Boston lost a treasure chest of institutional memory this weekend with the death of George M. Sanborn who knew more about the Boston transit system than anyone else alive.
I first met George almost 15 years ago at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Maine which is a fascinating place to visit. He was very friendly to my young son and then surprised him by letting him drive a streetcar which thrilled my son no end.
In passing I had mentioned that I was in a subway accident in the 70's that was truly bizarre as it involved THREE trains between Park St and Charles but when I went to the library I couldn't find any information on it. He invited me to stop by his office in Park Square at the Transportation Library and he might have something about it.
A few weeks later I did stop by and he gave me a huge folder of newspaper clippings and the MBTA report of what had happened. We chatted for awhile and he showed me old timetables that showed that old New Haven Railroad trains were faster in 1912 going to New York than today. He also showed me a old timetables that showed how Boston buses and streetcars used to run all night and at 3 in the morning you could take a single streetcar from Arlington all the way to Newton Corner. He also told me how Mayor Menino led the charge when he was a Hyde Park community activist to prevent the Orange Line from being expanded all the way to Rte 128 in Westwood along the abandoned I-95 corridor because Hyde Park didn't need rapid transit. George had his own theory why and he said that same thinking stopped the Red Line from going to Arlington and Lexington.
I am not a transit buff but I have been riding the T since the Kingston Trio made it famous back in 1959 and have to admit being curious on why the T always seems to do everything wrong when common sense dictates otherwise. George had a simple answer....politics.
A couple of years ago I stopped by to see him and learned that he had become ill. The woman at the library said how much they missed him as a person and also because he was the only one there that could find information quickly.
A blogger remembers working with George and learning so much about Boston.
R.I.P George. It is not often that a person can make his passion his profession as well.