The Journal of the New York Museum of Transportation
Only the Best Was Good Enough
by Bernie Weis
The Buffalo company that once manufactured America’s premier motor cars was started 100 years ago. To mark the centennial, we asked local Pierce-Arrow enthusiast Bernie Weis to recall the firm’s short but illustrious history. The Pierce-Arrow Society has regions on every continent except Antarctica, and Bernie has edited all their publications since 1962. We couldn’t find a more enthusiastic and informed spokesman for the company and for the fine cars they built.
Transportation history in New York State has many branches—canal boats, railroads, airplanes and more. One company which was a major part of the state’s industrial pride was the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company of Buffalo.
From humble yet prosperous beginnings as makers of bird cages, refrigerators and tinware, the George N. Pierce Company soon expanded into the bicycle and motorcycle arena. In 1901, after unsuccessful experimentation with steam-powered vehicles, the firm engaged a British engineer, David Fergusson, to construct two gasoline-powered, single-cylinder "motorettes". These proved highly successful—so much so, that a new and spacious factory had to be erected on Elmwood Avenue to meet the demand.
By this time (1906), Pierce had brought out 2-cylinder, 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder cars. The latter model, a "Great Arrow", was acclaimed as a powerful, rugged yet luxurious touring vehicle. Its stamina was proven to the world by winning five successive Glidden Tours, and the company name was changed to Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company.
Each year brought more power, more luxury and more fame. Prices were astronomical, but there were large numbers of wealthy individuals in the United States (and around the world) who could and did pay prices up to and over $8000 for an example.
In 1911, the company began production of trucks, featuring worm-drive rear axles rather than the common industry standard of chain-drive. During World War I, hundreds of Pierce trucks were built for the armed forces of the United States, Great Britain, France and Russia.
The Armistice gave Pierce the opportunity to develop their 6-cylinder engines into really powerful motor cars, with dual valves. This feature would continue on the highest priced models into 1928. Most cars produced carried factory-built bodies, with panels of cast aluminum, but customers still could order custom-built designs if the factory offerings did not meet their requirements.
The mid-twenties saw a number of changes in the Pierce organization. Management had come under control of banking interests which, as later events would show, was a mistake. A savior was found in the person of Myron Forbes, former treasurer of the firm. When he became president, he quickly got a less expensive model into production—the Series 80. This proved to be the most popular Pierce-Arrow, with over 15,000 cars built over a three-year period.
Also at that time, a line of deluxe parlor coaches (buses) was put into production. These were more expensive than other inter-city buses of the time, but the cost was well worth it. The coaches were comfortable, powerful and durable, and operators soon realized that their riders preferred to travel in the Pierces rather than lesser vehicles.
Just before the October 1929 stock market debacle, the Studebaker Corporation gained controlling interest in Pierce-Arrow. This put cash into Pierce-Arrow coffers and gave Studebaker a deluxe, high-priced car to sell through its dealerships. If the market hadn’t crashed, this arrangement might have been beneficial to both, but such is fate. Pierce had, for a long time, purchased a number of parts and components from Studebaker. When the new Pierce straight-eight engine appeared in 1929, many parts were similar to those on Studebaker’s eight, although each design was developed separately. The depressed economy lasted longer than anyone had expected. In 1933, a group of Buffalo industrialists purchased (Continued on page 2)
the Pierce assets from Studebaker and continued independently from the South Bend, Indiana auto maker. Pierce was once again independent, although various components (castings, some body panels, etc.) were still bought from Studebaker. By now, Pierce was producing the eight and a powerful new V-12 engine. On the Bonneville Salt Flats, Ab Jenkins set several 24-hour endurance records in cars running these V-12s. (They were later used in many models of Seagrave fire engines).
An early Pierce-Arrow innovation was fender-mounted head-lights, as on this ’33 V-12 Brunn town car.Geo. Domer photo
The truck business had decreased considerably, and most if not all truck assembly was transferred to the White company in Cleveland.
The fantastic streamlined 1933 Silver Arrow show car, five of which were built, created headlines throughout the world. Priced at $10,000 each, they brought publicity but little else. Eventually they were all sold, but not with much effect on Pierce-Arrow’s fading production. In the middle of the decade, about 40 "stretch" sight-seeing coaches were produced, and
used at Yosemite Park, the Broadmoor Hotel, and a few other places. A venture into the house trailer business with the "Travelodge", in three sizes, created initial optimism. Consumer Reports gave them a high rating, but only slightly over 500 were built and sold.
The end was in sight. Fewer than 850 passenger cars were built in 1936, only 192 in 1937, and (author’s estimate) 40 or fewer for 1938. Refinancing of the company was planned, but a deal could not be reached. One creditor (Walter Schott, who happened to be the father-in-law of Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott, we learned later) pressed for payment of the money due him. Pierce-Arrow couldn’t pay, a federal judge ordered bankruptcy proceedings to commence, and that sank the company.
Final dissolution (a formality) was issued in 1944. What was a bright star in New York’s industrial heritage was now just a page in history, but the quality, prestige and high esteem the company possessed will live on.
Caught in April, 1949 at M&N Auto Sales on Broad St., this ‘37 8-cylinder limo could be had for $650.Bernie Weis photo
ROCHESTER STREETCARSNo. 20 in a series
by Charles R. Lowe
Rochester, Lockport & Buffalo RR 205 Photo by George Slyford
The Rochester, Lockport and buffalo Lyell Avenue car house and shops were located in Rochester just west of where the line left Lyell Avenue streetcar trackage in favor of private right-of-way. When service ended in 1931, RL&B cars were brought to the Lyell Avenue car house for storage where they awaited their fates for over a year and a half.
Car 205, half buried in the weeds, is seen here on September 17, 1932 as hope faded for any further railway use of the RL&B cars. Although 205’s chocolate-brown and cream paint seems fresh enough for service, the car has probably not turned a wheel since being brought here the previous April. Soon 205 will be broken up for scrap and live on only in photos such as this.
Not so for the sister car behind 205. With some effort, a dim car number looking a lot like "206" can be seen. Cheating the scrapper, car 206 survived as a cottage and, later, as a shed in Knowlesville, N.Y. When destruction of the car became imminent, it was moved to the Rochester & Genesee Valley RR Museum on August 27, 1999. Now, car 206 can be viewed from the NYMT-RGVRRM track car ride as it undergoes a slow transformation back to the grand interurban car it once was.
RESTORATION PROGRESS REPORT
This continuing report is a round-up of progress reported by leaders of several key areas. Thanks to all who are supporting these important projects with their time and donations.
Philadelphia & Western interurban car 161:Eric Norden and Jim Dierks have finally completed the re-roofing of this car, by applying two coats of a special black stain to the canvas. Next on the list is completion of the repairs to the roof ventilators, under Randy Bogucki’s care, so that they and the trolley boards and poles can be re-installed.
Jim Dierks and Eric Norden do the honors as ex-P&W 161 gets a fresh coat of black stain on 600 square feet of new canvas.
Paul Monte has been repairing window frames from both sides of the car, "letting in" (routing out the rotted wood and gluing in patches) then applying a coat of primer. Joe Reminder has shaped the stool stock, cut it to dimension, and applied primer. Jim Dierks/Paul Monte
Philadelphia & Western interurban car 168: Charlie Robinson continues to make steady progress with 168’s windows with help from Roger Harnaart. To keep the car weather tight, Charlie removes only three windows at a time and inserts a temporary plywood "window" in each opening. Several windows have been completed and replaced in the car, each having been sanded, primed and painted maroon, and more are currently in work. Bob Miner
Genesee & Wyoming caboose 8: Repair of the cupola is complete except for the installation of the side window awnings. These are in the process of being completed, but a few fabrication details remain. The work of repairing the lower windows and surrounding material has begun. Several of the lower sashes will have to be replaced. Some of the sashes have been removed and will be used as patterns for the new ones. Jim Dierks discovered that two window sills
New York State Railways, Rochester Lines 437: With the car protected by a heavy green tarp, work on the interior has been limited because of a lack of light. Last May, Charlie Lowe and Trevor James installed a system of work lights in the car, and a proper study of the car’s interior can be undertaken in order to start our restoration program. 437 will be 100 years old in just three years, and having it fully assessed and on display by then could be a project to work toward. Meanwhile, progress continues on rebuilding one of NYMT’s ex-Johnstown Traction Co. K35 controllers. K35 controllers accommodate four traction motors up to 65 horsepower each and are well suited to 437. Several controllers have contributed parts including a new top cover and reverse drum plates. Currently, the reverse fingers are being cleaned.
Charlie Lowe wrestles the main shaft into position as he rebuilds a K35 controller for eventual use on 437.
The 16 fingers, all mounted on a wood block, have been removed from the controller for wire brushing, and half are now finished. Charles Lowe
New York State Railways, Rochester and Eastern Johnson’s Crossing Waiting Shelter: Don Quant is leading the effort to re-roof the waiting shelter, which is the first thing our visitors see as they drive in, and which has been getting dangerously close to self destruction. Don’s getting help from Randy Bogucki, Joe DiBenedetto, Jim Dierks, and Dick Luchterhand. Detailed plans have been developed and the hope is that the project can be completed before winter. Don has cut, painted, and installed four mahogany eave boards and completed the re-roofing on two of the four sides. Doing each of the four sides in succession, the old roofing is being removed and roof boards covered with plywood. A tar paper layer is then nailed to the plywood. Asphalt shingles that can stand up to the fierce winds at NYMT are then nailed in place to finish the project. Don Quant
New York State Railways, Rochester and Eastern interurban car 157: During this past summer’s trolley celebrations we received a warm letter of congratulations from an old friend of the museum, Ed Blossom. He reminded us of the many traction enthusiasts around the country who contributed to 157 when it was located at the Magee Transportation Museum in Bloomsburg, PA, in the early ‘70’s. Ed specifically mentioned the late Rich and Birdie Wagner, who helped the campaign through their publication, "Trolley Talk". We thank them all for their far-sighted devotion to preserving history. Now that 157 has standard gauge trucks, generously donated by the Sanyo Electric Railway of Kobe, Japan, we are anxious to complete P&W 161 and move that car outside, in order to place 157 on its new trucks. We hope the many contributors from the 1970’s are aware of 157’s beautiful exterior restoration, and know that they are always welcome to come see the good they have done. Jim Dierks
Well, we didn’t get any takers on our suggestion in the last issue to try calculating the performance characteristics for a compressed air streetcar, but we have gotten some feedback. Thanks to several members who called and complimented us on the last issue, including Bill Davis from the Charlotte Lighthouse who had further information to share.
A key source for the article was Mark Brader in Toronto, who offered a correction on his information which we quoted regarding the early uses of compressed air to propel a vehicle. According to Mark’s translation of a sign at the Urban Transport Museum outside Paris, early experiments were given a trial run at Chaillot in 1840, but the idea was then put on the shelf. In 1876, the first compressed air vehicle to run in streetcar service, built by a Mr. Mekarski, was tested in Paris, and in February 1879 compressed air cars simultaneously began operation there and in Nantes (where Mekarski ran the local streetcar system). There apparently were some accidents that caused the Paris tests to be suspended, but Mekarski kept at it, thus establishing the first regular service of his self-propelled compressed air cars. Mark sent us his 7-page translation of the complete sign, with lots of juicy technical details including the various systems used to "reheat" the expanding air so that it wouldn’t freeze the water vapor and lubricating oils. Hot water was tried (heated by steam at each end of the streetcar line), and later a small coke-burning firebox was employed. If we somehow haven’t satisfied all your interest in compressed air streetcar history, come out and peruse our file in the Archive Room.
Ed Blossom wrote to say that our trolley line bracket arms came from the coalfield electric railway at the Locust Summit Breaker of Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron Company.
Looking through the Guest Book in our Visitor Center, we note that people have come to see us from throughout the U.S. and Canada, and several foreign countries. We always enjoy their comments: "Wonderful place—preserving the past"; "It’s become a family tradition to come every year. Great. Thanks."; "A treasure in our own back yard"; "Worth the visit"; and our favorite: "It smells good—I’m serious! Educational and informative".
And there’s always the audience response when we present a museum slide talk. One lady at the Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, NY told us that Humphrey Bogart’s mother had family in Rochester and she would visit here (sometimes bringing little Humphrey along). She was known to ride the Rochester and Eastern interurban line to Canandaigua to visit friends, and it was passed around that she not only smoked, but when boarding the car, she…omigosh…showed her ankles!
At the same slide talk, after we brought back memories with a few Phoebe Snow jingles, a Bath resident was recalled as having problems with soot from DL&W steam locomotives getting all over her laundry hanging in her backyard. Friends reminded her of the Road of Anthracite’s famous advertising maiden who, dressed in white, extolled the virtues of clean-burning engines, to which she grumpily replied, "Yeah, but Phoebe Snow doesn’t do my laundry!"
And then there was this nice note from one of our members who gave a gift membership to her son and passed on some of his recent comments. On his way home, the son stopped at another transportation museum that shall remain nameless. He says, "While this museum is open every day during the summer, it doesn’t hold a candle to the New York Museum of Transportation for exhibits or friendliness and helpfulness of staff". Our member’s grandson liked the wide selection of books he was able to choose from in our Gift Shop, too.
We always look forward to feedback, especially when it’s so complimentary about the hard work and dedication put in by the volunteer staff. Thanks, and let’s keep hearing from you!
THE LITTLE THINGS COUNT TOO
Among the big and heavy trolley cars and highway vehicles that are the featured attractions at our museum, visitors also enjoy the smaller, ancillary artifacts that provide the setting and background that are important to our understanding of history. Thanks to the street sign people of Monroe County, we’ve managed to save a rare century-old Rochester street sign that once heard the rumble of streetcars and interurbans (including our R&E 157) on nearby Monroe Avenue.
The street sign dates back to the days of horse-drawn vehicles, so Randy Bogucki mounts it near our buggy and sleigh.
We’re fortunate that our museum is situated in a beautiful part of the Genesee valley amid acres of woodlands and rolling hills. Luckier still, our next-door neighbors to the north are two of the nicest people, who appreciate history and actually enjoy having us nearby. Meet Bill Shattuck and Ann Stevens…neighbors, museum members and volunteers.
Bill’s background goes back to dairy farming in Monkton, Vermont, south of Burlington. He studied dairying at the University of Vermont, and went on to help run the family farm. It had been in the family for six generations, and there were about 60 Holsteins milking.
Ann hailed from Perinton, where her parents still live, and majored in cinema studies at New York University, with a minor in art (weaving). Ann found her way to Vermont and a job working for Bill on the farm, and they married in 1986.
Bill eventually decided to pursue career directions other than dairy farming. He had always loved woodworking, so he and Ann headed for Pennsylvania where Bill took up an apprenticeship with Jeffrey Greene Design Studio in New Hope. While there, Ann pursued her interest in weaving and other crafts. After a year or so, they relocated back to the Rochester area where Bill made custom hardwood furniture for private and commercial customers. Meanwhile, Ann had jobs in various arts organizations here and became production editor of publications at the George Eastman House. They both pursued crafts and often showed their works at area events like the Clothes Line Art Show.
Soon, the call of the outdoors took Bill first to a job at Rodney Farms and then to several years with Conservation Associates, a small environmentally sensitive landscaping firm. Ann joined the Saunders Group’s Silver Pixel Press Division, and served as an editor there for four years.
Bill Shattuck and Ann Stevens talk over the next phase of their house restoration project. Tyler is all ears, so to speak.
Currently, both are in business for themselves. Ann’s "East River Editorial" operation has her editing books on cameras, photography, and related technical subjects. Her customers include Xerox and RIT students. Bill does landscaping, landscape architecture, woodworking and house restoration, and his business is known as "Bill Shattuck Restoration". His mission is to "bring back the old", and he is currently reglazing windows for a customer with a large old house in Attica, NY.
Ann and Bill’s home is a continuous restoration project as befits a structure that dates back to 1830 with an addition in 1860. Originally built in the Federal style, the house was remodeled to Greek Revival with the 1860 addition. Bill has repaired major structural damage caused by water. The wood sill foundation has been restored and much of the siding repaired too. They both take pride in keeping the house and grounds as original as reasonably possible, and the split rail fence along our mutual property line enhances the period look of both our properties. By the way, among the previous owners of the Shattuck/Stevens house are museum members John and Marion Remelt, whose son Charlie, also one of our members, grew up there.
Both Bill and Ann keep an eye on our museum when we’re not there, and there have been several occasions in the past when they’ve called to alert us to questionable circumstances. It’s comforting to have alert and caring neighbors. More than that, Bill has over the years done a lot of mowing for us, and helped us with trimming of tree limbs and branches that overhang our rail line and trolley wire. He has donated (and planted!) a maple tree, a buckthorn tree, a pine tree, a forsythia bush and a barberry bush for future generations of visitors to enjoy. They both like to see the activity next door, with the track cars arriving and departing, visitors coming and going, the calliope tooting away. We’re sure it helps that we keep the curve greased to minimize flange squeal, but they say all the activity is "just perfect".
In fact, Bill and Ann have a special affection for history and our nation’s heritage. They seek out other transportation museums when they travel, and Ann tells us, "We believe in having museums in our lives, teaching the community about our history". They are "thrilled" to have a museum for a neighbor and appreciate our community service, sharing our love of transportation history with the visiting public.
Well, we appreciate having such interested and understanding neighbors, with the extra benefit of having them as members and helpers as we continue to grow. Thanks to you both!
AN OFFER WE ( AND YOU) CAN’T REFUSE
Dick Barrett is a long-time local member of NYMT as well as a knowledgeable collector of railroadiana and author of several books. Dick owns Railroad Research Publications, and RRP’s catalogue of books will be ready for mailing in early November. In that catalogue is a special offer: Buyers who pay a $2 surcharge to have the book they are ordering personally autographed by the author will have their $2 matched by RRP, and the $4 total will be donated to NYMT. The donations will be earmarked for archiving materials to help in our continuing effort to preserve our collection of photographs, artwork, articles, and numerous paper artifacts for future researchers. Books include Mary Hamilton Dann’s "Rochester and Genesee Valley Rails" and "Upstate Odyssey—the Lehigh Valley Railroad in Upstate New York", and Dick’s own books: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Railroad Lighting (Vol. I the railroad lantern and Vol. II the railroad signal lamp), Railroad Locks and Keys (Vol. I the Adams & Westlake Co.), and Boston’s Depots and Terminals. Order your catalogue by writing to Railroad Research Publications, PMB266, 3400 Ridge Road West, Suite 5, Rochester, NY 14626. A great Christmas gift idea, and helps the museum too! Thanks Dick!
FIRE AND EMERGENCY VOLUNTEERS HONORED
On August 12 the museums thanked the men and women in our area who volunteer for service as firemen and emergency medical technicians. The idea came from RGVRRM’s Mike Byrne, himself an EMT with Greece Volunteer Ambulance, and we were glad to see many of these special people show up with their families for a day of fun at a special admission price. Who could imagine the tragedy to befall our country—and to take the lives of so many brave and selfless emergency personnel—just a month later?
Carey Dell studies the nicely restored 1953 Chevrolet patrol car provided by the Monroe County Sheriff’s department.
Manning the sign-up desk by our 1941 Mack fire truck were Sean Brown and Robbie Dell.
A familiar face showed up at our summer celebration, "Trolleys Return to Rochester". Bob Northrup, who along with his dad was an early and dedicated volunteer for the museum, came by for a trolley ride and to get caught up on all that’s been happening in the past few years.
Conversation turned to a project that was important to him before family priorities forced him to sign off the volunteer list—Car 0243. You may know that our Stephenson single-truck car, which we believe was built in 1891 (making it one of the oldest electric trolleys in captivity), survived in operable condition in Rochester right up to the end of trolley service in 1941. It now poses in its partially-restored state as a diorama with mannequins representing workmen "building" the car.
A few weeks later, Bob came by again. This time, he had one of the controllers for 0243 with him! He had completely restored it years ago, and just never had the chance to bring it in. Thanks, Bob, for some nice work.
About the only things that give this "period" picture away are the NYS window stickers on Bob’s 1928 Model A Ford pickup.
THIS JUST IN…
…literally! Your museum has just acquired new trolley wire and an assortment of overhead hardware sufficient to complete electrification of the joint rail line. We’ve made great progress on our dream over the past five years, first with the arrival of fully operational ex-P&W cars 161 and 168, then the installation of poles and overhead wire on 1/3 of a mile of line and completion of a diesel generator set (with thanks to RGVRRM!), and finally our first public trolley operations this past summer. Now we have the necessary materials to move on down the line! Our thanks go to Fred and Chris Perry for making this acquisition possible, and to Rick Holahan, Jim Dierks, and Ted Strang for handling the delivery.
Chris Perry, with the family fork lift, loads the last of the trolley overhead parts as Rick Holahan ponders the long drive home.
MUSEUM VEHICLES OBSERVE BIRTHDAYS
You know how much we in the museum enjoy anniversaries, and they seem to keep popping up. For example, on June 30 this past summer as we were celebrating the start of trolley operations on the museum rail line, we noted that we did so 45 years to the day after the Rochester Subway ceased passenger operations.
By the way, we should also have noted that the last of Rochester’s interurban trolley lines—the Rochester & Syracuse Railway—finished its final run 70 years before our big event, on June 28, 1931. Not quite 70 years to the day, but close enough to merit mentioning.
Looking around the museum, we discovered some other milestones to celebrate. Each of the three motor vehicles on exhibit in the back barn was having a special birthday, and we hadn’t even noticed.
Our 1951 Chevrolet 4-door sedan, sturdy symbol of the post-WW II suburbanization of our country, is basking in the golden glow of its 50th birthday.
Our Mack fire truck, built in 1941, can take credit for 60 years—hard to believe each time the engine fires up and the truck rolls out to another parade!
And the 1926 International truck, a favorite with kids who jump into the cab and enjoy "driving around", is celebrating its diamond jubilee this year…a full 75 years on the planet and still looking good. Happy birthdays gang!
According to the owner’s manual, our ’51 Chevy came with a light "breaking in" oil to be changed after 500 miles.
LOTS MORE NEWS
This issue of HEADEND has a rubber-tired theme, but the smell of ozone is definitely in the air. In our next issue we hope to tell you more about our electrification progress. Also, Ted Thomas is rebuilding and updating our website—watch for news on that and for details about the work he’s done computerizing our archives, complete with searchable images from the collection. All this and more in the Winter issue of HEADEND, the journal of the New York Museum of Transportation—YOUR museum. Happy holidays!
HEADEND is published four times a year by the New York Museum of Transportation, © 2001. All rights reserved. No portion of this newsletter may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher.
Editor Jim Dierks
Contributing Editor Charles Lowe
Printing Doug Anderson
Publication Gil and Ruth Magraw