Article From the Summer 2002 Issue of


The Journal of the New York Museum of Transportation


In the roaring 20ís, out in the farm country of northwest Illinois, the folks in Sterling enjoyed frequent train service on the Chicago and North Western Systemís Chicago-Omaha mainline. They also had branch line service on the Burlington, including a gas doodlebug from Chicago by way of Paw Paw and Amboy. By the 1940ís, though, the Qís service had been downgraded to a mixed train. And of all those beautiful new Union Pacific streamliners operated on the C&NW, only the City of Denver bothered to stop, the rest of them flying through in a cloud of ballast dust.

But something special happened in Sterling in the interim. Robert C. Nesbitt was born there on January 27, 1936 and began his long journey into the NYMT Volunteer Spotlight!

Bob grew up in Sterling to the wail of steam whistles and the piercing honk of diesel air horns. He lived in town and liked to ride his bike with his friends the 2 Ĺ blocks to the North Westernís mainline to see the show. Of special interest was a wayside signal that sometimes required a freight train to stop. Bob remembers all the smoke and noise when the big steamerís drivers would lose traction and spin as the hogger tried to get the train started again. After attending public schools there and graduating from high school in 1954, he began a 5-year college career. He began at Carthage College in Carthage, Illinois and spent three years there. In September 1957, he moved on to the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. The result was graduation two years later with both a BA degree in Chemistry from Carthage College and a BS in Chemical Engineering from IIT.

When he enlisted in the Army in June 1959, he joined the Chemical Corps. He went through basic training at Fort Leonardwood, Missouri, and then went on to Fort McClellan in Alabama for the chemical school. The rest of his enlistment was spent at Fort Detrick, Maryland, center for the Armyís biological research work.

Bob met Peggy Mossburg while at Fort Detrick and they were married in 1961. With discharge from the Army due in June 1962, Bob began interviewing for an engineering position in private industry, and was hired by Rochester Gas & Electric Corp. They moved to Rochester that July and have been here ever since, raising their two children, Kathy Williamson and Rob Nesbitt. Bob and Peggy are blessed with four grandchildren, a boy and a girl from each family, and the whole clan lives in the Rochester area.

Bob worked for RG&E for 32 years, spending the entire time in the gas division. He started at East

    Two of Bobís grandchildren, Joe Nesbitt and his sister
                  Station, near Smith Street, working there for about
     Jordan, help maintain the museumís HO model pike.                           10 years.

Ted Thomas photo

Anyone remember the big gas storage tanks located there and near Blossom Road? Bob explains that originally gas was manufactured by RG&E, extracting the gas from a coke operation across the Genesee River near Beebee Station. As consumption rose due to more and more people converting from coal for heating, natural gas pipelines became prevalent and local manufacture was no longer needed. Catalytic converters were used at first to reduce the BTU level of the pipeline gas to the lower, coke-gas level that customersí facilities were designed for. One of Bobís main responsibilities at RG&E was to direct the major effort to convert customer facilities to be able to utilize the higher BTU gas. A program was set up, converting customers one city segment at a time. Once that was completed, around 1975, the old gas storage tanks were dismantled. Bob says that at todayís usage of gas by RG&E customers, the total capacity of the storage tanks (14 million cubic feet) would be used up on a typical winter day in about an hour! Bob moved on to the Jefferson Road office for positions in the Gas Engineering and Gas Planning Departments, and retirement came in October 1994.

The Nesbitts are neighbors to our museum, living on Telephone Road a short distance away. They go to church in Geneseo, attending St. Timothy Lutheran Church where Bob has served as Treasurer and as a member of the Congregation Council since 1998.

Bob still has his 1948 Lionel train, set up and operating at home, along with an HO layout as well. He joined the ranks of NYMT volunteers in 1999 and the following year was certified for track car operations. Since then, however, he has spent more time in the model railroad room. His valuable help there includes debugging, rewiring, and operating the layout for visitors on Sundays. Bob has also been helpful with group tours and is currently learning the ropes in that area so heíll be able to serve as a tour guide.

Thanks to Bob Nesbitt, our popular HO model railroad continues to thrive and perform. Weíre glad heís with us, and if we ever get a trolley that runs on natural gas, we know who to call!