full panic mode while efforts to protect the Heartland are crushed under insanely partisan noise. Even when the virus runs its course the noise will find new sources. 

Five G will enable more and more noise that will be thrust upon us by amazing, addictive and sophisticated devices. Don’t get me started about my thoughts on Artificial Intelligence (AI). Through no fault of my own, we secured a single device now occupying our breakfast room. I assume it’s a Google product since to get it to talk, Mary Ann begins her request with: “Hey Google.”

Mary Ann requests basic things, phone numbers, movie times, etc. Her success rate is about 50%. This AI machine is a first generation: “A Tin Lizzy” of its species. I don’t look forward to witnessing the future of this brave new world

I have only had one interaction with this machine. One morning, while I read the print editions of Newsday and The New York Times, over a second cup of coffee, my radio barked an ad for its own broadcast with the command: “Hey Google, play WABC.”

As if by magic, the AI device began to broadcast the station. Stunned, I shouted out: “Hey Google, shut the f*** off.”

It did! I suspect, in the future its successors will have me eliminated for my anti-social behavior… I’ll be waiting: Live free or die.

When Death Rode the Rails: Sept. 15, 1958 (Part Four)

I published a stand-alone version of Part Four entitled: “No. 932: Sent from the gods” in January of 2014.

When the third coach, Car 932, temporarily came to rest on that 80-degree angle, it became the iconic newspaper photograph of record carried on the front pages of Tuesday’s Metropolitan newspapers. All the morning papers from the Daily News and Daily Mirror the Star Ledger and The Asbury Press carried the image of this half-submerged coach conspicuously identified as 932. It became a message from the gods.

And so, workingmen and women who played the numbers flocked to this heavenly gift and played 932 in droves. Back then, a big bet was one dollar, but you could bet as little as a quarter with a local runner, a part-time collector who worked for a bookie. When you bet a three-number combination, the payoff was 600 to 1.

Harry Barnhardt worked as a hostler for the Erie Railroad in their Hoboken Yard shuttling locomotives within a terminal. Harry would transfer steamers and diesels from shops and lay-up tracks, hook them up to coaches and move the consist into the station for the evening rush hour trains.

Harry was my friend, Mike Scott’s, grandfather. Aside from his Erie job, he was also a runner for a bookmaker in Jersey City. He collected daily bets from fellow Erie workers in the afternoon and, each morning, made the rounds of bars along Hudson Boulevard and Summit Avenue in north Jersey City. Harry’s railroad workday began at 3 pm making his mornings clear to troll these local gin mills, pick up the day’s bets and pay off yesterday’s winners. Mike was eight in 1958 and recalls, “On days off from school and during the summer, my brothers, Jimmy and Kevin my sister, Kathy and I took turns visiting Harry and Rose. Harry would take us out with him on his morning rounds. We’d get a free Coke and Harry would sip a beer while conducting business. Then, it was on to the next gin mill.”

The Wednesday night after the wreck, Harry dropped Grandma Rose off at the Scott’s house for her traditional spaghetti night. But this night was different! Instead of distributing her normal allowance of twenty-five cents to Mike and his older brother, Jimmy, grandma handed them each a Five Dollar bill. “Unheard of!” Mike reported. “Not only that, she took all of us out to the Chinese Joint, a rare thing indeed.”

“Then, even crazier, the next weekend, on Harry’s day off, he took everybody to Mario’s, a bar in Clifton that served up those 1950s’ vintage pizzas with enormous air pockets. Were they any good? Who knew – They were the only and best pizza we ever had. But what made this special was, Harry blew for dinner, something he never did.”

Mike continued, “Years later, when I went into the insurance business, Harry clued me into what happened that day. He said, ‘People play the same number all the time, birthdays, anniversaries, and so on. But they are also superstitious and when a crash happens and they find a number, it’s played like wildfire. That morning, 932 came in everywhere I went. It was crazy. When I took my sheets in, I said to the guys, ‘This is nuts!’

“Did you play it Harry?’ they asked me? ‘Hell, yes, I replied. But how can the bookies cover if it hits?”

Mike explained: “When the bookmakers discover that a number is being heavily played, they find other bookmakers who don’t have this action. The 1958 CNJ wreck was an East Coast event so the bookies figuratively headed west. Their search began in Pittsburgh, then to Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, etc. until they managed to layoff enough to survive. In return, they took the western books hot numbers then or later.

“Harry not only hit the number; he was a hero in all those gin mills. Grandma took his $600 payout, but Harry kept all the tips from his bettors and the action she didn’t know about.

“When Harry told me this story, he stopped, thought about it and said, ‘I went down to Jersey City early the next morning scared that there wouldn’t be a payout. Already, the word was bookies had reneged. As it turned out, those were mostly locals, kids or jerks, without a clue trying to get a piece of the action. The people I worked for were solid and paid off in full. You know, it hit me when I walked out to make my rounds that day, ‘My God, this is the most amount of money I will ever have on me in my entire life.”

When Death Rode the Rails 1958 (Part Three)

Paul Land, the stockbroker from Rumson, regained his senses fifty feet under water in the second car: “…under the roof, there was an air pocket several inches high. I don’t know how I did it, but I floated up there. I gulped all the air I could, but at that point I thought I was a goner.

‘You see, I don’t swim. Only recently did I learn to float. But I don’t swim or dive. In the top of the car, the swishing of water was fantastic. It banged me around this way, then that way. I would say there were about thirty-five bodies in the car then and only a few others got out with me.

“Some way, maybe I dove, or maybe I pulled myself down, I don’t know, but I got myself to the bottom of the car and against this window. I don’t know if it was open or I broke it, but suddenly an enormous air bubble formed. It burst out the window with me in it and shot me to the surface.

“I thought I was going to drown again, that I would sink. But then a helicopter came along with a rope dangling down. I wrapped it around and around my arms, tight, then I passed out. Later I found that there were five of us in the helicopter. The others were also severely injured. One of them, I think, died.”

John Hawkins body was recovered the next day as was his briefcase containing the $250,000 in securities. So was James Adams body. The family tried to keep the news from his dying wife, Alice, but a nurse let it slip. Alice died the next day. Her brother, Kurt, the not yet famous author and his wife raised the couple’s oldest three boys while the baby went to other relatives.

Rafael Leon, a Venezuelan financier, was trapped in the tilted third coach with his wife. “I tried to get hold of my wife. I had one hand on something above me in the water – a seat or something. I had the other hand on my wife. But there was a man on top of her, and he was already drowned. I tried to get hold of her, but I could not get her up.

“I was drowning there under the water. I was drowning and praying. My wife was beneath me in the water. I swam down in the water and tried to find her, but the water was too deep, and she had slipped down. I went back up to the surface of the water inside the coach. A window was open, but I stayed there some time inside the coach praying. There is no use trying to find my wife. She is already lost. If I go down again to try to get her, it will just mean that I will die too.”

Mr. Leon climbed up to higher window in the coach and escaped in a small boat.

Boats had quickly converged on the wreck. One of the first to arrive was Edward McCarthy who owned the Elco Marina in Bayonne just north of the drawbridge. He heard the distress signals from the Sand Captain as it neared the bridge just as the train catapulted into the bay. He immediately set off in a 16-foot launch and was credited with rescuing 11 people in the first 15 minutes.

“There were people floating all over the place. They were screaming for help. It was so frustrating. You are all alone and there is only so much I could do to help.”

The Sand Captain launched its lifeboat which maneuvered over to the dangling passenger car. Passengers climbed out of the windows above the bay and into the boat. Soon police and fire boats from New Jersey and Staten Island arrived as did Coast Guard cutters, land units and helicopters. Unlike other wrecks, response on a massive scale was un-necessary. The living was quickly rescued turning the operation into one of recovery. Divers arrived to enter the murky, polluted waters of Newark Bay to recover the wrecked engines and coaches and any bodies they stumbled across in the darkness. Magnus “Peanuts” Sonnergern, a 36-year-old diminutive master diver from Staten Island led the efforts to raise the units. He explained, “I have hands and they are my eyes.” Making over a dozen dives in three days, Peanuts recovered 21 bodies and helped raise all five units despite lack of visibility and tricky tides.

Snuffy Stirnweiss wife and six children received $9,000 in cash death benefit from the Major League Players’ benefit Plan and a monthly amount of $157.50 for the rest of her life.

All the passengers who died occupied the second and third cars that fell into the bay. This wasn’t happenstance. These cars were closest to the front of the train which passengers had to pass to board the connecting ferry to Manhattan.

The two diesels were recovered, repaired and returned to service. Full service across Newark Bay ended in 1967 when all Shore Line trains were re-routed to Hoboken. Shuttle service ended in 1980 and the bridge was soon dismantled

That should have been the end but Part Four will tell a curious story related to the wreck.                                         

When Death Rode the Rails 1958 (Part Two)

The Central of New Jersey’s Newark Bay Bridge was a masterpiece of engineering when it opened in 1926. The four-track railroad bridge spanned Newark Bay at a height of 35 feet above the water. Twin vertical lift draw bridges spanned the two shipping channels allowing free passage for ships between Port Newark and the sea.

The bridge’s safety devices were simple, but comprehensive. Not one of the four lift sections could be raised until the signals located along the tracks leading to these spans went to stop. Simultaneously, automatic derailing devices located 300 feet from the spans were set in the derailing position. In theory, they were designed to force a train to stop by knocking it off the tracks. 

At 8:55 am, Patrick Corcoran, the drawbridge captain set the signals and the derailleur before proceeding to raise the span for the passage of the sand boat, Sand Captain, outbound running empty headed for Coney Island. Because this was a small harbor craft, Corcoran raised the span to a height of 108 feet; 27 feet less than the maximum raised position of 135 feet. He reasoned that by limiting the height of the opening, he would be able to lower the span more quickly to resume railroad operations. But this ordinary decision had consequences. Had he opened the bridge to its maximum height of 135 feet, the concrete counterweights would have descended almost to track level blocking the opening. Instead, the counterweight hung 27 feet above the tracks.

Train No. 3314 left Elizabethport at 8:57 and passed through the first of three stop signals at the entrance to the bridge traveling at a speed of 35 MPH.

Corcoran told reporters and investigators that he looked out his window as soon as the spans were lifted to ascertain the location of 3314 so he could log the time it was forced to wait in his delay report. Instead of being stopped at Signal R26, the train had already passed this signal. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. I never saw anything like it before. All the safety devices were operating. There was nothing I could do.”

The tapes in the diesels recorded that the train reached a speed of 42 MPH before it reached the automatic derailleur. An autopsy performed on engineer Wilburn after his body was recovered revealed that he may have had a heart attack at this critical time. But what has never been explained is what was the fireman doing? Why didn’t he use his set of controls to stop the train? Instead, no effort was made to brake the train until almost at the point of derailment when another crew member riding toward the rear of the train set off the emergency brakes in the rear two cars. The ICC found that when the brakes on these two cars were inspected after the crash, “The brakes of both cars were found fully applied.”

Owing to that day being the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, only about 100 to 130 passengers were on board when the train crossed the bridge. Nobody occupied the closed front combo car, 30 to 60 occupied the second car (closest to the connecting ferry), 20 in the third car and 20 more divided between the fourth and fifth cars. Had the concrete counterweights been at track level, the two diesels would have taken the brunt of the crash and it is probable that the combo car would have telescoped the rear diesel with no loss of life. The four trailing coaches would have crashed about accordion style suffering crushed vestibules and probably overturning. It would be foolish to estimate the casualties from such a wreck or what the death toll would have been, but it would have been far less than the 48 souls who died in the actual wreck

Without the concrete barrier the engines and the first two cars went over the edge and sank into the bay. The third car, Number 932, came to rest half-submerged at an 80-degree angle with its top end leaning against the mouth of the open span with 75% under water resting on a ledge. Here it remained for two hours before plunging into the bay, time enough for all survivors in this coach to escape and photographers to record its sickening appearance before it slipped to the bottom of the channel.

To be continued

When Death Rode the Rails: Sept. 15, 1958

Part One

Paul V. Land, a forty-eight-year old stockbroker, chose the second passenger coach of Train No. 3314 on Monday morning, September 15, 1958. He boarded the Central of New Jersey Railroad train at the Red Bank Station for the 57-minute run to Jersey City. Mr. Land almost didn’t make the train. As he drove from his home in Rumson, he considered playing hooky and spend this Indian summer day back at home. But work came first so, with the New York Times in hand, he boarded the late rush hour train commonly called The Broker.

The train originated in Bay Head and was running north on the railroad commonly called the Jersey Shore Line. After arriving the terminal in Jersey City, Mr. Land planned to catch one of the CNJ’s Hudson River ferries to reach his office in Lower Manhattan.

The train proceeded without incident and on time through Elizabeth Junction where it switched on to the CNJ’s mainline tracks that headed east leading to a stop at Elizabethport before crossing Newark Bay over the two-mile long bridge that ran between that station and Bayonne. All seemed well. Lloyd Wilburn (63) the engineer waved to Joe Holiday, the tower man, from his diesel cab as it passed through the junction.

Land sensed something was wrong as the train crossed the trestle. Fifteen years of commuting alerted his senses, “The train was going very fast. I heard the brakes screech, and I looked out the window and saw this ship about to pass through the drawbridge. Then the train began to bump. It bumped and bumped – this must have gone on for 1,000 feet, I don’t know, I looked quickly and noticed all the windows were closed.”

“Through the car ahead I saw the first locomotive disappear from the trestle, then the second, then the car in front of ours, and then we went. There was a jar and a rush of water and the car banged sharply back and forth.”

Thus began Mr. Land’s ordeal and those of his fellow passengers as the two engines pulling Train 3314 and three of its five coaches plunged into the oily waters of Newark Bay.

Lloyd Wilburn, the engineer and his 42-year old fireman, Peter Andrews, drove the train sitting on either side of the cab of the road switcher, Engine No. 1532 with an identical engine behind them. These two diesel-electric locomotives, built by General Motors Electro-Motive Division, new in 1952, pulled the late rush hour train of four coaches and one passenger-baggage combo car. This combo car rode directly behind the engines and was running light having been closed off by the crew.

The engines were not equipped with a “dead man’s control,” a device that automatically stops a train if the operator doesn’t maintain hand pressure on the throttle. The Jersey Central believed such devices were unnecessary on locomotives operated by two crew members since the fireman had identical controls that provided enough redundancy.

As the train made its way through the towns along the Jersey Shore it picked up a mix of late commuters, people on their way for a day in the city and late season Jersey shore dwellers who stayed over Sunday night and were now making their way back to New York.

Paul Land was such a passenger as was John Hawkins, the mayor of Shrewsbury and a partner at Amott, Baker & Co., a Wall Street brokerage. Normally, Mr. Hawkins caught an earlier train, but, that morning, he had to stop at the Monmouth County National Bank to retrieve $250,000 worth of negotiable securities he deposited there on Friday afternoon as he didn’t have enough time to return them to the office before the close of business..

James Adams boarded preoccupied with his wife’s grave illness. The father of four, his wife, Alice, lay dying from cancer in Monmouth Memorial Hospital. He too normally rode an earlier train but since having his wife admitted the previous week, he became responsible for getting his oldest three boys ready for school before he could begin his daily Wall Street journey. (Alice’s brother was the author, Kurt Vonnegut.)

George “Snuffy” Stirnweiss also boarded the train in Red Bank. Mr. Stirnweiss, a retired major league infielder. had spent most of his career with the New York Yankees joining the team in 1943. He won the American League batting title in 1945 with an average of .309 and led the league in stolen bases with forty-four in 1944. He retired in 1952 and this father of six was on his way to a business lunch in the city.

To be continued.

My Third Life

Tessie (As imagined by John Delach)

Once Ria hooked me up to my harness and took hold of it, she took control, and I was all business. My sole purpose was to guide and protect her. My love for Ria and my training propelled me to perfection and observers soon knew me to be a serious guide dog.

Off harness, Ria knew I’d steal an occasional mouth lick or a treat. But on harness, I had her complete trust.

Our time moved on. Strange things began to happen in the spring of 2018. What always came naturally to me now become a chore. I did my best to serve Ria, protect her and guide her but it was becoming harder to do. I knew I was in trouble, but I didn’t know why. Ria noticed too. We continued our activities, but it seemed Ria was correcting me more and more.

My gait had changed upsetting our routine. Ria suffered as a result. I couldn’t perform my part in our dance seamlessly causing her to compensate. Ria suffered new pains and strains to her arm and shoulder. I accompanied her to the doctor several times where she sought relief.

By June, the truth became obvious to both of us; at nine years old, I was wearing out. How sad – my life mission was to serve and protect Ria. Like it or not, I could no longer tolerate the intensity of my job. Age had diminished my skills.

Ria began to confide in friends and even called the trainers at The Seeing Eye. Tom came from New Jersey to Port Washington, discussed everything with Ria and put me through my paces.

“Ria, my sense is the same as yours. Tessie is wearing out and it is time for you to consider retiring her and begin to think about a new guide dog.”

Not the best day of my life or Ria’s. Ria cried and in my own way, so did I.

Sadly, we all knew the truth but still, Ria was perplexed. You see up until the beginning of the year, Thomisina, Ria and I all lived together in a big house, but we had moved into a two-bedroom apartment that was more manageable.  Previously, when Ria retired her other guide dogs, they continued to live with her in retirement. The big house accommodated all of them, but Ria feared the apartment was too small.

Ria decided to ask her friends, Mary Ann and John to adopt me. John had become Ria’s regular driver and Mary Ann took us shopping and walked me. I had already accepted them as my friends.

 From the smell of their cars and clothing, I knew they lived with a dog, most probably a boy Golden Retriever by his odor. I would learn his name was Max, two years younger than me.

They jumped at the offer and agreed to let me meet Max in a park to see if we were compatible. The meeting went well. Max and I took to each other, did our share of sniffing each other then returned to our own activities, sniffing everything in sight and licking the dew off the grass.

A few sleep-overs at Max’s house followed. He had a great collection of toys that he was willing to share. For my part, Ria sent me over with my own food and Max saw that my menu was superior to his.

We soon realized that we could play together. It began when we both grabbed a toy at the same time. This led to a tug of war that escalated into a play fight full of barred teeth and fake snarls. What great fun. He liked it as much as I did, and we’d go at it whenever one of us was in the mood.

Nobody is ever hurt in these wrestling matches. Odd items like an unlucky cup, plate or other object have been knocked over during our shenanigans as we wrestle and roll on the floor with our monster tails wagging to beat the band.

Ria, Thomisina and I celebrated my tenth birthday together. Afterwards, we spent a few tearful, nights together before I left for what would become my third life.

Ria wanted me to experience a life of play in my senior years and so far, so good. John and Mary Ann are both retired, so they are around most of the time. We also travel to New Hampshire and last summer I learned how to swim and retrieve tennis balls. What a hoot!

At home, we live close to Ria’s apartment letting me see Ria and Thomisina on a regular basis. It makes me happy to visit them and I am happy to return home to Max too.

Every morning I wake up happy, hungry and glad to be alive. I watch for a sign, any sign that one of my humans is awake. When I catch a sign, I pounce onto their bed so we can begin the next best day of my life.

Sometime Max follows me. Sometimes he’s ahead of me. Either way, those days are special as we try to out-fox each other to get closest to our people and wake them up. Often this leads to a tussel right there on the bed.

Life is good. Every day is a new day and another opportunity to love and be loved. I take joy in everything I do and everyone I meet. C’mon over some time so I can cry out loud,  love you and lick you on your lips.

My Three Lives

Tessie (As imagined by John Delach)

Oh boy, oh boy, I just arrived. My name is Tessie. I’m a Yellow Labrador girl dog. If we ever meet, I will greet you with more than a simple hello and I really, really want to meet you. My heart will be racing, my tail wagging furiously and I will lick your face if you give me the chance. You see I was born with the absolute personification of living in the moment. Each moment I am alive is the best moment of my life.

My life began at The Seeing Eye’s kennel located in Morristown, New Jersey. Supposedly, my brothers and sisters all had names beginning with the letter “T” and I became Tessie.

My first life began with the separation from my Mom. Off I went to a puppy raising family whose role was to love me, stop me from peeing inside and do their best to steer me toward becoming a guide dog.

After about a year and a half, I left my first family to return to Seeing Eye for advanced training. There I met my trainer, Denise, who introduced me to my harness. I spent the next four months with Denise undergoing serious training. There was much to learn as she put me through my paces. It made me happy when I did well because it pleased her. I received her praise and treats which were the best part. I was good at this training as I understood what was expected of me.

One day my trainer presented me to a beautiful woman who simply gushed as I licked her on the mouth. It was love at our first meeting and I took to her almost as much as I’d take to my next meal.

We were paired and trained together with Denise’s help. After a couple of weeks of breaking in each other, we departed the school and returned to her house in Port Washington, New York.

And so, I began my second life. My new partner’s name was Maria, but I knew her as Ria. We learned from each other. I paid attention to her commands and corrections because I knew when I performed as expected, it made her happy and that made me happy. Treats for good work didn’t hurt either.

I really should not tell you this as it is boasting, but I was so good at my job that outsiders would fawn over me. One person, who I think was a doctor, would get down on the floor, pet me and allow me to lick him then give me treats.

Ria also had another doctor who had a reputation for being cold and impersonal. Not so much after I arrived. I melted his heart and that too was the best day of my life.

Life is uneven and we had bad times too. My worst experience happened when we were taking our evening walk along Main Street. Suddenly, Ria stopped and dropped my harness. Off harness, I did as trained; I stopped moving. Little did I know that she had just struck a leafy branch that kids had pulled down. She began to back up to dislodge leaves that had become stuck in her hair when she tripped over a misaligned ankle-high concrete barrier. 

OMG! I had failed her. I covered her body to protect her until the EMS arrived. Thankfully, the senior responder raised guide dogs, so she insisted I accompany Ria to the hospital. That was not a good day for me. I was afraid and ashamed.

I lived with Annie, Ria’s sister until she returned home. That day was the happiest day of my life. Ria was so happy to see me and our cat, Thomasina, and we celebrated the reuniting of our wonderful little family.

The second worst day of my life was when I became as sick as a dog could be and lived to talk about it. It began when I threw up in a doctor’s waiting room. Afterward, I became woozy and disoriented. Ria took me to Doctor Berkowitz who, after taking my temperature, told Ria to get me to the Emergency Room at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. The staff put me on an animal size gurney and rushed me to ICU. For three days I ran a bad fever, but I don’t remember much except they took good care of me and I rewarded them with love when I began to feel better. I was a happy and a hungry dog when my fever finally broke.

Ria had a rich life and part of my job was to get her to where she had to go. Different destinations demanded different skills. I was good, and I got it, but I had to catalog each one of them so I could recall where I was and where I had to guide her the next time.

This wasn’t easy as Ria had to use different people and ways to get to and from her destination. Many times, we had to go by taxi with indifferent drivers. I had to adjust my navigation skills to correct their differences and obliviousness. Other people were always a problem. Many times, they didn’t make room and blocked my path. The worst were the so-called do-gooders who only blocked our way especially those who wanted to pet me. They also distracted Ria by trying to tell her about their dogs. They just made our partnering that much harder.

Thank the Lord Ria understood when I was in trouble and forceful enough to command the humans to stand down. My confidence grew as I knew my partner had my back. We were a great pair!

To be continued.