July 1992

 
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The Great Trolley

and Train Race

by

J. Sheldon Fisher

The great trolley and train race made world history when the new electric trolley was pitted against a steam train to see which was the fastest. It was a four-mile race on parallel tracks from Maple Avenue in Victor to Main Street in Fishers after the trolley tracks were completed between Geneva and Rochester in 1904.

Engineer Ford, better known as "Fordy," was an Auburn Road engineer with as much daring as the legendary Casey Jones. He was considered by his associates as a speed demon and one who belonged on the straight tracks of the Main Line, and certainly not on the winding tracks of the Auburn Road. The distances between stations were short, and this fact probably kept Fordy's engines from jumping the tracks more often.

Fordy had a good head of steam when the flagman let the two-car train and the trolley leave the Victor station at the same time. Photographers were waiting at the Swamp Road crossing, and at that point the trolley was taking the lead. The fireman was shoveling the coal as fast as he could, and Fordy had the throttle wide open. The whistle was not even blown at the crossing in order to conserve steam; guards kept vehicles at a safe distance.

The trolley car had a disadvantage in that it had to climb the steep grade over the Lehigh Valley Railroad tracks, while the steam train had a straight and level stretch to Fishers. At the Lehigh tracks the racers' course veered apart. Signal cannon were placed at each Main Street station. Halfway between the stations men were located with stop watches waiting for the signals. The exact time has been forgotten, but the trolley did win.

It was Eddy Dwyer as motorman, of the Rochester and Eastern Rapid Railway, pitted against Engineer Ford that day and for years they would race when they found themselves going in the same direction. Eddy Dwyer gave me the official photo of that famous race, along with his hat and badge when he retired.

On another occasion, Fordy overstepped the train rules one day when he came roaring from the east ahead of schedule. He did not allow a freight train going east enough time to clear the main track to a siding at Fishers. Two freight cars still on the main track were knocked into the lumber mill yard. Fordy got a light reprimand.

1987, J. Sheldon Fisher
Reprinted by permission of the author from "Railroad Highlights"
in The Groaning Tree and Other Stories
 
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