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by Charles R. Lowe

If ever the word "resplendent" could be applied to an interurban car, R&E 163 as seen here in the summer of 1924 certainly would qualify. After the 1904 "race" photo showing an R&E car pitted against the best the New York Centralís Auburn Road had to offer, this view of R&E 163 is perhaps the most well known R&E photo. It has been used in virtually all rail histories that cover the R&E, and it saw wide distribution as one of Bill Gordonís many railroad and trolley postcards issued in the 1970s. Surprisingly though, the background of this famous photograph is largely unknown.

Paint on interurban cars never lasted very many years. A car repainting was intended to last for two years, but in actual practice the interval between repaintings was much longer. The cars spent much of their time outdoors, whether in actual operation or simply while being stored between runs.

    As part of a year-long celebration of the 100th anniversary
    of the beginning of operations on the Rochester and Eastern,
    we continue our look at the rolling stock of this line

Railroad service was generally abusive to paint, and if a company obtained five years from a single painting it had down well. The R&Eís cars, built in 1903-4, were repainted about 1909 and again in 1918. By 1924, the green and cream paint of 1918 had begun to look shabby. It was also desired by this time to improve safety at highway grade crossings on the R&E by creating a brighter paint scheme for the lineís cars. The effect of green cars running at high speeds through a green forest only to burst out of the woods seemingly without notice could be disastrous! While other improvements including more powerful whistles were implemented, great faith was placed in using a new color scheme.

In the summer of 1924, R&E 163 became the first Rochester Lines interurban car to be repainted into a new paint scheme. In November, Transportation News (page 37) announced the event to employees. "The body is painted a golden shade with cream trim and mahogany sash. The interior is finished in mahogany with white enamel trim". The new colors were suggested by Rochester Lines General Superintendent of Transportation Roy R. Hadsell. A new monogram, an inverted isosceles triangle with "New York State Rys." inside, replacing the old lettering of the company name along both sides of the car just above the windows. The monogram added to the "general attractiveness" of the cars by modernizing slightly, for a style-conscious public, the twenty-or-more-year-old cars used by both lines. During the repainting program, a second monogram was added to the cars. A red octagon with the words "Be Careful, Safety First" were added near doors to remind passengers and crew to act safely. This design was used on both city and interurban cars on all operating divisions of New York State Railways. Throughout 1925 and 1926, cars of the NYSR Rochester interurban lines, the R&E, and the Rochester & Sodus Bay Line, were repainted to the new color scheme as they came into the shop for servicing. Improvement in ridership seems to be a secondary advantage of the new paint scheme. While both interurban lines were desperately in need of any improvements that would increase flagging ridership, the repainting program was largely a safety improvement introduced when the cars needed repainting anyway.

Although we cannot be sure, our photograph of R&E 163 was probably made by NYSR company photographer William G. Amer. It shows the car at East Main Station in Rochester on the tracks leading from the car houses to Main Street East and appears to have just rolled out of the nearby paint shop. While some tough years were ahead for car 163 and the R&E as ridership continued to decline, at least the improved visibility of the cars contributed to an excellent safety record.