In 1964 and 1965, New York City hosted the last of the great international expositions to be called a World's Fair. Built on the site of the 1939-40 World's Fair at Flushing Meadows, Queens, the 1964/1965 New York World's Fair was served by the IRT #7 Flushing Line of the city's subway system.
To handle an expected 70 million visitors, the system took delivery of 430 new cars in 1963. Most were class R-36WF (for "World's Fair") cars constructed as married pairs. But because the Flushing Line was the only IRT route built for 11-car trains, 40 single-unit cars, class R-33S (a.k.a. R-33WF) were ordered to run with the married pairs to create full-length trains.
Both R33S and R36WF cars had wide picture windows, in contrast with the smaller windows in the R33ML ("main line") series and most other New York cars of the time. They were also the last New York subways built with no stainless steel on their exteriors, and among the last cars built with a feature that had delighted generations of young riders: a half-width cab that left room for a passenger window on the front of the car, with the same view as the enginer.
As with all cars on the IRT division, the World's Fair cars were shorter and narrower than rolling stock on the BMT and IND divisions of New York's subways, due to tighter clearances on the former Interborough Rapid Transit Co. system.
Like their R36WF brethren, the R33S cars were delivered in a snappy "Bluebird" World's Fair paint scheme, turquoise blue with a white accent stripe. During a four-decade career, they would wear three more schemes. In the mid-1970s they were painted silver with a dark blue stripe. When New York's subway system declared war on graffiti, they acquired a white teflon coating in 1981-82. Their final colors, the famous Redbird scheme of dark red with black accents and a silver roof, were applied during the General Overhaul (GOH) program in 1985.
The GOH was a major undertaking that added decades to the life of many classes of New York's subways. The R33S and R36WF cars were the pioneers of the program, and were completely rebuilt in the system's own Coney Island Shops. But while the R36 married pairs had room to add air conditioning, the single-unit R 33 cars did not, and in subsequent years they were taken out of service in hot summer months.
After the GOH, the R33S cars delivered reliable service into the early years of the next century, when retirements began. On November 3, 2003, an R33S followed by 10 R36WFs made the last-ever run of the Redbird fleet, and the era of non-stainless cars on the New York subways was over. Today, however, you can still occasionally ride car #9306, the only R33S not to go through the GOH program, resplendent in her original colors as she leads fan trips for the New York City Transit Museum.
Like all M.T.H. Proto-Sound 2.0 and 3.0 subways, the R-33S features Station Stop Proto-Effects, allowing you to program the train to stop automatically at designated station stops, even in Conventional Mode. When configured to run on automatic, the R-33S stops itself at locations you define and calls out station names that you select in advance; the train essentially runs itself. And when you program the R-33S for an out-and-back route, it even reverses itself and heads back downtown when it reaches the end of the line - stopping along the way at each station to broadcast the name of the stop and the hustle and bustle of passengers coming and going.
Did you know
The Redbird color scheme originated with David Gunn, general manager of the subway system during the General Overhaul (GOH) program. Gunn made the decision to use the same color he had seen on Philadelphia's Broad Street Subway, and had the Philadelphia system send him a can of their graffiti-resistant paint. Thus the Redbird color became known as Broad Street Red or Gunn Red.