Article From the Spring 2002 Issue of


The Journal of the New York Museum of Transportation


Our "victim" in this issue can count among his many interests the editorship of the Semaphore, the monthly newsletter of the Rochester Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. So we’d better watch our step. And our syntax. Meet a volunteer with many interests: Gale Smith.

Gale tells us he was born in the family farmhouse one cold winter morning, a couple of hours shy of Lincoln’s birthday, next to a Victorian "base burner" stove that burned anthracite coal. The blue flames dancing behind the mica windows that encircled the stove helped kindle an interest in trains and other big things, an interest that burns brightly in him today.

There was plenty of railroad action to stoke that fire in Gale’s youth. He grew up in the grandly named burg of Ohio City, Ohio, where the east-west mainline of the Erie Railroad was crossed by the north-south Cincinnati Northern (NYC) and the northeast-southwest Cloverleaf (Nickel Plate). Many of us can relate when Gale says there were lots of times when the Erie’s two afternoon passenger trains, one heading east and the other west, tended to draw his classroom attention away from the teacher. The Erie was under steam back then, so it must have been an irresistible distraction.

Speaking of steam, during World War II, Gale’s dad went to work for Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio, and the family moved there for a year and a half. Gale says he "spent many an afternoon, touring the perimeter of the loco works, ending up on a highway bridge that went over the NKP yards (LE&W). This location gave excellent views of yard activity and a portion of the loco works. I was able to marvel at the freshly painted SP Daylights as they emerged from the paint shop". Back in those days of brightly painted streamlined steam, such as the famous Southern Pacific Daylight 4-8-4 "Daylights", it’s no wonder Gale had a fascination for trains.

While in Lima, the family spent every Saturday shopping in Van Wert, the county seat and…joy unbounded…a station on the Pennsylvania Railroad mainline. Gale remembers vividly the thrill of watching the streamlined T-1 steamers pulling into town. He recalls that most of the Pennsy’s exotic and experimental steam locomotives were confined for clearance reasons to the Crestline-to-Chicago mainline through there, but those shopping trips were apparently too brief, as he doesn’t recall seeing anything but T-1’s. (continued on page 7)

Once back in little Ohio City, Gale got a job at the village’s drug store, where one of his assigned duties on Saturday evenings was to retrieve the Chicago Tribune shipment that came in at the depot on the 10 p.m. Erie train. He remembers that the colorful age of streamlining had captured the attention of the locals, as many of them would gather at the station just to see the new Alco PA and EMD E-8 diesels that the Erie was putting into passenger service. The station, by the way, sounds like a good candidate for a model railroad project. It served all three railroads, with three separate ticket offices inside, a large waiting room, and central heat. Topping the depot was the interlocking tower to control the traffic at the junction.

Traces of the Midwest’s vast network of interurban electric lines could still be found in Gale’s younger days. More recently, he reports spotting classic brick trolley depots from the Fort Wayne, Van Wert and Lima in Middlepoint, OH and Monroeville, IN, and he notes that the one in Convoy, OH which incorporated a substation, also featured a brick "2-holer" out back for the convenience of patrons and staff. Gale was able to get some photos about twenty years ago before the large interurban car barn and shops were torn down in Lima, and he notes that the former interurban station downtown is, at last visit, a city annex building.

Gale majored in Chemistry at Bowling Green State University, in Bowling Green, OH, and after the draft interrupted his studies, he eventually earned his PhD from Michigan State University, with his doctoral project in metal-ammonia solutions. Apparently all that time staring out the school window at passing trains didn’t hurt much! He began his career at Kodak in the research laboratories in 1963, and after a number of interesting assignments, ended up doing research on lithographic plates. Gale considered this work a "golden plum", as he had always been interested in printing. He had edited his high school newspaper and yearbook, and had his own offset print shop at his Rochester home.

"Soon after my arrival in Rochester, I was invited to tour the Wurlitzer theater pipe organ in the RKO Palace Theater, and was hooked—not on classical organs, but on the theater organs developed to provide one-man orchestras for silent film accompaniment", says Gale. We can understand that fascination every time we crank up the player calliope at NYMT! Gale got involved with the Rochester Theater Organ Society—originally formed to provide monthly concerts but which was soon caught up in saving that RKO Palace organ, currently in the Auditorium Theater. That success prompted the society to obtain another, smaller Wurlitzer theater pipe organ which first had to be refurbished. Gale soon found his garage and basement filled with chests, console and relay components awaiting work!

Besides providing free storage for organ parts and serving in just about all the organization’s executive positions, Gale’s time was also devoted back then to publishing the theater organ society’s newsletter, with all the hard work of typing, re-typing, pasting copy (literally), working with halftones and metal printing plates. He continues to help the society with newsletter distribution. As we mentioned, he eventually took over editing of the NRHS chapter’s newsletter, some time after joining that group around 1990. Gale finds real satisfaction keeping the chapter members informed, but is happy to note some important differences from his days with the theater organ society’s bulletin: chapter members provide most of the copy, and the introduction of computers and laser printers has revolutionized the whole routine.

Soon after joining NRHS, Gale’s interest in interurban trolleys prompted him to join NYMT as well. His first big accomplishment with us was in the Archives, providing a detailed cataloguing of 17 boxes of papers and blueprints obtained from Rochester’s New York Central station just before it was demolished. Gale tells us that while the paper documents are fragile from age, he is surprised "that the many blueprints are in excellent condition, probably because the ammonia process used in producing them neutralized any acid in the paper".

Gale also provides invaluable help from time to time selling tickets and waiting on customers in the Gift Shop. He notes that these jobs are not only important but fun too, and we’re glad he can spare the time to help there. Competition for Gale’s time comes from his continuing interest in theater organs, a number of pet birds (including Hans II, a cockatoo you’ll hear in the background on any phone call to Gale), and a cabinet in the basement overflowing with N-gauge model train equipment.

For the future, Gale nominates Hans II for work on electrification…the bird likes to chew on things and the other day he was caught chewing on the vacuum
Versatile Gale Smith has done time in the Archives and
also handles Gift Shop and ticket sales. Ted Thomas photo

cleaner cord while it was plugged in. For Gale, however, he enjoys the ticket job and archive work, and has indicated that he’d like to get more involved in working on, and running, the museum’s HO model railroad. The talents, backgrounds and accomplishments of our volunteers—people like Gale Smith—continue to astound us. Thanks Gale!