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West Side Cowboy: 1911

West Side Cowboy: 1911

Equestrian signalman on the New York Central's Eleventh Avenue freight line circa 1911. In a 1930 article on the West Side tracks' demise, the New York Times wrote of the "eight men and twenty-four horses comprising the famous 'cowboy troop' [or 'West Side Cowboys'] whose function it has been for years to ride ahead of the puffing locomotives as they wheeled along Death Avenue." The dangerous street-level tracks were eventually replaced by a 1½-mile viaduct, the High Line, that after decades of abandonment is being turned into a long, thin elevated park. View full size. 5x7 glass negative, George Grantham Bain Collection.


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Starting at bottom right and moving up through the picture, before ending apparently under the boxcars, we have the remnants of a former trolley line. Since much of NYC disallowed the use of overhead wires and instead used the "slot" system, we can tell this line is somewhat recently abandoned. The rails have been removed, with them and the "slot" filled in by bricks.

Looking at the path of the former streetcar line, we can see that at some point it would have passed up by the Strauch brothers building, probably connecting with another line at the far end of the triangle shaped area.

The Swift company used overhead loading tracks to move goods from the cars and into the shop or vice versa. You can barely make out this system under the awning.

Whereas most steam dummies were Shay-type geared locomotives, this one predates that and is a squat Tank type.

About that cowboy

Calling them "cowboys" was the railroad's attempt at being polite. The locals called them "dummy boys" as they led the shrouded steam locomotives, called "steam dummies" so as not to spook the local horses. Grandfather and cousin told me a few stories about those guys.

11th Avenue Line

I have been looking into the locations of the "11th Avenue" photos and think that this one is also on 10th Avenue, though much lower than the other two. This one is at 13th Street, looking south (see "13th Street Market" wording on awning). Eleventh avenue doesn't even exist this far south. The map showing these buildings, 32 and 34 10th Avenue, is Plate 10 of the 1911 Atlas. This building faces the marginal street by the Hudson River piers which had just been renovated in the decade-long "Chelsea Improvement" that enabled very large ships to dock. In 1912, Cunard's Pier 54 across the street from this building would welcome the ship Carpathia after she disembarked Titanic lifeboats and survivors at White Star Pier 59. In May of 1915 the Lusitania departed from Pier 54 on her final voyage. This location is now the west side of the luxury Standard Hotel.

This photo of the arrival of Lusitania on her maiden voyage in 1907 (before the completion of proper pier sheds) appears to have been taken from the roof of this building or one nearby.

[I'd say the labels on the negatives reflect the fact that the line was called the 11th Avenue Railroad because that's where most of it was, or at least the most dangerous part was, even if stretches of it were on other streets. - Dave]

Peg leg?

I think he does have a pegleg.


Peg was his wife; his name was Ben; Ben Cobble. No, really.


Does the man in the right-hand background have a peg instead of a foot?

[Could be. - Dave]

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