Grandma, Trains and Me

Grandma, Trains and Me
by Jim Kinkoph

When I was growing up in the mid 1940's, my grandmother lived on 71st street on the east side of Cleveland, just off of Woodland Avenue. Just over the fence along her property was the city yard. This was the Cleveland city storage and maintenance yard for snow plows, street sweepers, trash hauling trucks, etc.

On the other side of the city yard was “The Gully”. The gully was a very interesting place for a ten year old kid who liked trains. The gully contained the electrified main line of the Cleveland Union Terminal Railroad between Collinwood and the Terminal Tower, the Nickel Plate east main out of Cleveland, and the east end of the NKP Broadway yard.

The Nickel Plate serviced the yard switchers here. Coaling was done with a clamshell bucket crane out of hopper cars. The railroad later built a large concrete tower that was only used for a few years because of the arrival of diesel switchers. On the other side of the gully on Grand Avenue, grandma owned a house. The NKP made her an offer, grandma accepted, and sold the house and lot to the railroad. That’s when grandma moved across to 71st street. The house on Grand was razed and a wooden water tower constructed on the lot to supply water to the NKP engines.

When we would visit grandma, which was usually every Sunday, my brother, cousin, and I would walk down Dell Avenue to East 75th street where there was a concrete road bridge over the gully tracks. From the center of the bridge down to track level was a steel stairway, but most of the time the gate was locked. When it wasn’t locked, we would go down the stairway to the first landing and sit there. If we were lucky, a Nickel Plate “Berk” would come pounding through and bathe us in its wonderful, sulphurous smelling, exhaust smoke. Another thrill was to see the CUT electric locomotives pulling a New York Central passenger train either to or from the Terminal Tower. They were so quiet they would pop out from under the 75th street bridge before you knew they were there.

About this time, the Nickel Plate built a brick diesel house just to the west of the 75th street bridge to service switchers and the ALCO passenger PA units. One Sunday the gate was unlocked and we got up enough courage to go all the way down the stairway and into the diesel house. One PA unit was inside and we inspected it closely. No one was around and we weren’t chased out.  
Well, grandma is gone, steam is gone, the CUT electrics are gone, time passes, changes come whether we like it or not. Thanks for letting me share some of my memories with you.