Friday, April 5, 2024

LaGuardia Airport Postcards from 1945

LC Gagnon paid a few summertime visits to his father in New York, taking the Delaware & Hudson from Windsor Station in Montreal. George Gagnon was taking summer courses at Columbia University to complete his Master of Arts degree in Education - which was awarded in 1947. 

The airport postcards which teenager LC Gagnon purchased connect with a key phase in New York airport history ...

Going back to the 1930s ... the old North Beach Airport (the future site of today's LaGuardia) had been renamed Glenn H Curtiss Airport in 1930, and then re-renamed 'New York Municipal Airport 2' in 1935. 

Floyd Bennett Field was the first 'New York Municipal Airport' and it still exists across Jamaica Bay from JFK. Today, tower controllers at JFK handle the local segments of police helicopter traffic which is based at Floyd Bennett Field.

And piano fans can look up the North Beach's previous owner (hint: NYSE ticker symbol LVB for Ludwig __ ____ ). The beach property featured a sand bathing beach and amusement park during that era.

Enter the aviation-minded New York Mayor, Fiorello La Guardia. He felt strongly that travelling to New York should mean landing in New York and not Newark, New Jersey. He was mayor from 1934 until 1946. He enlisted the interest and support of President Franklin Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration to build distinctive Art Deco public buildings to go with an expanded world-class aviation hub at NYMA2. 

The airport was officially named LaGuardia Airport in 1947. It was no longer 'NYMA2, LaGuardia Field' as the postcards document.

I usually, show both sides of all postcards. In this case, the reverse sides are identical, except for LC Gagnon's serial numbers.

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Coming from the book on the building of LaGuardia, linked at the end: 
The photo above shows the location of LaGuardia (circled) relative to Manhattan, in the foreground.

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The site of the 1939 World's Fair is labelled - just to the south-east of NYMA. Notice that this map's north is roughly to the right. 

Above the word "New" is the infamous Rikers Island. It had long served as an ever-expanding repository for the city's rubbish ... and probably building debris and assorted mobsters. As well, the steam-producing 'coal economy' yielded lots of ashes and cinders which were a major contemporary constituent of the olde city garbage.

On historical maps, Rikers appears as just a sliver of land - so it must have seen a lot of dumping over the years. In order to provide fill for the airfield, a causeway was built from Rikers to the airfield site ... and its 'contents' were trucked in and dumped on a huge metal underwater framework. This large unnatural subterranean deposit of steel still confounds aircraft compasses using LaGuardia. 

... These unseen underground features are nicely illustrated on the map below. The WPA provided employment for graphic artists, as well.

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Extremely bright rotating searchlight beacons were a feature of early airports and one can be seen with radio aerials and weather instruments atop the control tower.

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Only one of the two original terminal buildings still exists. It can be seen, inside and out, via Google. It is the former Marine Terminal Building - labelled MTB and MT Ramp on the map above. The book refers to 'seaplanes' but these are not radial-engined Beavers taking a couple of people fishing for the weekend ...

When the airport was being built, the British (e.g. via Botwood, Newfoundland) and Americans (with the Boeing-built Clipper aircraft) were taking the first steps in commercial trans-ocean air service. The Marine Terminal was intended to serve the anticipated growth of this flying boat and amphibious traffic. 

There is a solitary photo of Clippers on the internet showing how LaGuardia Marine Terminal was originally designed to 'land' a large flying boat - taking it from the water to the hangar (if needed). The floating aircraft would be positioned over a rail-based, submerged 'flat car' system - which the book mentions but does not show.

However, after the onset of the Second World War, the lend-lease export of US-built multi-engined bombers via (still-British) Gander, Newfoundland began. Trans-Atlantic aircraft which took off and landed on rubber tires at international airports were a reality by the time that peace returned.

... The future can be notoriously hard to predict!

Below is the link to the book on the building of LaGuardia.

New York Municipal Airport: Long Beach

Some of LC Gagnon's D&H artifacts ...

The Delaware and Hudson in Recent Memory

Friday, March 29, 2024

Rotary Snow Plow Development & 1914 BLE Rates of Pay in Plow Service

In the late 1800s, when wedge plows pushed by steam locomotives were not successful in 'bucking' through snow drifts and avalanches, it was necessary to put gangs to work to manually shovel the snow from the track. The Canadian invention of the steam-powered rotary snow plow was developed to make rail transportation more dependable ... and to make winter maintenance of way work less labour intensive.

Thank you to Jim Christie for the references he has sent me (over a period of years) about rotary snow plows - they were key in creating this series of posts. 

A concise article on the early development of rotaries was written by Dr RVV Nicholls and can be found in the March 1967 edition of Canadian Rail. At that moment in history, Nicholls and the CRHA had just been successful - at the last minute - in saving the only remaining standard gauge Canadian rotary snow plow. It was about to be scrapped at London, Ontario. It is preserved in the museum at CRM/Exporail.

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Around 1885, as the first Jull/Leslie-designed ... Patterson, New Jersey-built ... rotary snow plows were tested, it became obvious that several improvements were desirable. To properly prepare the track for traffic and to protect the plow from derailing, flangers (for snow) and ice cutters were mounted on the front of the leading truck. This ensured that the rail was 'clean'. A chute which could send ejected snow to either side of the track was also seen as a necessity.

An 1885-86 trial took place in northern Iowa using the original counter-rotating two-wheel system of the original design. The first wheel worked like a multi-bladed rotating kitchen grater - to shave a layer of snow from the bank to be moved. The second wheel looked and worked like the paddle of a paddle-wheeled steamboat to bat the snow out of the snow plow via the chute. 

Jull patent drawings ... from: Rotary Ploughs, A Canadian Invention; Dr RVV Nicholls; Canadian Rail, March 1967; Canadian Railroad Historical Association. 

The problem with the two-wheel arrangement was that too much energy was wasted as the snow moved from the grater/impeller wheel against the counter-rotating inertia of the paddle wheel. 

 Jull Patent drawings ... from: Rotary Ploughs, A Canadian Invention; Dr RVV Nicholls; Canadian Rail, March 1967; Canadian Railroad Historical Association. 

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The improvement consisted using a single wheel with all the snow-moving features attached to it - so everything was moving in the same direction. On the front were self-adjusting auto-reversing knives. On the back were radial partitions which flung the snow out of the chute.

Essentially, the new single wheel still provided a 'two-stage' process - impelling and throwing - but it used a single wheel at its core. And when its driving engine reversed the wheel ... the snow-moving features were automatically fully reversible.

This new design sold itself during the winter of 1886-87, when J.S. Leslie personally operated it, to open the 70-mile Oregon Short Line Division of the Union Pacific. Impressed, the railroad purchased the plow and several other American railroads followed with orders as well.

from: Engineer's Witness; Ralph Greenhill; 1985; Coach House Press.

In 1888, the CPR worked with the Polson Iron Works of Toronto to begin to build eight of its own rotary snow plows. One example of the CPR's first set of rotaries is seen above. Notice the use of wood to construct the body of the plow. The engine's smokestack can be seen behind the word 'snowplough'. The cab and tender are protected from the weather, and any wind-borne snow from the rotary's chute, for the benefit of the fireman and engineer operating the rotary's wheel-turning steam engine. Rotary snow plows were not self-propelled. 

As seen with the previous post on the Alco rotary snow plows (and the patent drawing above), the reciprocating force of the snow plow's steam engine pistons must change direction before it turns into the rotary motion of the wheel. 

... Because early rotaries used the 'conventional steam locomotive layout' of putting a piston with its own valve gear on each side of the plow's boiler ... one of the weaknesses of these plows was the gear necessary to convert and transmit this power.

The CPR determined that further refinements were required for future rotaries. When the plows nosed into hard-packed snow and ice (as created by an avalanche) a lack of rigidity in the plow's frame caused internal stresses in the transmission. Sometimes this lead to on-the-road failures of the bevel gears transmitting the power from the pistons to the wheel.

Furthermore, the wet snow of the Selkirk Mountains was harder to eject, clogging the 'throwing partitions' on the back of the wheel. The 'conical scoops' design, shown in the Alco wheel in the post above, was helpful in dealing with this problem.

from: Rails in the Canadian Rockies; Adolf Hungry Wolf; 1979; Good Medicine Books.

Another view of the first series of CPR snow plows. Undated, no location indicated.


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A New Design

Henry Hague Vaughan, Assistant to the Vice President of the CPR for motive power from 1904 until 1915, was behind the creation of two unique CPR-designed plows for service in the western mountains. They were intended to solve the problems noted in the earlier rotaries, above. 

One's first reaction might be that these plows are not as attractive as the original series - at least when those original plows were new. However, the railway was not sending the new plows into the mountain avalanches of snow, ice, rocks and trees to be admired for their aesthetics. The new plows were designed to be able to ingest trees of up to 4 inches in diameter.

Vaughan wrote much longer articles for professional journals extolling all the design features of these plows.

from: Apr 1911, Railway & Marine World, Jim Christie.

from: Apr 1911, Railway & Marine World, Jim Christie. 

Notice the use of a marine engine - so the rotation of the engine's main shaft is transmitted straight to the wheel ... just as power would be transmitted straight to a ship's propeller. However, with the determination to build these 'battleships' came the need to find reasonable compromises so that their sheer weight wouldn't cause more problems on the road than it solved. Drawings of the the unique six-wheel trucks appear below. 

from: Apr 1911, Railway & Marine World, Jim Christie. 

from: Car Builders Dictionary, Master Car Builders Assn 1913,

from: Car Builders Dictionary, Master Car Builders Assn 1913,

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CPR Rotary Snow Plows in Later Life ...

from: Canadian Pacific in the Rockies, Vol 4; DM Bain; 1979; BRMNA.

Above: One of the first class of rotaries awaits a call to duty at Hope BC in August 1929.
This machine was kept on the roster from 1888 until circa 1950.

from: Memories of Canadian Pacific Steam Power in British Columbia; Jim Hope, Donald Bain; 1996; BRMNA. 

Above: In April 1943, one of the two Vaughan-conceived rotaries sits with a tender full of coal at Revelstoke.

After World War 2, with the wide availability of caterpillar-tracked, diesel-powered construction equipment, 
the end was in sight for rotary snow plows. 

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Other Canadian Railways

from: Car Builders Dictionary, Master Car Builders Assn 1913,

Early in the 1900s, there were many opportunities to use rotary snow plows in Canada.

The western mountains received plenty of Pacific Ocean precipitation ... and avalanches onto the railway rights-of-way which followed mountain river valleys. On the Prairies, blizzards whipped the region's typically dry snow into huge, hard-packed drifts - particularly in cuts and depressions. The region of Lac St Jean, Quebec was another CNR territory which often called for rotary plow operation. And on Newfoundland's famous Gaff Topsail, storms coming in from the Atlantic Ocean created depths of snow which defied railway operations and necessitated a regular rotary presence.

from: The End of the Line; Clayton D Cook; 1989; Harry Cuff Publications.

An Alco-built rotary in Newfoundland. No location given, undated photo.

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Stan Stiles photo, collected by LC Gagnon.

July 1954 at Kamloops, BC.
Notice the temporary draft gear on the front of the plow.

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In the United States ...

from: The Central Pacific & Southern Pacific Railroads; Lucius Beebe; 1963; Howell-North Books.

Above is an experimental rotary designed by Orange Jull, built by Rogers in Patterson NJ.
It was tested on the Central Pacific in 1890 and abandoned as a design.

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from: Northern Pacific, Main Street of the Northwest; Charles R Wood; 1968; Superior Publishing.

Captioned as the Mosquito Creek Bridge in 1887, this photo shows the practice of running a consist with rotaries on both ends. Where avalanches were common, this protected against most eventualities. The distant rotary is blurred into the book's gutter, but you can see that an elongated car which has been tarped over is being used as a tender behind that rotary.

During western US railroad construction, switchbacks were sometimes used over the mountains ... until summit tunnels were completed to reduce the permanent main line's gradient. During some blizzards, a double-ended rotary consist could barely manage to keep the switchbacks open.

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from: The World's Work; 1905; Doubleday Page & Co. at

David Moffat was a banker, regional railroad builder and Denver 'booster' who was behind the construction of the Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railway. This line was intended to complete a connection between Denver, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah. Before the 6 mile long Moffat Tunnel was opened in 1928, the railroad followed a tortuous path via Rollins Pass. If you click the link to the circa 1905 Alco booklet at the top of this post, you'll notice that this particular rotary snow plow DNW&P 10200 is presented as a featured illustration.

CPR 1915 data for comparison: The summit of Kicking Horse Pass is 5332 feet; the summit of Rogers Pass is 4340 feet.

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from: Lines West; Charles R Wood; 1967; Superior Publishing.

In this undated photo of the Marias Pass in the Montana Rockies, bulldozers have reduced the extent of a snowslide to the depth which can be handled by a Great Northern Railway rotary. Two short snowsheds of classic design can be seen in the distance.

Later in their careers, some rotaries were oil-fired. Today, a few rotaries are still in use and most have been rebuilt to be driven by diesel-electric prime movers.

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Rotaries in 1914

This book is preserved at 
One can probably assume that railways operated rotaries if they had applicable contract language.