Retired Station Supervisor Thomas Merrick inside restored subway change booth at New York Transit Museum.
Photo credit: Marc Hermann/NYCT
Subway Station Superintendent Thomas H. Merrick began his career in the New York City transit system in the days of iron men and wooden change booths. Customers paid their fare with a nickel, coal burning pot-bellied stoves warmed the mezzanine sections of elevated stations and employees like Merrick worked a six-day week serving riders.
He began his Transit career as a railroad clerk on June 23, 1948 and recently put in his last day on the job on Aug. 31. Merrick put a period to a long and distinguished career in transit that spanned 65 years and decades of change. He was originally assigned to the BMT Division with starting wage of 90 cents per hour, “a good and decent wage at the time,” said Merrick, who never lost his enthusiasm for the job and remains highly valued by his co-workers.
“Mr. Merrick is an inspiration as both a gentleman and fellow New York City Transit employee. When you consider his length of service, he has worked through the best and worst of times here at transit and through all that time he has been a tremendous resource to both his co-workers and our customers. I am speaking for the entire organization as I thank him for his service and wish him a great and well-deserved retirement,” said NYC Transit Acting President Carmen Bianco.
Born on November 2, 1921, in Wilmington, N.C., he ends his career only two months shy of his 92nd birthday. This point in his life comes more than six decades after his first day on the job at the old Stillwell Terminal in Coney Island, where he remembers returning three quarters and four nickels to customers who asked for change of a dollar to pay the nickel fare.
Prior to his tenure at NYC Transit, he was drafted into the United States Army where he served between 1942 and 1946. He trained at Fort McClellan, Alabama and Fort Huachuca, Arizona before being shipped out to Italy and France as part of the 92nd Infantry “Buffalo” Division, a segregated unit of renowned black soldiers. Assigned as a Howitzer Gunner, he was later promoted to Battery Clerk. After being discharged with honor, Merrick worked as a file clerk with the Veterans Administration.
Recently Merrick shared a memorable moment in his NYC Transit career. Tom was on a committee to “beautify stations,” as he describes it. The committee was chaired by Phyllis Wagner, the wife of NYC’s 102nd Mayor, Robert F. Wagner. At the end of one rather lengthy committee meeting at MTA headquarters, the former mayor arrived to meet his wife for a dinner engagement. There, Merrick was introduced to Mayor Wagner.
He has personally witnessed many of the advancements and improvements in the station environments throughout his long career. Included in these upgrades over the years are the replacement of incandescent light bulbs with clean fluorescent lighting in stations, an array of changes with fares and tokens to improved automated fare collection, wood token booths with barred windows to bullet resistant service booths, significant improvements in emergency communications for employees and customers in distress such as the emergency booth communication system (EBCS), Halon fire suppression capability and most prominently, station rehabilitations. As Merrick compares the stations, he describes them as “dark and gloomy” prior to being given much needed attention to now “attractive and bright.”
“When I came in it was like the Toonerville Trolley. Now everything has been changed for the better. Things are new, modern, state-of-the art and they are getting even better. I’m sorry to leave, as I know that there are changes in the pipeline that I would like to see completed,” Merrick added. “Every time I go to a part of the subway where I haven’t been for a while I am amazed at the improvements. I’d love to stay for the completion of the 7 Line and Fulton Street projects.”
In 1968, Merrick was promoted to assistant station supervisor; elevated to station supervisor in 1981 and later, as part of the managerial restructuring for improved accountability under former NYC Transit President David Gunn, to station superintendent in 1984.
As a station superintendent Merrick has been rotated to virtually all of the operating responsibility centers including station operations in the field, signage, and the nerve center of station operations at the rail control center. He has consistently performed his duties, in every assignment as an exemplary and valued employee.