Let’s Begin at the Beginning
---Seth H. Bramson
As many Floridians (particularly South Floridians) know, this writer, who is often known as “Mr. F. E. C.” (Florida East Coast Railway) or “Mr. Miami Memorabilia” is not just the owner of the largest collection of F E C Railway and Florida transportation memorabilia in the world (it is larger than the state museum’s collection—of like items, of course, not it’s entire collection) and larger than the Flagler Museum’s collection, the same disclaimer applying) and, in addition, the largest collection of Miami memorabilia and Floridiana in private hands (private as opposed to the museums, but, and at that, larger than many of the smaller, local museums) in the country.
And how did that come to be, you ask, and I’m glad you did, because I will be happy to tell you how!
Frankly, I am a newcomer, hereabouts, just an ol’ South Florida hillbilly. It was August of 1946 and it was a brutally hot New York summer. I said to my father, “y’know, Dad, this heat is brutal. Why don’t we move to Miami Beach? It will be hot there, too, but at least we’ll be near the water.”
Dad said, “fine. Pack up your mother, pack up the car and we’ll go,” which I did. Upon completion of the task I said, “Dad, we’re ready,” at which point he picked me up, put me in the driver’s seat and said, “let’s go.”
At that point I had no choice but to say to him, “but, Dad, the only problem is that my legs don’t reach the pedals and my arms don’t reach the steering wheel,” after which he said, “OK, not a problem, I’ll drive.
When you drove to Florida in those days, there were no four lane roads—none—and no hotels or motels. What there were were “tourist courts” and “cabins,” all of which had signs out front which read “Air Cooled,” which meant that, once you entered the room, you either opened the window or turned on the fan.
We reach Miami Beach in probably four or five days, my dear parents and their son, then two-year old “Sethy,” which Mom called me for some years, and for a month or two stayed in an apartment on South Beach, close to where Dad opened his sign shop soon after at 222-5th St. at the southeast corner of Collins Court, which is the alley between Collins and Washington Avenues.
We shortly moved to 8035 Harding Avenue, a nice four-plex, I think, but I don’t remember if we lived in one of the downstairs apartments or upstairs, but, incredibly, I do remember the 1947 hurricane.
Even then, Dad know that I loved trains and soon after my third birthday he began a Sunday morning routine which we followed for another four years: every Sunday morning we would get up and go to breakfast at the Mayflower Coffee Shop on Biscayne Boulevard and Southeast First Street, where the had “the donut train” and made fresh donuts most of the day. “Bonnie” was our waitress the entire time and, many years later, when Mom took a job as cashier in the Doral Hotel coffee shop, who was working there but Bonnie. It was a happy reunion!
From breakfast we would go to the pony track on the northeast corner of Northeast 15th Street and Biscayne Boulevard, where I would enjoy riding the ponies but following that was the great event of the day: we would go from there to see “Toodles,” the steam locomotives at the Florida East Coast Railway’s Buena Vista Yard.
Once we pulled in and Dad got me out of the car, I would run to the locomotives, who, in my mind, would greet me like friends and I would climb all over them, which is where my great love affair with that railroad began, and in all those post World War II years nobody from the railroad ever came over to ask what we were doing there, tell us it was private property and that we were trespassing and throw us out.
In fact, and to close this episode (we’ll pick up from here next time!) about three years ago I told my bride, the stunningly beautiful and elegant Myrna, that I had to make a confession. She smiled that beautiful smile of hers and asked me what the confession was, and I then told her that I had to tell her that for many years I had had a mistress, to which her reply was, “I know. It’s called the Florida East Coast Railway, and because you are “number one in a field of one,” the only person in the country who bears the official title of Company Historian with an American railroad, I’m happy to share you with them.”
And so, and in closing, and as the late, great Ralph Renick would say each evening to end his newscasts, “Good night, and may the good news be yours.”