While waiting on the F train platform on a Sunday in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you might think you’ve stepped into the Twilight Zone when eight vintage subway cars barrel up to your station. This is the holiday train, a once-a-year treat courtesy of the MTA’s New York Transit Museum, which whisks MTA patrons back in time.
The “Shoppers Special,” comprised of cars from the 1930s to the 1970s, is bedecked with wreaths and bows for the season. People are charmed by both the similarities and differences between modern subway cars and those of yesteryear. Seats were upholstered with rattan, stops were announced by analog rolling signs, and the heavy doors would squish you if you didn’t get out of the way. There was no air conditioning, of course, so ventilation was provided by ceiling fans and open slats above the windows (which would have made the ride much noisier). Even the ads are vintage—in one a flapper encourages you to chew Wrigley’s spearmint after every meal, and another advertises a Central Park “Citizenship Day” celebration hosted by Mayor Robert F. Wagner.
The arrival of the holiday train is quite an event; so much so that some people dress up in period fashion just for the occasion. The immersive atmosphere is enough to make you believe the train could be shuttling you back to 1940, at least for the few minutes you have no cell service underground.
Outside the holiday season the vintage cars are on view at the Transit Museum. Visitors can walk through the museum’s “nostalgia fleet” and appreciate all the historic transportation features–minus the rattle and rumble of the tracks.