On occasion, when I was much younger (I had to be younger than eleven years old because, as I remember it, we were still living in Garfield, New Jersey. Shortly after I turned eleven, we moved to Hawthorne.), my father would take me into New York City on a Saturday morning to visit where he worked. We would commute by train from Garfield to Hoboken New Jersey and then either ride a ferryboat across the Hudson River or take the tubes under it (the tubes are a train similar to a subway that provides commuter transportation between the two states).

While in New York, we’d get around by subway and we’d have lunch at the Horn and Hardart Automat. I wasn’t so much interested in where my father worked as I was in the train ride there and back and the subway rides around the city. I still enjoy a good meal from time to time and the lunches at the Automat in the city will remain indelibly etched on my mind as one of the better meals I have ever eaten. I mean that.

We’d start out early on a Saturday morning and wait for the Erie Commuter at the Garfield Station a couple of blocks from our house. As I was already a lover of trains, I waited with great expectation.

The train roared into the station, escorted by an Alco RS-3 or a EMD GP-7 and trailed by a few of the classic Erie Stillwell coaches (I was disappointed when they weren’t all Stillwells) and I could smell the diesel exhaust along with the creosote wafting up from the railroad ties baking in the morning sun. It made an impression in my mind that lasts to this day. I still go track-side and to train stations to experience the sights, sounds and smells of the railroad.

As we boarded the train, I remember requesting the rear car so I could watch the track as they slid under the train as we rolled along. We rocked back and forth as the clickity-clack of the wheels against the rail joints was music to my ears. My face glued to the glass, searching for other sights of the railroad, watching the wires wave up and down as they went from pole to pole, and adjacent track as it accompanied us to Hoboken.

Arriving at the Hoboken station, I couldn’t believe the magnitude of the rail yard there. Thousands (it seemed) of cars and engines either arriving at the station, being serviced in the yard, or ready to roll into the countryside of New Jersey; more diesel exhaust and creosote. I can still smell it. After a walk up and down a few platforms to look at the trains, it was time to cross the river.

Some days we took the ferryboat across the river; others the tubes through the mud. Of course, I favored the tubes. My preference was to either sit in the first car (my first choice) or the last car so I could look out the window and see where we were going or where we’d been (it was really no fun looking out the side windows on the tubes and watch the walls two feet away from me rushing by at 60 miles an hour). Looking out the front window, I could see the track ahead illuminated by the headlight and observe the track-side signals change from green to red as we flew by.

Once in New York, we got to my father’s office by riding the subway. Similar to the tubes, I loved to watch where we were going with my face pressed against the glass of the front car window and my hands cupped around my head to shield out the reflection of the light from inside the car. The subway raced beneath the streets and buildings of the city, making track changes with distinct jerks of the cars and flying around tight turns as it negotiated its way to our destination.

The office buildings in New York were huge: Marble floors, huge, heavy doors, and windows that looked out on a city of tall buildings and rushing people. While my father was working, I played with the hole punch making confetti and note pads to take home. I don’t remember much more about the actual office. After all, I went for the ride there and the trip back home.

But then there was lunch.

Every trip to New York included lunch at the Automat, a fascinating place. We’d start at the steam table and Dad would order me Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes and creamed corn (I told you it was indelibly etched on my mind!). We’d then head to the automated walls adorned with marble counters, brass pour spouts in the shape of animal’s heads, and small glass doors revealing slices of pie, cake, or a dinner roll. Put your money in the slot, turn the knob and the door would pop open. Or, place your cup under the brass pour spout, put your money in the slot, and the thing would dispense just the right amount of coffee into your cup. I was mesmerized. The food was superb, and every time I went to the automat after that first time, I ordered the same thing. I wish they were still around today.

After lunch we’d head home. Back across the river to Hoboken station and board the Erie commuter back to Garfield. I might have been tired from the day’s activities and that great lunch, but I kept my eyes, ears and nose open for the sights, sounds and smells of the Erie railroad as we trundled across the rails through the towns and countryside of northern New Jersey.

I only remember going to work on Saturdays with Dad a few times in my youth, but those were days I will never forget.

Thanks Dad!