Tracking Down August Belmont Jr.’s Private NYC Subway Car, The Mineola
June 8, 2016 9:11 PM   Subscribe

August Belmont Jr. builder of the Belmont Racetrack and founder of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT, now part of the numbered NYC Subway lines) had his own private subway car, the Mineola, built for him in 1903. Untapped Cities tracks it down. ''A private railroad car is not an acquired taste,'' wrote Eleanor Belmont, ''One takes to it immediately.''
posted by fings (19 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
That's fascinating. Just imagine having the power to pop your own subway car onto the rails whenever you like -- to hell with the timetable of the line you're running on, or any other lines that transfer with yours, and all those crowds of plebians. So crazy. So... robber baron.

Is it okay if I want to admire the railroad car but kinda want to kick its deceased owner in the shins?
posted by sldownard at 10:10 PM on June 8, 2016 [8 favorites]


If I become filthy rich, I'm going to outfit my own private railcar. Living on the outskirts of Europe, I'd like to i.e. go to sleep in Oslo and wake up to sunrise in the Alps. I'll bring the VW camper along for family roadtrips around the destination. I trust modern logistics will allow my railcar to be brought along without delays or disturbances.
posted by Harald74 at 10:32 PM on June 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Within memory there were private cars run on LIRR commuter trains. There were a group of rich dudes on the North Shore of long island that had a car put on the end of their Friday night train home. I think it ended in the 80's
The car itself was nothing special tho. And were owned by the RR and rented by the users.
posted by JPD at 11:11 PM on June 8, 2016


Hmm, further investigation reveals that private railcars can also be rented. Travelling The Silk Road in one of them actually seems really cool. I worry that a murder onboard is almost inevitable, though.
posted by Harald74 at 11:31 PM on June 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


Pulling myself out of my private railway fantasies, I RTFA and found it fascinating. Good find, fings!
posted by Harald74 at 11:35 PM on June 8, 2016


Self-driving cars might bring this sort of thing within many people's income. I mean, it would be a Winnebago with fake wood and LEDs rather than a railcar with jointed cabinetry and Tiffany fanlights, but you could get in and go to sleep and wake up hundreds of kilometers away.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:38 PM on June 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


If I become filthy rich, I'm going to outfit my own private railcar. Living on the outskirts of Europe, I'd like to i.e. go to sleep in Oslo and wake up to sunrise in the Alps. I'll bring the VW camper along for family roadtrips around the destination. I trust modern logistics will allow my railcar to be brought along without delays or disturbances.

There used to be an article on current.com (remember that?) in 2008 about the possibility of doing something similar in the US. Apparently there's a small subculture of people who convert old sleeper cars to living/working spaces, hire sidings in rail yards and live there. Some rail yards have sidings with electricity, cable TV and broadband connections for them, and when they want a change of surroundings, the US's freight-oriented railroad companies are happy to move them for $1.50 per mile.

Unfortunately, the article seems to have been wiped out when current.com died and is not in archive.org, though here is the blog piece I wrote up about it at the time.
posted by acb at 3:00 AM on June 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


The private Dover Harbor Pullman car is available for charter from the Washington, D.C. chapter of the National Railway Historical Society.
posted by exogenous at 5:01 AM on June 9, 2016


There are private cars still pulling into South Station in Boston, probably headed to/from NYC and DC.

This one is something special, because it dates from a time when there was a vast network of electrified light rail up and down the east coast - since dismantled in favor of freeways and the personal automobile - so you could hop on your personal subway car at your personal subway stop, and ride it in catered luxury to pretty much any large or small city - Boston and Baltimore, sure, but also Fall River and Ocean City. If I were to create a pulp-hero, he or she would absolutely have their own private subway car, along with a private Ford Trimotor as a flying residence for transcontinental jaunts.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:46 AM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Just wait, when Trump is elected King Of The Free World, all this robber baron shit will be back with a vengeance, Except this time it will be super, super classy and yuuuuge!
posted by briank at 5:54 AM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't see how a private subway car is any more douchey than, say, rich people paying to drive single-occupancy-vehicles in the carpool lane.
posted by splitpeasoup at 6:11 AM on June 9, 2016 [7 favorites]


Intrigued by acb's comment, I took a shallow dive and found the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners Inc. They have a nice pdf primer on private ownership.
posted by klarck at 6:39 AM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


> There are private cars still pulling into South Station in Boston, probably headed to/from NYC and DC.

On my commute to/from work I see one or two parked in the Sunnyside Yards fairly often.
posted by Gev at 7:10 AM on June 9, 2016


Amtrak still allows folks to attach their private rail car (or cars) to long-distance trains for a little under $3.00 a mile. There's often one attached to the Cardinal from Chicago to New York Penn on Friday afternoons.

But because of the cost, a lot of times what happens is that owners of rail cars either charter them out for specific journeys, or they actually run their own separate booking service for specific trips. The NYT had an article two years ago about a private company offering tours on the City of New Orleans from Chicago to Nola and back.

(I may have told my wife that this is what I want to do for a big birthday at some point in the future.)
posted by thecaddy at 7:48 AM on June 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


I wonder whether owning private rail cars and chartering freight haulage/sidings is a peculiarly American phenomenon.

I don't think it happens in Britain; there are rail charters (i.e., private operators buy train paths from the railways and run tours in steam/diesel-hauled heritage trains, mostly for well-paying train fanatics) and tourist railways (ones which were handed over to private clubs after no longer being needed for the national network; they're usually run by volunteers), but the idea of private individuals living in railway carriages (as one would on a houseboat) and using railway infrastructure still seems beyond the pale. For one, while British Rail may have been privatised, the idea that the parts of the railway still in working use are serious public infrastructure still lingers on.

There is, of course, the Royal Train (a Victorian-era privilege, kept largely as a bit of symbolic pomp), but the rules that apply to the monarchy are different than for us commoners. Though I wonder if some railway-mad Russian oligarch or Emirati prince wanted to have a private gilded train to travel around Great Britain in, and was willing to pay a few hundred million into the state's coffers, an exception could be found. (I'm guessing the answer is probably yes.)
posted by acb at 8:23 AM on June 9, 2016


acb: "I wonder whether owning private rail cars and chartering freight haulage/sidings is a peculiarly American phenomenon."

Yes this is true. There is a good bit on this in Simon Bradley's recent The Railways:

Privately owned railway carriages, it should be added, were almost unknown [in Britain]. Perhaps things would have been different had Victoria and Albert set an example by keeping one, on the model of royal yachts, rather than finding the industry only too happy to come forward. The exceptions prove the rule, for they belonged to George Granville William Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, 3rd Duke of Sutherland (1828–92) and his successors...

The next duke added to these a private locomotive (named Dunrobin) that was used for personal jaunts over the Highland Railway’s lines: a neat little thing, recently repatriated to Britain from a museum in Canada. It had a sizeable cab equipped with a comfy back seat so that the Duke could take his guests for a ride, which made Dunrobin certainly the only locomotive to have carried at various times kings Edward VII and George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II and King Alfonso XIII of Spain. Two of the three ducal saloons also still exist, both very smart vehicles, if not especially large. They are the nearest Britain could show to the private cars of the American gilded age, objects of competitive display among the Vanderbilts, Morgans, Harrimans and Fricks, which were frequently equipped to function as long-distance living quarters and mobile headquarters for the pursuit of business as well as pleasure. As well as the predictable marquetry and brocades, furnishings of the grosser sort included gold-plated bathroom plumbing, Venetian glass chandeliers (anchored against swaying by steel wires) and a green marble fireplace salvaged from a private mansion (framing electrically lit artificial logs). Cars of this type – American usage never took to ‘carriage’ for vehicles that run on rails – were commissioned well into the twentieth century; Sugar Cane, Marilyn Monroe’s character in Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, set circa 1929, hopes to find a husband with ‘a yacht, a private railroad car, and his own toothpaste’.

posted by crazy with stars at 8:50 AM on June 9, 2016


I wonder whether owning private rail cars and chartering freight haulage/sidings is a peculiarly American phenomenon.

Yes, but...there were still train cars chartered for various occasions, such as trips to and from remote schools (model for Hogwarts Express), weddings, etc. Note the description of Margaret Schlegel's attendance at a country wedding which starts with a "reserved saloon" in Howards End.

Just few actual private cars, which are of course more curious and interesting.
posted by praemunire at 10:11 AM on June 9, 2016


To add to the intrigue, August Belmont Jr's dad was August Belmont Sr -- American representative of the European Rothschild banking family. It makes one wonder what fancy transportation technologies Rothschild's contemporary representatives are using? From Wikipedia:

Belmont then remained in New York to supervise the jeopardized Rothschild financial interests in America, whose New York agent had filed for bankruptcy, there instead of continuing on to Havana.[3] After he emigrated permanently to the United States, he changed his family surname, "Schoenberg" (German for "beautiful mountain"), to "Belmont" (French for "beautiful mountain") in an attempt to avoid anti-Semitism and integrate into American society.

In the financial/economic recession and Panic of 1837, hundreds of American businesses, including the Rothschild Family's American agents in New York City, collapsed. As a result, Belmont postponed his departure for Havana indefinitely and began a new firm, August Belmont & Company, believing that he could supplant the recently bankrupt firm, the American Agency.[4] August Belmont & Company was an instant success, and Belmont restored health to the Rothschild's U.S. interests over the next five years.[3] Belmont owned a mansion in what is presently North Babylon, New York, on Long Island. It is now owned by New York State and is known as Belmont Lake State Park. The Company dealt with foreign exchange transactions, commercial and private loans, as well as corporate, railroad, and real estate transactions.[5] In 1844, Belmont was named the Consul-General of the Austrian Empire at New York City, representing the Imperial Government's affairs in the major American financial and business capital. He resigned the consular post in 1850 in response to what he viewed as Austrian government's policies towards Hungary, which had yet to gain equal status with Austria as part of the Dual Monarchy compromise of 1867. His interest in American domestic politics continued to grow.[3]


More on Belmont Sr. from Bloomberg.com.
posted by rumbles at 1:10 PM on June 9, 2016


Hmm, further investigation reveals that private railcars can also be rented. Travelling The Silk Road in one of them actually seems really cool. I worry that a murder onboard is almost inevitable, though.

12 of you are about to get a mysterious invitation in the mail.
posted by bongo_x at 9:45 AM on June 12, 2016


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