Article From the Spring 2004 Issue of
The Journal of the New York Museum of Transportation
By James C. Johnson
About all thatís left of the Batavia Traction Company is car 33ís wooden shell, one of the several trolley exhibits at our museum. The memories of those who once rode the Batavia cars have a way of bringing the car and the trolley era to life. Thanks to Jim Johnson, of Leroy, NY, the recollections of his father, the late Morris T. Johnson and his dadís brother, the late John E. Johnson, take us back to a time when the sparks flew over Main Street and kids could be counted on to breathe a little life into sleepy summer days.
It was the early 1920s. The two boys were young and always into pranks, and they had their share of fun with the Batavia trolley. One prank was to pull the trolley off the overhead wire. The motorman, a Mr. Brown, would have to walk back and place the pole back on the wire, and kick the boys off.
But kids everywhere knew the pull-the-trolley-off-the-wire trick, so these two gave Mr. B more to stew over. Sometimes the brothers would board, along with several friends, and on command from the ringleader all the boys would run to the back of the car. Since the car was just a 4-wheeler, all that weight at the rear would raise the front of the car off the rails, sometimes even turning the car sideways. On one occasion, the boys exited the car so quickly it came down with a thud and broke an axle spring. That time, the boys were taken home by the local police.
To set the stage for this next prank, remember that the track started on the east end of Batavia at 6 Clinton Street from the car barn, made a sharp left turn and west toward Main Street along a stone wall about 150 feet in length on the south side of Clinton. Mr. Johnson notes that this stone wall is still in place today.
The track would then run west on Main Street until Harvester Avenue where double track began. The tracks continued west through the business district until about Oak Street, where the line narrowed to single track again, ending at the fair grounds.
During the 4th of July, the boys liked fireworks. The trolley tracks were a great place to launch sky rockets, by laying the rocket in the flangeway of the trolley rail. Once lit, the rockets would skitter down the track, (Continued) causing much excitement. Several times, an automobile would come up the street with a rocket stuck in its radiator! The boys were again escorted home by the police.
Undeterred, the boys kept at it with the rockets-on-rails routine and again got in trouble. This time they sent the rocket up State Street, but the rails made a right turn and the rocket went airborne, passing through an open transom window of a ladies hat shop, exploding and setting fire to a display of hats. The boys again were taken home by Bataviaís finest, and their father, Dr. W. D. Johnson, paid for the damage to the store. The boys were forbidden to ride the trolley after that one.
The little trolley has Main Street to itself as Batavia languishes
in the sunshine of an upstate summer ca. 1905. NYMT Collection
As Morris Johnson grew into his teen years, Mr. Brown [apparently a pretty forgiving man] taught him how to operate the trolley so he could fill in when Mr. Brown was not well. Morris discovered that the 4-wheelers tended to derail on the sharp right-hand curve approaching the car barn, but he learned to apply grease to the outside rail to solve the problem.
Automobiles figure prominently in Mr. Johnsonís recollections, as one might expect. At times, cars would stall on the tracks, and he would give them a push with the streetcar to get them started. One time two motor vehicles had an accident at an intersection, and a chain was attached to the trolley car so it could pull the two autos apart. Another accident required the streetcar to pull an auto by chain up the street to a garage.
Morris Johnson loved the Batavia trolley, but never took pictures of them. In 1927 he did buy a Kodak movie camera. But by then the Batavia Traction Company was history.