Good Old Spectator Trains

In the olden days, rowing races could be a great spectator sport. Large crowds of people would follow the races from river banks and bridges, as is still the case nowadays with The Boat Race on the River Thames in London. The American counterpart of The Boat Race, The Harvard – Yale Boat Race, had early on something that would be impossible to have in London – spectator trains running along the river banks to allow the on-lookers to really follow the races from start to finish. These were specially built coaches or cars with benches for the spectators to sit on.

It was not only at The Harvard – Yale Boat Race spectator trains could be found; other regattas would have them, too. On British Pathé, I found an old newsreel from 1927, showing seven American varsity eights racing at Poughkeepsie in New York State. The camera man is sitting on one of these spectator trains and for a few seconds we can see them as well.


For a couple of years, in the beginning of the 2000s, there were old train cars running up and down the river banks either on the Groton or the New London side of the Thames River to follow the crews from Yale and Harvard on their race day in June. Unfortunately, as old trees and bushes had grown wildly for decades along the river, your view would be blocked now and then. However, it was a nice idea, and with a picnic basket with goodies it was rather tolerable.

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