Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The search for South Station Plans part 1

I love to perform research. If I had a "dream job" it would be "Historical Researcher". Nothing gives me more pleasure than to poke through a dusty archives and discovering things that haven't see n the light of day for many years.

I usually make the pilgrimage down the National Archives & the Washington Navy yard twice a year to do research on U.S. Navy vessels.If you have never visited the National Archives in either Downtown Washington D.C. or @ College Park Maryland, you have no idea what you are missing. The U.S. Government has an enormous collection of information; all free to access.

With Railroads, the search methods are pretty much the same except that most of the data is spread out among many different locations & collections. A considerable amount of data is in private collections which is much more difficult to access.  When the major Railroads ran into very hard times in the 1960s, they unloaded most of their material to either the dumpster or anyone who asked for it. This is the main reason why so much of a railroad's information is in private hands.

When I was sucked into this project, one of the first questions I asked is: "Are there any plans of South Station available" ? Although South Station (Actually, South Station is a terminal but we will refer to it as a station for now) itself still exists, much of the original building has been either destroyed or altered considerably. Having a set of for-real plans makes designing a scale model that much easier for obvious reasons.

Once again, the nefarious Paul Cutler III, that souless bloodsucker who drop-kicked this idea in my head in the first place, started the ball rolling by pointing out an article he found in an obscure engineering journal called: Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers Volume XLIII published in 1900 by the Society. Paul claimed this journal contained some drawings of South Station itself , the trackage leading into the station, and more importantly: the Trainshed. 

Time to make some phone calls & write some emails. 

I called the AMSCE (American Society of Civil Engineers)  to see if a copy of this Journal existed in their Archives. I spoke to the  Librarian of the AMSCE, Carol Reese. She told me that she would see what she could find in their library and would call me back. Lo-and-Behold, 1 hour later, Carol called me back to inform me that yes, they have a copy but more importantly, there are copies available online! Carol emailed me the URL pointing to a copy of the Journal: Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers Volume XLIII

I read the article on the Construction of South Station Terminal in the Journal. The article goes into great detail on the construction, materials used, and operations once the terminal was placed in-service. The Journal contains an amazing amount of detail which is well worth sitting down to read. Of course, the article was written by an Engineer for engineers which is the reason why it is so interesting; at least to a researcher like myself.

The one thing I did notice about the article, there were no drawings of the station or trackage (I have since found a pristine & complete copy which can be found in the above link). There was one cut-off image of the trackage so I surmised that whoever did the scanning of the Journal did not bother to scan the fold-out plates. A call-back to Carol Reese @ the AMSCE confirmed this since she had access to an original copy of the Journal.  Carol scanned the missing plates for me onto  .pdf files so now I had a complete set of plates of the following images:

Plate V: Map of Business section city of Boston

Plate VI: General Plan of Terminal Station at Boston Mass for NYNH&H and B&A Railroads
Plate VIII: Basement Plan of Terminal Station at Boston Mass for NYNH&H and B&A Railroads
Plate IX: Traverse Section through station (left side)

Plate IX: Traverse Section through station (right side)

Plate XV: Longitudinal Section through station (Left side)

Plate XV: Longitudinal Section through station (Right side)
This gives me a complete copy of the article from the AMSCE. Now you, readers have copies as well.

The most important things to note here is these are pretty much the only surviving documents of the Trainshed structure. Since the shed was torn-down in 1929, there would have been no need to keep the original architectural drawings on something that no longer exists. Likely the drawigns were disposed of when the shed was removed.

If you also note, Plate VIII is the basement of the station plan. The basement was completed when the Terminal was built in 1898 but was never put into service. The basement trackage was never put into use as the original plan for electrification was canceled. There was 1 test where they tried to run a Steam locomotive through the basement loop. It met with disastrous results as there was no equipment in-place to deal with the exhausts from Steam Locomotives. The basement loop sat unused for many years until the post office was built in the 1950s. During this time the approach trackage was removed and the easements filled-in. The basement itself remained a storage area & employee parking for many years and is still used today.

To be continued.......


  1. Operationally back in the 20's, did trains wye to back into the station or on the way out, or was the road loco removed in the throat and depot switch shoved the consist in?

  2. Wonderful resource. I am building the station in 1/64th scale and need elevation drawings. Where might I find some?

  3. Dave,

    When a train arrived @ the Station, the arriving locomotive was uncoupled from the passenger cars. The passenger cars were moved by a hostler to either Exeter St. yard (NYC) or Dover street yard (NH). The locomotive that arrived with the train was moved for servicing to either the Allston enginehouse (NYC) or Dover street enginehouse (NH).

    Departing trains were assembled at Dover Yard (NH) or Exeter St yard (NYC) & backed into the station as a complete set. There was a WYE originally built at the lift bridges but it didn't last very long in-service & was removed. The original subway line was supposed to be used to turn the train but was only tested once with poor results as the trackage was designed for use with electric locomotives NOT steam. Since electrification did not come to the terminal, the subway balloon tracks were closed.

  4. The drawings will be made available soon.

    I will be posting it as part of a blog entry as how to obtain the drawings when they become available - we just need to get everything in-order before we can open the floodgates.

    I will also be providing where you can obtain photographs & other drawings I find shortly. As summer is drawing to a close, I will be posting on everything I have discovered during the last several months.