It was a beautiful train that passed through town each day, seven days a week, between Jersey City and Atlantic City. I lived in the White Horse Inn next to the railroad so I saw it every day. I remember that the speed of the train was 70 mph in the Chatsworth area and it was always on time. People would set their clocks by the train. I will never forget the locomotive’s whistle that sounded like a steamboat. Also, I saw people from other towns coming to Chatsworth to sit by the tracks to see the train pass. I also remember that the Blue Comet brought the evening newspapers to us. The people in Chatsworth were proud to have this special train as part of our lives. As I think about it now, I believe we may have thought that maybe we were some way connected to New York and Atlantic City by the train. I still have a lot of memories of the Blue Comet. Jonathan Stevenson
As one of Chatsworth’s senior citizens, Jonathan Stevenson captured many aspects of the Blue Comet that continue to be of interest, especially as we approach the 75th anniversary of the train’s wreck on August 19, 1939.
The Blue Comet, the nation’s first all-reserved deluxe coach train, was designed to provide its passengers with first-class service at low coach fares that began on February 29, 1929 from Jersey City* and Atlantic City. The décor inside and outside was cream and blue. Each of the cars had the name of a comet and the front of the locomotive carried the train’s name in large letters on a bronze headboard. The dining car, with inlaid wood interior, offered linen tablecloths, silver eating utensils and exquisite china. Passengers could select a lunch or dinner that started at 75 cents and a steak dinner with dessert and beverage for $1.25. Another fascinating feature of the Blue Comet was the observation car with a deck at its end with seats to accommodate six persons. Passengers were often seen enjoying sitting on the deck.
Saturday, August 19, 1939, was an ill-fated day for train number 4218, the Blue Comet, on its return trip from Atlantic City with 49 passengers left the tracks caused by a washout under the tracks about a mile west of the Chatsworth station. The Chatsworth area had experienced rain most of the day that included a series of severe cloudbursts that saw fourteen inches of rain falling causing serious flooding throughout the area. Because of the heavy rains the engineer was instructed at Winslow Junction, approximately 20 miles west of Chatsworth, to lower the speed of the train and to proceed cautiously. The engineer reduced the speed to 35-40 mph. The five cars uncoupled from the locomotive and tender and were scattered over the ground.
I was at the Chatsworth station that evening when word came of the wreck. A friend, Harold Stevenson, Jr. and I immediately rushed to the wreck site. We were the first persons to arrive at the scene of the wreck. Water was everywhere. To get to the last two cars of the train we walked through water that was chest high. Police, ambulances, physicians and others from several parts of the state quickly converged on Chatsworth to aid the passengers, especially those who were injured. The chef in the dining car was the only fatality.
August 19, 2014 will mark the 75th anniversary of the wreck. Much has changed since the wreck that has seen many changes in Chatsworth and its environs. Numerous new families with little or no knowledge of the Blue Comet have become residents. Jonathan Stevenson, quoted above, articulated quite clearly that which denotes the importance of a train that was very much a part of Chatsworth. For me to remember the Blue Comet has very special meaning. I was fortunate to have been a passenger on this very unique train in the years preceding the 1939 wreck. I, too, have many wonderful memories of the Blue Comet that made its last run on September 27, 1941.
Dr. Walter A Brower
*Passengers to and from New York City crossed the river by boat to board the Blue Comet at the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal in Jersey City.