Article From the Spring 2001 Issue of


The Journal of the New York Museum of Transportation



Charles Lowe

Now that the museum has operated its first car under wire (October 24, 2000), a great deal of interest has been generated in the wire itself. For over 25 years, a large spool of copper trolley wire has been stored at NYMT in the hope that one day it would be placed over the museum railroad. How the wire came to NYMT is quite a story.

The very last small-city streetcar operation in the United States was Johnstown Traction Company in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. JTC abandoned its last streetcar lines in 1960 but kept its electric trolley bus routes in operation until 1963. For several years after the abandonment of electric operations, stores of overhead line materials including trolley wire remained in storage at the JTC car house. In 1969, Louisiana railfan Louis C. Hennick purchased trolley wire from JTC. Hennick wrote in 1973 that he "paid $1,782.00 for one reel of 2/0 grooved wire (1980 pounds), stored 1973 in J.T.C. carhouse". The wire apparently was intended for the Ark-La-Tex Street & Interurban Railway Museum, Inc., an organization Hennick was connected with.

By 1973, it was obvious that the Ark-La-Tex museum had no immediate use for the wire. Ed Blossom, a streetcar restoration expert connected with NYMT in its early years, arranged for NYMT developers Henry Hamlin and Bill Morris to purchase Hennickís wire. Hamlin and Morris purchased the wire for an initial payment of $200 on May 5, 1973, and a final payment of $1,550 on September 17, 1973. The spool, with a total weight of 2,345 pounds, was moved for a $71.76 shipping cost from Johnstown to Riverton between November 7th and 13th, 1973. The spool of wire was then rolled into the milking parlor of the museum facility where it reposed for the next 25 years.

The spool of wire and its museum-made wire car are ready for further overhead line extension due this summer.

When interest in electrifying the museum railroad at NYMT re-awakened in 1995, it was assumed that the wire was indeed 2/0 wire and nearly a mile in length. Actual measurements indicate the wire actually is about 0.4" in diameter, or a larger 3/0 wire. The total length on the spool therefore was calculated to be about 3,900 feet, or ĺ mile in length. Deducting the 1,100 feet used during the 2000 construction season, a total of 2,800 feet of wire remains on the spool. This would be enough to extend the electrification nearly to Reidís Crossing, near the halfway point between NYMT and R&GVRRM.

The wire left on the spool appears very smooth and kink-free, but two very rough wire splices will need replacement. All in all, though, the 1973 purchase of trolley wire was a very wise investment and played a pivotal role in bringing the first phase of our electrification to reality. Thanks to Henry Hamlinís continuing generous support, extension of our electrification program has the green light to go ahead, and the realization of a long-held dream will be ours to celebrate.