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Special: New York Museum of Transportation

Prologue

Recently I was passing by the New York Museum of Transportation, and since our current policy on museums is “only if you visited”,1 because they’re often poorly documented online (which is not the case here), it was barely a question that I should make a visit. Unfortunately, my visit was fairly short. I needed to be back in Boston by the end of the day, and if you look at a map, you would see that Boston is quite far away.2 Luckily, I did manage to cover a noticeable portion of the indoor exhibits, which should give you a taste of the museum.

The format is going to be slightly different from usual since we’ve never written about museums before. However expect the next museum review to improve on this.

Overview

The New York Museum of Transportation is a transportation museum in Rush, a southern suburb of Rochester in New York (United States).3 The museum’s collection mostly consists of streetcars, though there are also buses, cars, model cars, two model railroad layouts, a little bit of miscellaneous railroad equipment, and a mall monorail. In terms of streetcars, the museum’s main focus is the state of New York, with all equipment being from the US.

The museum is fairly small, open Sundays only, and operates cars once a month. The operating fleet consists of two Strafford cars from Philadelphia, which are unusually painted orange (more on that later).

The operating line is about 1.5 miles long, and heads southwest from the main museum. At its end it is connected to the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum, a mainline railroad museum which also operates on the line. Trolley wire electrification extends only about a mile. Both museums operate on their respective parts of the line, with joint full-length operation for special events only.

Map

Here is a map of the main museum buildings. Note that there are a few collection items scattered outside that are not marked. I spotted a few, though unfortunately I did not get to see them in detail.

Front side of the page (own scan, work of the New York Museum of Transportation, used with permission)

Here’s the back of the same page with explanations for the items, in case any piqued your interest.

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Back side of the page (own scan, work of the New York Museum of Transportation, used with permission)

History

Since I am not familiar with the museum and its history is extensively documented in other places, I will only give a quick overview.

The museum was founded on the site of a dairy farm in its current location in 1973 in order to house NY streetcars from a museum in Pennsylvania that closed a few years earlier due to a flood. In 1980 a short demonstration line was constructed, but since the museum had no operating passenger cars, rides were offered with speeders. The operating line was connected to the one of the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum in 1993.

1996 was a big year for the museum, as not only was car 409 acquired,4 but so were the Strafford cars. Following the installation of overhead wire, trolley operation commenced in 2001.

If you’d like to know more about the history of the museum, I recommend the Wikipedia article and the museum’s site.

Further Detail

In this section, we will look into some of the cars I found interesting. As said, my visit was quick so I didn’t get a full look at all the cars.

Operating Fleet

  • 161_front
  • strafford_cars_own
  • 168_front
  • 161_side

As mentioned earlier, the museum’s operating fleet (#16 on the map) consists of a pair of nearly-identical Strafford cars,5 cars 161 and 168. They were ordered by the Philadelphia and Western from Brill in the late 20’s. The cars were originally fitted with third rail shoes, but in the museum they are fitted with trolley poles. They ran in suburban Philadelphia. Throughout their revenue career they were operated by the Philadelphia & Western, Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Co. (Red Arrow), and finally SEPTA.

Car 161 at Norristown in 1969, wearing PSTC livery. (Roger Puta, scanned by Marty Bernard, via Wikimedia Commons)

“Why are they painted in this shade of orange?” you may ask, since in Philadelphia they never carried such a scheme! This is a reasonable question to ask.

From what I heard, after the cars retired, an individual bought four of them and shipped them to Iowa. Two of the units were to operate and the others used for spare parts. He painted the operating units in “traction orange”, and ran them coupled to a generator on an unelectrified track.6 In 1996 the operation closed, likely due to low visitorship. The museum was able to acquire the cars. Since then they have been its first, and currently only regularly operating cars. Other than paint, the cars received other modifications in Iowa, like the installation of low floor doors, and the removal of SEPTA branding. I suspect there were headlight modifications on 168.

The museum likely has kept the cars in their Iowa condition as restoration would be costly and time consuming. Additionally the low-floor door is useful, but was not present in Philadelphia.

Northern Texas Traction 409

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  • 409_interior

This car (#22 on the map), is an interurban built by St. Louis Car Co. in 1919. It ran for the Northern Texas Traction Company between Dallas and Fort Worth. It was originally a lounge car. When the railway ended operations the car was apparently sold to be used as a house. At some point it was acquired by the Dallas based Spaghetti Warehouse, a chain known for having a streetcar at each of their locations,7 and shipped to Rochester to facilitate chain expansion. When the chain’s Rochester location closed in 1996, the car was bought at an auction and donated to the museum.

Currently it is at the museum, with exterior and interior finish, however without trucks. The car still contains the tables it was fitted with at the restaurant, instead of the original lounge interior. The museum rents the car for events, and I heard it is fairly popular!

Rochester Railway 162

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Car 162 in shell form, the blue/green panels of the roof of the barn certainly aren’t conducive to photography! (Own image)

This car (#7 on map) interested me, for reasons you’ll see later. It is a single truck car built by Stephenson Car Co. in 1891 for the Rochester Railway. It was rebuilt as a sand car in 1918. Wikipedia lists a few museums, but ultimately it ended up here as part of the initial collection acquired from Pennsylvania. It is currently in disassembled form, though all parts are on-site.

What fascinates me about this car is that it was constructed as an electric car in 1891! At this time, street railroads were actively electrifying, and their fleet consisted of converted horsecars. I did not expect street railways to be acquiring brand new electric cars at that time, but here it is.

Mall Monorail

Behold, the monorail! My own picture was of such quality that I preferred to use this one from Wikimedia. (DanielPenfield via Wikimedia Commons)

One of the museum’s landmark attractions is this mall monorail (#29 on map). It was used as an attraction at Rochester’s Midtown Plaza from 1968 to 2007.

I’ll leave you to the neat pamphlet handed up the museum:

mall_monorail_pamphlet
Here is the pamphlet handed out by the Museum, I stitched the front and back together. (own scan and edit, work of the New York Museum of Transportation, used with permission)

Conclusion

I hope you have enjoyed this quick look at the New York Museum of Transportation, and I do feel bad for not being able to show you the entire museum, so I guess you’ll have to visit it yourself to find out!

As mentioned, the museum is in Rush, New York, is open Sundays only year round, and runs streetcars once a month from May to October. If I were you I’d reserve about 4 hours for it, and most of the day if I were to pair the nearby Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum with it. I recommend checking the websites of both museums for up-to-date operating hours and special events.

Oh, and if you’re there, check out the buses and model railroad, I think those are the parts I missed the most.

fire_truck
Since this is a museum of transportation, there are also cars, here’s a 40’s fire truck in the “car corner” (#18 on map). (Own image)
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I’ll leave you with car 157, a 1914 interurban from Rochester (#3 on map). (Own image)

This post was of a different format specially suited for museums, if you have any suggestions, please do not hesitate to comment or contact!

Sources

As usual, for the images see the individual image. I also referenced these sites:

Additionally, major thanks to Jim Dierks for giving me a quick tour of the museum, and permitting me to display the museum pamphlets.

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