Last revised: February 24, 2023
As a student of railroad history I have touched base on most subjects of the industry. However, rapid transit and "el" systems I know very little about.
Peter Hain's Frank K. Hain And The Manhattan Railway Company looks at New York City's early such operations. While the book does so through the management of his late ancestor it also provides for a fascinating history of railroad operations often overlooked or just plan forgotten.
The early els and elevated railroads, which operated in New York could trace their earliest roots to around the Civil War although actual lines were not built until years later.
Mr. Hain's title offers a glimpse of these earliest conceptions, the first such companies to actually operate rapid transit services in NYC, the system's heyday, and eventual downfall after the turn of the 20th century as subways were favored due mostly to real estate issues (elevated lines tended to lower property values).
Overall, the book covers the subject in ten different chapters and more than 150 pages.
The book's opening chapter is entitled The New York and Metropolitan Elevated Railroads and begins by looking at the early types of street transportation once used in New York, dating all of the way back to ox carts in the 1700s!
The city's first use of railroads as a means of commuter transit did not begin until the early 1860s after London successfully demonstrated its subway system.
Perhaps most interesting in this chapter is how it describes the many types of systems conceived around the time but never actually put into use (the addition of artist renditions is also a big plus).
Many of these concepts were so elaborate and ornate that they were far too expensive to be feasible but were nevertheless fascinating.
The rest of the opening chapters highlights the first elevated lines chartered in NYC including the New York Elevated Railroad and Metropolitan Elevated Railway, as well as the first types of rolling stock used such as early steam locomotives and passenger cars (interestingly, some early steamers used looked like boxcab electrics or diesels and were known as "dummies").
The second chapter of the book is entitled The Manhattan Railway Company, which provides the first look at the organization thoroughly covered in the book.
The Manhattan was first organized in 1875 and describes how the company came to dominate New York's rapid transit business and it was even owned by Jay Gould, the famous railroad magnate who controlled numerous other systems like the Missouri Pacific, Erie, and others.
You will also read about in this chapter when Colonel Frank Hain first joined the company in 1880.
In the third chapter the book highlights the Colonel himself. You learn where and when he was born, his early career which included several years' service in the United States Navy, and where he first gained a job in the railroad industry which ironically enough became merely be chance due to health issues forcing him to be discharged from the military.
As you will come to learn in, interestingly, Colonel Hain did not hail from any elitist background and it took many years for him to gain the level of stature which came to define him.
In any event, in the four and fifth chapters Hain's effectiveness as a manager is covered.
While he is often remembered as someone with an indifferent personality he was an excellent manager who knew how to run a railroad and, for the most part keep his workers and the general public happy as well.
It is also interesting that in an age when safety was not highly regarded by many railroad managers Hain was an exception and strove to keep everyone on the Manhattan Elevated as safe as possible.
While a few workers perished under his watch no passengers ever died during his nearly two-decade career at the company.
One point which the book makes abundantly clear was the Colonel's work ethic, he hardly ever took a vacation. It is a amazing that he was able to function in such a capacity given the many demands required on a daily basis, the numerous responsibilities, and the constant harassment he received from the local press, notably the New York Times.
The final chapters of the book discuss Hain's late years in working for the Manhattan and how, at least until the financial panic of 1893 the company regularly earned handsome profits, which is somewhat surprising even for that era given that it was a transit agency.
Mr. Hain also discusses here how during the late 19th century the Manhattan was looking to replace its steam locomotives for electric power.
The company was also urged to do so by the public and press although cost stalled the project for many years.
Surprisingly, while electrics were being operated as early as the 1880s in some minor capacity the elevated did not actually upgrade to such until well after the turn of the century, when Colonel Hain had already passed away.
The last chapter of the book highlights New York's first subway system, which was built in the early 1900s and how it greatly led to the elevated's decline and eventual closing in the 1950s.
Overall, I would certainly recommend Mr. Hain's book if you have any kind of interest in either elevated railroads or New York's early rapid transit systems.
I am not sure that there are any other books out there that cover the subject in such detail as Frank K. Hain And The Manhattan Railway Company, especially the very early years around the time of the Civil War. As I stated above, I for one learned a lot about a subject that I knew almost nothing about beforehand.