Winter 1997

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Where the Clang, Clang, Clang

of the Trolley Bell Is Still Heard

The New York Museum of Transportation


Donovan A. Shilling

Where does one go to hear that nostalgic clang, clang, clang of an old trolley bell? Where can one touch a genuine inter-urban car that may have carried grandma or grandpa zipping along at 60 miles an hour to Geneva in 1914? And where can one see the oldest electric trolley in New York State? It's at the New York Museum Of Transportation.

Located at 6393 East River Road in the town of Rush, just two miles west of the New York State Thruway, one finds an amazing museum. It's in a building complex closely resembling a modern dairy farm situated on a large plot of rolling green pasture land.

Near the intersection of the Rush-Henrietta Town Line Road, a large sign invites one to enter the unusual facility. Doors open Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is five dollars for adults, four dollars for senior citizens and three dollars for students five through fifteen. What one gets for this fee is impressive. Housed within the museum is the region's best collection of trolleys, interurban cars and motor vehicles as well as a vast assortment of artifacts dealing with early rail and public transportation.

Students researching a particular phase of local transportation history can locate a rich collection of books, documents, negatives and photographs. But that's not all.

Visitors enter through the gift shop, where they are welcomed and directed to the museum's Visitor Center. Here one gets an introduction and a graphic map highly useful in a self-guided tour which includes examples of public transportation, especially trolleys, related artifacts and other exhibits located in the exhibition hall.

Theodore H. Strang, Jr., president of the Board of Trustees and Museum Director, has stated some of the early history of the N. Y. M. T. In 1972 a working dairy farm stood on the site then managed by the State School close by at Industry, New York. It was a model dairy operation carried out by the young men assigned to the school.

A hurricane called Agnes changed all that. Down in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, the raging waters of the eastern branch of the Susquehanna River spilled across the countryside flooding and ruining the Magee Transportation Museum which had been located, unfortunately, too close to the river's edge. The owner was forced to make the bulk of his collection that had been turned into a muddy mess available for sale. When news of this reached Rochester a consortium of businessmen, fascinated with the chance of returning trolley cars and related artifacts to Upstate New York, acquired them from the Bloomsburg museum in 1973.

In December, 1974, a unique museum was formed. A provisional charter was granted by the State Board of Regents for the operation of a non-profit museum to be called the New York Museum of Transportation at Riverton. The mission of the museum is "to display and operate items relating to electrically powered trolley and interurban rail cars. steam engines and steam-powered rail cars, horse-drawn rail and road vehicles, and other types of vehicles of historical interest."

Dramatic changes have occurred since then. The dairy complex now houses the Museum. Further, there is the happy connection that the Museum has made with the Rochester Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. The Chapter's ROCHESTER AND GENESEE VALLEY RAILROAD DEPOT MUSEUM, housed in an old Erie Railroad station, is just a rail spike's throw to the south. Today a two-mile, standard-guage railroad connects the two museums. An open-air track-car ride to the Museum and return is an enjoyable excursion, and what's more, it's all included in the ticket price.

James E. Dierks, trustee and specialist in interpretive exhibits, does a skillful job with displays. He's revitalized and enhanced the exhibits making them more attractive and understandable. One display is an 1896 rail vehicle, the oldest electric trolley to be seen in New York State.

Perhaps the most impressive restoration is being done by museum member Eric R. Norden. Eric, an experienced woodworker, is using his considerable skills to return former New York State Railways' interurban car 157 to its previous glory.

Built in 1914 by the Niles Car company, it replaced a Rochester & Eastern car destroyed by fire. The new car was the only one of its model ever to be constructed. For forty years after being taken out of service in 1930, it served as a home to a clergyman who had it positioned overlooking Irondequoit Bay.

Later, no longer occupied by its owner, the forlorn and weather-worn structure was transported to the Bloomsburg Museum. In 1973 it was returned to Monroe County when the museum group acquired it along with other items from the Magee Museum.

Years later Eric began his ambitious task of restoration. Today one side of car 157 gleams with fresh dark-green paint, gold lettering, opalescent glass panes above the windows and new brass hardware fittings. Even half completed, the trolley looks splendid. Presently Norden is spearheading a fund-raising campaign to cover materials needed to keep the project alive.

Envisioning the future, Director Strang hopes for more dedicated volunteers to assist the present members, especially on Sundays, always a busy day at the Museum. He foresees the time when the Museum will develop a large education center interpreting the Museum's unique assets to larger numbers of the public, especially to students, who can learn so much about the area's rich and colorful transportation heritage.

© 1997, Donovan A. Shilling
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