• Horses and the Railroad New York City

  • Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.
Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.

Moderator: Otto Vondrak

  by scheck55
Does anyone have knowledge of horses that worked for the railroad in New York City? Where did the Westside cowboys keep their horses? Was there ever "commuter parking" for horses at or near Grand Central or that location before the current terminal?
  by chnhrr
Here is snippet from a picture on Shorpy showing one the cowboys. When the Highline was built the cowboys had to join the ranks of the unemployed during the start of the Great Depression. In the full picture you will see one of the NYC Shays in the background.

  by Allen Hazen
The caption to the photo at the Shorpy site says it was 1911, which I think was before the Shays were built. I think it was fairly common to "dress up" steam locomotives that would be used on street trackage (so as not to frighten horses, it is said), so probably the Shays' predecessors, whatever they were, were also box-cabbed.
  by scheck55
I am familiar with Shorpy and that photo. I was hoping for more information. Horses must have been on the railroad a lot before trucks. They must have been in all the terminals carrying passengers and freight to and from the train. Early drawings of the Grand Central site include horses all around the trains.
  by chnhrr
I would locate the valuation and Bromley maps of the period. My sense is the cowboy horses were kept in livery stables adjacent to the two main West Side yards. Livery stables in general would have been kept away from the station or located at the far end, because they usually stunk.
  by Tommy Meehan
I recently did some research on this topic.

From a New York Times article published in March 1940 (About New York, a regular column by Meyer Berger), at that point in time the horses were kept in a stable at W.30th Street and Tenth Avenue. By then there were only three horses left. Their riders had a small shack nearby.

Reportedly, from the few period news articles that have surfaced, originally Central purchased retired fire horses from FDNY to use on the West Side. Where did they get them after FDNY motorized? Good question.

For many years the Cowboys' horses only lasted a couple years before going lame due to the unforgiving cobblestone avenues they trod. Then someone got the idea to cushion the horseshoes with rubber pads and the horses lasted up to eight years.

From a New Yorker article written in the early 1930s, the Cowboys were under strict orders to never gallop the horses or fool around. Back then the Cowboys (Central called them Flag Boys) earned $70 per month. Most were young, worked a year or two and then became switchmen.

Something else I found fascinating in the Berger article. Meyer Berger interviewed a Cowboy named Peter O'Connor. O'Connor said the horses sometimes "get full of beans. They try and throw you."

A brakeman told Berger he began as a Cowboy. “We had a horse once by the name of Tackhead. Tackhead wouldn’t go past Seventeenth Street, heading south. You couldn’t make St. John’s yard on Tackhead. Tackhead, he backed up three blocks on me once.”