We all dream of traveling first class. Large comfortable seats, real food and free drinks. It’s the only way to fly.
But did you know that there used to be a handful of private, first-class “club cars” on New Haven Railroad commuter trains? Among the most legendary was the one that raced from New Canaan from 1908 to 1976, car # 5113.
Fortunately, the New Canaan Historical Society retained all original documents for the private club known as “The New Canaan Car” (NCC). And the story is fascinating.
The custom-built plush car carried around 60 passengers, half the load of a regular coach. The car had its own buffet from which an attendant, Willie Spaulding (who worked there for 26 years), made the continental breakfast in the morning and poured adult drinks in the evening.
Pulled on train # 331 in the morning, the private car left New Canaan at 7:43 am and arrived at Grand Central at 8:48 am The return trip on train # 332 left at 5:09 pm and was back at New Canaan at 6:15 p.m.
Membership was not cheap. In 1966, the initiation fee was $ 200 ($ 1,600 in today’s currency) and the monthly surcharge was $ 100, not including the ticket price. In 1974, the NCC paid Penn Central $ 69,300 per year to transport his passenger car.
Over the years, I had heard rumors about this railroad “unicorn” … who was often talked about but rarely seen. And one of the rumors was that this gentlemen’s club didn’t allow women. This is not the case, on reading their statutes. But their membership directory also never showed a woman’s name as far as I could find.
Members of the car were allowed to bring guests (yes, even women) with the agreement of the other members. And the NCC was famous for its birthday parties and year-end parties. A series of minutes detailed the BYO liquor cellar, which previously operated on the honor system, but in 1968 needed a lock and key.
NCC memberships were passed down from father to son, but there was no apparent waiting list. In 1972, the membership committee asked members to help identify “valid and probable candidates” to replace retirees.
After the New Haven RR went bankrupt, Penn Central took over and the railroad increased its freight costs. Even though many NCC members were CEOs of companies doing a lot of freight with Penn Central, the railroad didn’t care. It was broke and their influence didn’t matter.
The arrival of Metro-North saw the railway shift from heavy old cars pulled by locomotives to all-electric M2s, which marked the end of the line for the NCC.
In 1976, Metro-North’s parent company, MTA, said it was ready to rebuild a bar car just for the NCC; but at a cost of $ 70,000, it seemed too rich even for the New Canaan crowd. Worse, then-Gov. Ella Grasso said the state should not subsidize millionaire commuters in private cars.
The last NCC private car race was on April 1, 1976. When the train arrived in New Canaan at 6:15 pm, the party continued until 8. The next day, members stripped the car of all of its furniture (which belonged to the club), including 64 chairs, six dining tables. bridge and three smokehouses (ashtrays) which went into storage. By 1979 furniture storage fees had depleted the NCC’s cash flow and after 71 years the club was dissolved… a sad end to such an illustrious history.
Jim Cameron is the founder of the Commuter Action Group, advocates for Connecticut rail users. Contact Jim at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com
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