These slides were taken by a very prolific and well known photographer and TA employee named Steve Zabel. Some shots were also taken by his close friends and equally accomplished photographers Doug Grotjahn and Joe Testagrose. Mr. Zabel shot over 100,000 kodachromes between 1968 and 1988. There was a very lively community of transit and railroad photographers centered around the Electric Railroader’s Assn, the Metropolitan Electric Street Transportation Assn (now UTC), the Railroad Buffs, chapters of National Railway Historical Society and others. Amidst the frequent fantrips, slidshows and movie nights (Roger Arcara) were railfans of all description recording the rapidly changing scene. The 1970s was a decade of great change as very strong social and economic currents swept around the world and through the NY metro area.
Each slide was taken between 1-1-70 and 12-31-79. A decade in which the last of the pre WW2 subway cars were retired, graffiti arrived and nearly peaked and NYCTA buses had three different paint schemes (green since the 1940s, two tone blue arrived in ’72/’72 and blue and white in ’78 and still in use today). The 1970s was also the decade that the MTA made its mark implementing many amenities that we take for granted today, such as air-conditioning, a standard signage system, full color bus maps and neighborhood maps in stations, and full scale station renovations (Bowling Green, 49th St BMT, Astor Place).
The thing that is so difficult to capture with photography was the way the trains were run. The top or balancing speed of SMEE equipment on level track was approximately 50 – 55 miles per hour (today’s balancing speed is 10 MPH slower). Track maintenance was less, more of the roadbed was ballasted, not concrete. You had the odor of creosote mixed with steel dust and sometimes hot dogs, popcorn and other foods widely sold at stands in major mezzanines. Most importantly, there were fewer time signals restricting the speed of trains near curves switches and stations. Now imagine all this and your face is filling the open portion of a drop sash front storm door window (in decades past, the whole damn door would be open on some lines). Plus you were really concerned about watching your back as there were many unsavory characters floating around. Riding between cars was routine and often the only option for fitting into a packed train. Long after conductor PA announcements were made standard (and the 10s, 12s, 14s and 15s didn’t get PA systems until the mid 1970s after a terrible smokey and confused incident in the Clark St tube) whole journeys could be had without a peep from the conductor. Of course door closing chimes were only introduced with the R-44 in 1971).