The Big Boy was the biggest locomotive in the world in 1940, weighing 560 tons and going up to 80 mph (“Big Boy No. 4014”, n.d.). Before the 1940’s the railroads in America were struggling to move large freights over the mountains and treacherous landscapes throughout the United States. Then in 1940, the Union Pacific gathered mechanical engineers and teamed them up with the American Locomotive Company to build one of the world’s largest steam locomotives. The name of this new locomotive was the Big Boy (Franz 2018). Providing jobs was one of the main benefits of the railroad. Jobs ranged from unskilled freight handlers to engineers. Unfortunately, the jobs tended to segregate the workers due to their ethnicity. The majority of the engineers were American or native-born men, while immigrants were used to build the trains and tracks. Even among the immigrants there were separations and classifications depending on where they came from. At first, Chinese, Irish and Italian immigrants were used for the most brutal work. Then in the 1900’s Romanian and Mexican immigrants as well as African Americans became the primary day laborers on the railroad (Thale 2005).
Reaching from the High Bridge area of the Bronx up and Brewster in Putnam County, the Putnam line is an old, and possibly forgotten part of history. In 1869, a group of Boston and New York investors sought to connect the two cities via a railway chartered a third set of tracks between the current Hudson and Harlem lines leaving New York City (Kelley 2005). This venture came to fruition in December of 1880, when the fifty-eight miles of track, serving towns that didn’t have immediate access to railways and passengers were able to use the new line by 1881 (Kelley 2005). However, the economic strain that existed on the Putnam line since its beginnings never really disappeared, despite its success as a passenger train. It was passed between companies, shifted around in purpose, and eventually the connection to Boston was removed by rival railways (Kelley 2005). By 1913, the line had undergone several administration changes before finally falling into the control of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, where it gained the name of ‘Putnam Division’.
In its early days, the Putnam Division was a well used rail line by the many growing towns along its path, providing new opportunities to workers and commuters. Daniel R. Gallo states in an interview that “between 1950 and 1955, the population between Ardsley and Yorktown Heights tripled” due to the use of the Putnam line, which allowed for easy travel between the Westchester County towns and New York City (Strauss 1981). Many of the stations along the Putnam Railway were close to parks and attractions, such as the Lincoln Station and Tibbetts Brook Valley, which in 1927 was developed into a park with swimming pools and walking trails (Brause 2007).
Finally, the financial strain of “The Old Put” lead to its eventual closing in 1958. By its seventy-ninth year of toting passengers, the train line had dwindled to around 300 and was accruing annual deficits of up to $400,000 (Folsom 1958). On its final passage north, Train 947 left the Bronx at 5:47 PM and arrived in Brewster at 8:37 PM: a total of five hundred passengers had boarded the train, celebrating and mourning the last ride of “The Old Put” (Folsom 1958; Kelley 2005). The oldest passenger was 81-year old Henry H. Wells, former Mayor of Brewster, the youngest a 12 year old Michael Fox of North Salem; it carried a variety of passengers from railway workers, schoolchildren, and even bankers (Folsom 1958). Despite the discontinuing of service for “The Old Put”, the party commuters and locals had left potent memories in all involved. This unplanned event demonstrates a small scale of the Vincentian desire to create “global harmony” in the world, and that it is possible for strangers to live harmoniously (“Our Mission” 2019).
Although the passenger train had come to an end, the freight division of the Putnam line ran until 1981. The five stations along the passenger lines that remained, in Elmsford, Briarcliff Manor, Millwood, Yorktown Heights, and Mahopac, were maintained and used as libraries, museums, parks, offices, and even restaurants through the years (Strauss 1981). Various blog posts, outlining the echoes of the train on the land, and books, such as “The Putnam Division” by Daniel R. Gallo, that record its history keep the memory of this railway alive (Strauss 1981). Today the abandoned rail line is actively used as walking trails, parks, and history trails for those interested in learning more about the “Old Put” and its travels.