Article From the Winter 2003 Issue of
The Journal of the New York Museum of Transportation
There’s much to satisfy the varied interests of volunteers at our museum—history, vehicles, dealing with the public, the technologies of transportation, and so on. And some of us reveal our particular interests early in life. It seems Roger Harnaart developed an interest in things technical at a young age, and we’re glad he did. Welcome to the spotlight, Roger.
Born in Sodus, New York just in time for the Great Depression, Roger grew up east of the village, and remembers his youth fondly. The family’s property backed up to the New York Central’s Hojack line, and whenever Roger and his playmates heard a train, they’d all come running. Apparently the trains kept the kids "on pins and needles" as they liked to put pins and needles on the rails (sometimes pennies, but back then pennies were worth saving). With his technical bent already showing, Roger observed that the pins would flatten and fall off when the heavy locomotive’s wheels ran over them, but the needles, being much harder, would get pressed into the steel rail surface. Note to readers: Let’s take Roger’s word for this, and don’t run your own experiment. The CSX mainline is a far cry from the Hojack!
While at Sodus Central School, Roger was photo editor of the senior yearbook. Since pictures of all the classes in the Sodus school system were included in the book, he had to go around to the five or six one-room country schoolhouses still harboring first through sixth graders. Having gotten interested in photography when he was 8 or 9 years old, Roger says he must have taken pictures of those Hojack trains, but he hasn’t dug that deep in his "files" yet.
Roger remembers playing around trains at the Sodus Cold Storage plant, owned by a friend’s father. It was a great place to play on hot summer days. In the warehouse, there were rooms and wide aisles, with stacks of locally grown apples, celery, potatoes, etc., as well as World War II food supplies in storage. The "reefers" on the siding at the plant were also a source of fun. Roger and his friends played inside the ice chutes in these refrigerated cars, and ran along the catwalks atop the reefers. He remembers having to stop running before carefully leaping across the gap between the car tops, and only later working up the courage to make the leap without stopping. Once, they released the air on a block of parked refrigerator cars. Hmmm…. time for another note to our readers…
Like so many families back then, Roger’s had members in the railroad business. His mother’s dad was a section foreman on the New York Central, and he worked out of Sodus, then Lycoming (East of Oswego, NY) and finally Richland (East of Pulaski, NY on the Watertown line). Roger remembers the wye at Richland, and still has his grandfather’s Illinois pocket watch, which still keeps good time. Grandpa’s son…Roger’s uncle…kept up the family tradition and worked out of Rochester on the NYC. Roger recalls that his uncle was responsible for driving a rail-wheeled limousine that served as an inspection car. Although he’s not sure where the car was based, it was driven on the Hojack several times. (Cont’d p.7)
Roger graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology in 1952 with an associate degree in Electrical Technology. He had started at Syracuse University, but got tired waiting through the preliminary courses to get to the "interesting stuff". He did co-op work with Rochester Gas & Electric Corporation, the company where his father was a line foreman based in Sodus and who retired from a 41-year career there. Serving in the Electric Meter & Lab Department at RG&E, Roger was involved in testing products that RG&E sold, such as stoves and refrigerators, and tested and calibrated all the company instruments, customer meters, and so on. The department also served as the National Bureau of Standards local reference lab, performing test and calibration work for area firms and utilities.
Once he graduated from RIT, Roger stayed with RG&E, but soon found himself called to Korea by Uncle Sam. He spent 1953 and 1954 as a radar system repairman for the Army there, and also made radio frequency crystals. He remembers the trains there after the armistice as random operations made up any way that was possible. With facilities and equipment in disarray, trains would sometimes come in with steam locomotives running in reverse, or even pushing a train. Roger got to tour the steam locomotive back shop at Yong Dong Po, south of Seoul. He also recalls the trolleys running across the river bridge between the two cities.
Back stateside, Roger found himself in the same department, but moved on to meter installation, the introduction of demand meters, and other areas. One of his main on-going responsibilities was keeping track of M-scopes, which were used to trace gas pipes underground. As technology evolved, he got involved in closed circuit television, the company’s private phone system, and remote control of substations (first by wire, then by radio). He was also foreman in the two-way radio shop. In 1992, after a 42-year career at RG&E that took him from the top of the East Avenue headquarters building to the depths of the penstock at Station 5 (in the Genesee River gorge by Driving Park bridge), Roger retired.
Time apparently doesn’t weigh too heavily on his hands. Roger is a ham radio operator (WB2BWQ) and a member of the Rochester Amateur Radio Association. His wife of 47 years, Ruth, has her license, as does their son, Ken. Other interests include his 21 years in the Genesee Valley Volunteer Fire Department where he worked his way up to House Captain and President. Roger and Ruth enjoy traveling, and in 1993 did a swing out west that included Promontory, Utah; a glimpse of Union Pacific’s steam locomotives at Cheyenne, Wyoming; and a stop at the National Museum of Transport at St. Louis.
On top of all this, Roger has spent 26 years coordinating radio communications at check points for the Sports Car Club of America rallies, and does lots of amateur radio public service work, including the Monroe County Office of Emergency Preparedness, so vital in today’s world.
Roger’s involvement at NYMT came via yet another interest of his—volunteering at WXXI in Rochester. Another NYMT volunteer who also volunteers at WXXI, Ted Thomas, suggested Roger come out and see what was going on at our place. He discovered another mutual acquaintance, Don Quant, with whom Roger worked years ago in Don’s RG&E days. Always ready to lend a hand where it is needed, Roger has helped tarp P&W car 168, mowed the lawn, "moved stuff", and helped with the complex wiring of the museum’s model railroad. He’s currently working on getting the signals and grade crossing flashers to function with trains operating in either direction on the mainlines. Roger made a major contribution to car 168 crew safety and convenience when he constructed and installed an extended stirrup step at one end of the car. This will make it much easier for operating crew to climb down to reverse poles at the end of the line.
With the skills and experience Roger Harnaart has to offer, and his ready willingness to help, we see a bright future for him at NYMT. Trolley operations are on the horizon, and he says he’s looking forward to helping make that happen. So are we!