Don Harold, Sneaky Subway Preservationist, Dies at 91


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Don Harold, a subway aficionado who typically used subterfuge to save lots of classic practice vehicles from the junkyard — vehicles that at the moment are among the many star points of interest of the New York Transit Museum in Downtown Brooklyn — died on June 14 in a nursing house in Bayside, Queens. He was 91.

Thomas Jablonski, an in depth buddy, stated the trigger was congestive coronary heart failure.

Mr. Harold, whose maternal grandfather was a Brooklyn trolley motorman and inspector, adored the hulking relics that after rumbled and screeched on subway and elevated tracks.

To him, they had been as important part of New York’s historical past because the Statue of Liberty.

“When she was falling aside, they mounted her,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 2003. “You don’t promote her for scrap.”

He acquired his likelihood to save lots of practice vehicles when he was employed in 1965 within the public affairs workplace of the town’s Transit Authority. His supervisor already knew about his ardour for the previous rolling inventory and felt that he could possibly be an efficient preservationist.

“I believe that I may get that performed, however you don’t wish to know the way I might do it,” Mr. Harold stated he advised his boss, in line with an obituary posted by the Electrical Railroaders Affiliation.

Eleven years later, during the Bicentennial, Mr. Harold’s efforts helped result in the creation of an exhibition that included 15 restored vehicles on the decommissioned Courtroom Avenue subway station in Brooklyn. It was meant as a short-term exhibition, nevertheless it proved so widespread that it was incessantly prolonged and eventually rechristened a museum in 1989.

“He was the patriarch of the museum,” stated Concetta Bencivenga, the director of the museum, which has almost 100 classic vehicles in its assortment, greater than 20 of them on the museum and the remainder in storage yards. “All of the vehicles are right here due to the work Don did.”

To avoid wasting the vehicles that the Transit Authority didn’t volunteer for restoration, Mr. Harold deployed a community of employees throughout the company, a few of whom he had met by way of the BMT Holy Identify Society, a non secular group of practice employees, earlier than he joined the company.

The vehicles needed to be overhauled electrically and mechanically to make them trackworthy once more; Mr. Harold was recognized for ensuring the inside and exterior colours had been correct, Mr. Jablonski stated, and he had reproductions of interval promoting and previous maps added to the vehicles.

The Occasions referred to as Mr. Harold and his preservation-minded colleagues a “tiny guerrilla military” that “bent the foundations, disregarded orders and performed disguise and search with subway vehicles sentenced to execution.”

The group employed numerous techniques.

“By means of his cohorts, he would hear which vehicles had been on the extinction checklist, and they might change the numbers in order that they couldn’t be discovered,” Mr. Jablonski, the deputy chief of strategic capital planning of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Transit Authority’s dad or mum, stated by cellphone. “So automotive quantity 2390 turned quantity 2590, and it could be tucked away in a yard.”

A type of Mr. Harold helped save, an previous BMT automotive with cane seats and ceiling followers, bore the telltale indicators of his group’s trickery.

“When the fellows lastly sanded it down to revive it for the museum,” he advised The Occasions in 2003, “they stated, ‘Hey, what’s happening? We discovered 5 completely different numbers on this factor.’ And I stated, ‘That’s 5 instances they tried to scrap it.’”

At some point within the mid-Sixties, Mr. Jablonski stated, Mr. Harold heard {that a} contingent of Transit Authority managers was heading to a storage and upkeep yard within the Bronx to find 5 early-Twentieth-century IRT Low Voltage cars to scrap them. However Mr. Harold needed them restored, as 5 different such vehicles had already been.

“Don calls somebody in control of shifting vehicles and says, ‘Transfer these vehicles out of there,’” Mr. Jablonski stated. They had been quickly moved to a monitor south of Pelham Parkway till it was clear that they had been out of hazard, once they had been returned.

“Don acquired as large a kick out of pulling a quick one as he did saving the vehicles,” Mr. Jablonski stated.

Donald William Harold was born on Aug. 18, 1931, in Brooklyn. He was raised by his mom, Marie (Muessig) Harold, who labored at a division retailer, and his maternal grandparents. His father, Chester, left the household when Donald was a toddler.

When Don was 17, he expressed his curiosity in mass transportation in a letter to the editor of The Brooklyn Eagle, criticizing a metropolis plan to interchange trolley vehicles, just like the one his grandfather had operated, with buses on 10 Brooklyn strains.

“Individuals are packed in buses like sardines,” he wrote. “The buses are too small for the variety of individuals driving them. Though the trolleys could also be previous, they’ll nonetheless maintain their very own if given a good trial.”

Mr. Harold held a number of jobs earlier than becoming a member of the Transit Authority. Maybe most essential, he operated a trolley as a youngster in Brooklyn — illegally and with the assistance of a pleasant motorman, he advised Mr. Jablonski — and later acquired a reputable job working one in Atlantic Metropolis within the Fifties.

He was additionally a salesman in a report retailer, a financial institution teller and an I.R.S. examiner. In 1968, he acquired a bachelor’s diploma in economics from Saint Peter’s Faculty (now College) in Jersey Metropolis, N.J.

Mr. Harold ultimately left the Transit Authority’s public affairs workplace to run its worker suggestion program. He retired in 1986. He by no means had a job on the Transit Museum, however he was a guide there and was typically known as its curator and co-founder.

He leaves no instant survivors.

The lore of Mr. Harold’s preservation work features a story concerning the planning of the 1976 Bicentennial exhibition. Mr. Harold acquired sufficient cooperation from the Transit Authority to revive one classic automotive from every of a number of vital practice courses, however when he was advised that the remainder of the vehicles could be scrapped, he thought rapidly.

“He stated, ‘No, no, no, we’re having Nostalgia Rides,’” Ms. Bencivenga recalled — in different phrases, Mr. Harold saved the vehicles by spontaneously conceiving an attraction by which passengers would board restored trains for rides on designated subway routes across the metropolis.

“And that is what occurs as we speak,” Ms. Bencivenga stated. “We’ll take the R-1/9s to the Rockaways, and once we go to Yankee Stadium we’ll take the 1917 IRT Lo-V’s.”


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