Transit Museum plans 100th birthday bash for vintage NYC subway cars

The city’s former Lo-V trains will be honored at the museum’s fourth annual Party on Wheels this weekend.

The age of the transit system and its subway cars is often a bone of contention for many New Yorkers, especially as mass delays and mechanical issues have beset it in recent weeks. But come Sunday, that old age will be something to celebrate.

 

The New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn is breaking out the cake and cards to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Lo-V subway cars, which ran on the IRT line from 1917 to 1969. The IRT, or Interborough Rapid Transit Company, was the city’s first subway line, which opened in 1904, and featured what are today’s numbered trains.

 

“The Lo-Vs were the second-generation subway trains,” museum educator Polly Desjarlais said when Metro visited last week. “Lo-V means 'low-voltage,' which means that what moves the train, the propulsion controls, is moved by batteries rather than 600-volt circuit.”

 

The museum works with a dedicated crew from the MTA to run its vintage trains. “One told me his favorite thing about the Lo-Vs is their efficiency of space. This space,” Desjarlais said, gesturing as she stood in an alcove of one of the four cars that will run Sunday, “expands to be a driver's booth with controls. When a cab is not being used, it’s not wasted space. You can fit a few people here. This is super-ingenious.”

 

The Lo-Vs' efficiency influenced the subway cars that came after, with the addition of bench seating and a center door for faster loading and unloading. That process should get even easier with the trains slated to join the MTA’s fleet later this year, as they’ll have enlarged doors, Desjarlais said.

“I find it comforting to know that 100 years ago, people figured out this is the best way to get the most people on a train,” said Concetta Bencivenga, the museum’s director.

Other amenities on the Lo-Vs included paddle fans, ceiling air vents and specially made incandescent lightbulbs, which screwed in the opposite way of a normal bulb to deter thieves.  

This is the first time the Lo-Vs will run as part of the museum’s annual Party on Wheels, a family-friendly fundraiser that takes place on Sunday, June 11, and will feature Lo-V shuttle rides from the museum, which is housed in a subway station, built in 1936, to the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station.

Party on Wheels is the only time of year that the Transit Museum’s trains leave its station, and the Lo-Vs will run every 10 minutes. Face-painting, crafts, dancing, conductor cab photos and more are also planned. The event is a fundraiser to benefit the museum’s education programs, which serves roughly 25,000 city students and teachers annually.

“You don’t have to be at all interested in trains and buses and transit to still really love and get a kick out of this place,” Bencivenga said.

The New York Transit Museum’s Party on Wheels is Sunday, June 11, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Visit nytransitmuseum.org/partyonwheels for details.