Article From the Winter 2004 Issue of


The Journal of the New York Museum of Transportation



By Charles R. Lowe

As part of a year-long celebration of the centennial of the Rochester and Eastern Rapid Railway, we present this look at the initial runs on the R&E, condensed from a forthcoming book by Charlie Lowe. He notes that construction of the R&E had been in progress since early 1902 on the line’s Rochester-Canandaigua section, and that by late summer of 1903, most work there was completed, and a short section just north of Canandaigua was made operational.

The temptation to make an initial test run over the new railway led to a trial trip on Sunday, September 20, 1903. With power and a car supplied by Canandaigua’s Ontario Light and Traction, R&E officials were able to venture out over their new line for the first time. The group reached Emerson Road, finding the track to be in "splendid shape—smooth and firm." This run was the very first electrical operation over any portion of the R&E.

A second test run was made on Sunday, October 4, 1903. Again, an OL&T car and OL&T power was used. The test run of October 4 was made all the way to Victor. Amazed Victor residents had no advance notice of the event. The impressed Victor Herald observed that this car was the first "in the history of the world" to operate from Canandaigua to Victor.

         An early map of the R&E shows the route on which the first public operation took place, between Canandaigua and Victor.

One of the last items of work to be finished before railway operations could begin was placement of telephone wires along the R&E. Rather than use a telegraph as on steam railroads, the innovative R&E planned to dispatch all cars by telephone. With completion of this work between Canandaigua and Victor, and the beginning of trial operation of the R&E powerhouse in Canandaigua, it was decided to commence service between those two points.

Four R&E cars had been delivered and one had been placed on its trucks and otherwise outfitted by R&E shop forces. On October 15, the powerhouse was connected to the trolley wire and the rails, and the one operable R&E car was run out of the car house and onto Main Street as far as the Phelps Street Wye. A test run as far as Victor may very well have occurred on the 16th although no record of such a run has survived. At 7 a.m. on Saturday, October 17, regular R&E service began with runs being made over the 10.3-mile section of the R&E between Canandaigua and Victor. In Canandaigua, a ticket station was opened in the Western Union telegraph office on Main Street at Niagara Street. Only one car was used, and since no turning facilities such as a loop or wye were present at the Victor station, a temporary controller and air brake control must have been placed on the car’s rear platform to permit safe backing moves. The scheduled time for the run to Victor was 36 minutes, and after a nine-minute layover, the car would proceed back to Canandaigua.

Rochester & Eastern interurban car 6 was part of the fleet
that brought speed, cleanliness and luxury to area travel.

One round trip every 90 minutes was scheduled throughout daylight hours for a total of eight round trips per day.

Almost immediately, one Canandaiguan dubbed the yellowish-orange interurban car "The Orange Limited," a name which soon became an official nickname for cars that stopped only at major stations on the line. Newspaper reports called the car the "yellow flyer" in reference to its speed and color. Although many first-day riders were merely satisfying a curiosity about the new line, the Ontario County Times ruefully observed that "some of those who ‘trolleyed’ into town…on Saturday [October 17], did so for the purpose of getting acquainted with Canandaigua whiskey…to their own discomfiture." On the next day, the lone R&E car carried 779 riders. The 6:51 p.m. arrival in Canandaigua carried 123 riders, considerably over the car’s 52-seat capacity; most if not all trips that day must have had many standees. Ticket fares were 15 cents one-way, 25 cents round-trip, and cash fares were 20 and 40 cents. A grand total of $115 in receipts was earned by the R&E on that glorious Sunday.

On the following Sunday, October 25, the R&E extended its operation to Park’s Siding near Fishers. There was no change made in the time schedule, the additional 2.6-mile distance covered from Victor being made up by faster runs and shorter layovers at terminals. As at the Victor station, no turning facilities were provided at Park’s Siding, and the temporarily double-ended interurban car must have continued as the lone car in service.

Another Sunday test run was made on the morning of November 8 using R&E car 3. On board were F. W. Walker, R&E Engineer, W. R. W. Griffin, R&E Superintendent, W. A Comstock, R&E Secretary, and R&E employees Frank Spohn and W. Ritter. The purpose of the trip was to check clearances along the streetcar tracks to be used in Rochester. While the line was traversed to Pittsford without incident, low power beyond this point required that one of the R&E’s steam construction locomotives haul the R&E car. In a few spots, the clearance train had to stop so the tracks could be cleared of construction debris. Nearing Rochester, the steam locomotive was left behind, probably at the Twelve Corners siding. Car 3 then continued on, using power supplied by Rochester Railway Company.

Although it was only 7 a.m., the interurban car attracted much attention. It was the largest electric car ever to roll in Rochester up to that time. Having entered the city on Monroe Avenue, car 3 crossed the Genesee River on Court Street and, turning onto Exchange Street, reached the Four Corners, the planned site of the Rochester terminal. The R&E car was then obliged to back down Exchange Street to be able to wye at Court Street for the return trip to Canandaigua. The only place on the entire trip where any problems were encountered was on the Court Street bridge where the car came a little close to some trolley poles. All streetcar curves, it was found, could easily be navigated by the big interurban car.

At 6 a.m. on Sunday, November 15, the first regular service car to Rochester set out from Canandaigua. The first trip started very well, with the 9 miles from Canandaigua’s north village line to Victor covered in just 8 minutes. Nearer to Rochester, rough ballasting forced cars to slow considerably, and it was difficult to maintain the schedule. During that first day of operation into Rochester, about 2,000 riders made use of the line, and many were forced to remain standing. All along the line, riders were waiting for rides.

After three days of somewhat irregular operations, R&E cars finally were able to run on schedule on November 18. Work on building the R&E would shift for the 1904 season to the Canandaigua-Geneva segment.