The Gate Cars on the Brooklyn Elevated
After World War II

Open-ended elevated railway cars in which passengers entered and exited past hand-operated metal gates survived in New York City long after similar cars had disappeared everywhere else.

Apparently sometime during the latter years of World War II, the New York City Transit System decided to repaint and refurbish a number of the BU Gate Cars that were still in revenue service. "BU" stood for Brooklyn Union, the company that had operated these cars at the turn of the 20th Century.

Brooklyn 'L' Car 901It was sometime after this that I became a very active transit railfan. Near the end of WW II, I spent a large part of one winter in bed with a chronic illness. Due to my restlessness and to help make time pass, my dad suggested that I record the number of each Gate Car that went by that was painted green. My home was on a short block off Crescent Street with my bedroom window being approximately 80 feet from the Jamaica-bound side of the Jamaica el. Due to the very sharp curve at the corner of Fulton and Crescent, trains went by our house very slowly. The Gate Cars ran past our house only during rush hours during the week. This was because the Lexington Avenue el service that used these cars was extended from Eastern Parkway to 111th Street, and thus past my window, during rush hours.

I became an avid Gate Train watcher from my bedroom window! Some weeks later on my first day out-of-doors, my mother took me for a ride on the Gate Cars. We got on a three-car train at the Crescent Street Station near the end of morning rush and rode to Eastern Parkway where the train was taken out of service. The car I rode in was #902, which naturally became my favorite car! The 900 series cars had a very high window in their storm doors. I was young enough that I wasn't quite tall enough to see out of the window yet, so I was constantly trying to stand on tip toes to look out of the front of the train!

I spent the next four or five years watching the trains pass my house during every rush hour. I learned a lot by watching the trains and picked up some unusual facts. During my illness I had recorded about twelve car numbers of cars painted green. I finally had to give up my recordkeeping in 1949 at which time I had a total of 53 cars that were then painted green! In watching the trains go by and in rail fan trips on some of the other lines, I learned some interesting facts. The Lexington Avenue Line and the Myrtle Avenue Line were both served by Gate Cars in the 600, 900, 1200, and 1400 series. There were only two 1400 series cars: 1448 and 1482, and they were both painted green.

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The Fulton-Lexington Line, which ran from Bridge-Jay Street to Grant Avenue was served exclusively by the 1300 series BU's. Occasionally I would see a 200 series trailer in a train of 1300's.

The 700 series cars never seemed to be in revenue service and were always used in what I called snow trains. These were two-car trains that were run whenever needed to keep the third rail clear of snow and ice. I thought it unusual that all of the 700 series cars apparently had been repainted first, and all appeared in the new, green paint.

I never, ever saw a 1300 series BU coupled in a train with any of the other series save the 200 series trailers. On a rare occasion I would see a complete train of 1300's run the Lexington Avenue Line to 111th Street, but I never saw the 1300's mixed with the other series cars.

During my active train watching period, which was between 1945 and October 13, 1950 (the day the Lexington L closed), I saw very few of the remaining 200 series trailers. The majority of them must have been scrapped before my train watching time. I realize that there were supposed to be trailers in the two digit and 100 series, but I never saw them in service. I never saw a trailer car repainted green, either.

Comments or questions, share your own recollections?

©2002 and Karl Burkhardt
Sunday, May 12, 2002