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The Mast-Head: A Hurricane Survivor

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 11:37

In the 1930s, Long Island Rail Roadmen filled their tin pails with beer at the Trail’s End. It was the first restaurant and once was a social center of the Montauk fishing village, no more than a cluster of small houses cobbled together from shipping boxes and tarpaper. The men would walk from the trains after getting to the end of the line, pay for their beer, and walk back to get ready for the ride back to New York.

Eddie Ecker Sr., who remembered plenty of details from his childhood there, told me about this years ago. The image of conductors and engineers tramping along the tracks with full buckets of beer was not one I was going to forget.

Poking around an old bottle dump in the Sagaponack woods this spring with my friend Jameson Ellis, I picked up a rusted metal pail stamped “L.I.R.R.” The bottom was gone, as was a portion of the rim, but I took it with me anyway. It now waits in the yard to be planted with marigolds.

Much as I would have liked, the pail I found was not one the railroadmen would have used for beer. It was too wide and deep and lacked a place where a top might have gone.

Eddie Ecker’s mother, who ran the Trail’s End, must have provided the men with a good pour because in cold weather they would jog the train a little at the depot so high-piled coal for the engine might fall on the ground for the fishing village boys to gather.

Coal heated the houses by the beach then, and full buckets of beer fueled the trainmen. It was a relationship that ended abruptly on Sept. 21, 1938, when the Great New England Hurricane swept across Long Island. The morning dawned clear after a string of dull days, as one survivor put it. Some went to the beach to look at the powerful waves. Others went about their work fishing or tending stores. Then the wind rose to a roar. Nails pulled free from shingle roofs whipped through the air like bees. And then the water came. Fort Pond Bay’s steep east and west bluffs funneled the surge into the fishing village.

Many houses fell. Other buildings were lifted whole from their footings. The Trail’s End was among those that made it, but after the storm, it was moved away from the beach. By Christmas it was back in business. 

 

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