Article From the Winter 2005 Issue of
The Journal of the New York Museum of Transportation
ED BLOSSOM 1930-2004
On November 22, 2004 our museum lost an important part of its own history with the death of Edward Blossom. A trolley enthusiast who devoted his whole life to preservation and restoration of electric trolleys, Blossom was a storehouse of traction information and never hesitated to share his knowledge with others.
Ed was born in 1930 when the family home was in Yonkers, NY. His mother died in childbirth. He reportedly had an early interest in trolleys which led to volunteer work in his teen years at Branford Trolley Museum. In 1963, Edís career took a turn from clerking in a Wilkes-Barre, PA hardware store when he bought Danville & Bloomsburg (PA) streetcars 10 and 11 that had been converted to cottages. The D&B had been abandoned for almost 40 years, but Edís dream was to restore the cars to operation and introduce people of the "modern" age to the trolley travel experience.
Contact with the operator of a steam train ride in Bloomsburg brought the opportunity to meet Harry Magee, wealthy owner of the Magee Carpet Company which was a manufacturer of fine-quality rugs and carpeting. Magee had that familiar love for vehicles of all types, and had acted on that affection by creating an antique car museum. He wanted to help Blossom preserve the two trolley bodies and agreed to let Ed store them in a barn at his Crescent Farm.
The two men got to know each other, and it didnít take long for visions of an enhanced museum featuring operating trolley cars to take hold. The farm became the site where the vision would become reality, and the Magee Transportation Museum was formed. Ed took a full-time position with Mageeís museum, and in 1968 and 1969 worked night and day to restore two classic open cars originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Totally devoted to this project, he would sleep in the trolley workshop, ready to hop off the cot at daybreak and resume his work.
Ed also was instrumental in the construction of the museumís rail line and installation of overhead wire to power the cars he was restoring. Soon, the public flocked to the Magee operation, viewing classic autos and carriages, enjoying tunes from antique music boxes, and riding the open trolleys that are so closely associated in the public mind with the carefree days of the late 19th century.
NYMTís archives contain two volumes from a series of scrapbooks maintained at the Magee museum, recording that operationís growth and development through photos and news clippings and revealing Ed Blossomís role there. The August 2, 1970 issue of the Williamsport (PA) Grit refers to Blossom as "Ödirector of the operating trolley car line and 12-car exhibit". The Scranton Sunday Times, in an October 24, 1971 article says that "Edward BlossomÖhas charge of the transportation section of the museum." Photos in the scrapbooks show Ed restoring, running and describing various trolley cars at the Magee Transportation Museum.
Group tours were important to Magee Transportation Museum.
Magee realized the need for an enclosed car for days when weather didnít suit the open cars, and one robust enough to stand up to the service needs at the museum. In 1970 Blossom rescued Pittsburgh Railways Co. 4145 from a Pittsburgh junk yard, then went to work on this steel car restoring it for the 1971 season. The carís most recent active assignment had been as a work car, and Ed had his work cut out for him. Once in service, the car was a success.
Sadly, the museumís glory days were brief. It suffered a fatal blow when Hurricane Agnes hit the east coast of the United States in the summer of 1972. Flash floods swept across the Magee property, destroying track and overhead wires beyond any hope of repair. Later in the summer, Magee himself began to slip, experiencing complications from a childhood spinal injury. On October 9, 1972, Harry Magee died, and the museumís inspiration and guiding light died with him.
The museumís collection of autos and carriages were cleaned of mud and debris left by the flood. Magee heirs sold much of this trove of vehicles, and then held an auction June 16, 1973 to get rid of the rest. The genesis of the New York Museum of Transportation came with this dismantling of the
Unfortunately for Ed, the end of the Magee museum left him with no place to continue storing other trolley equipment there that he personally owned. After assisting with the dismantling of trolley overhead and the sale of trolley cars, he was given his final paycheck and told to vacate the premises immediately. He managed to single-handedly move his Lehigh Valley Transit interurban, #801, in one day to a new storage location he had arranged.
Blossom needed a job, some place to store his vast collection of trolley parts and materials, and a way to stay involved with his love for trolley preservation. NYMT provided the perfect opportunity. By his own account, Ed made 75 trips to the developing NYMT museum site in Rush, NY through spring of 1974. The route he perfected took him through Dushore, PA where he eventually opened up his Dushore Car Company shop, followed in 1977 by a move to Topton, PA.
After Edís 1973-1974 contributions to the start-up of NYMT, he concentrated on his own trolley collection and the pursuit of a suitable place for their operation. The idea of a trolley museum in Scranton, PA was floated and gaining favor, no doubt with Ed Blossom one of the louder cheerleaders. In 1984, a trolley division of Steamtown was inaugurated. In October of the following year, Ed moved former Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company/SEPTA 7 from Topton to Scranton. He expected to soon move himself and his restoration business to Scranton too, but planning and fund raising complications delayed his move into the late 1990s.
As NYMTís own electrification dreams took a dramatic turn toward reality at about the same time, correspondence with Blossom brought news of his efforts and frustrations at that time. Each lengthy letter, laboriously typed out on an old-fashioned typewriter and loaded with flowery language, wandered from subject to subject, always including news that one or another car was "due to be moved soon". Phone calls to Blossom were just as interesting, as he was invariably in his car shop either under a remote part of a trolley or catching some shut-eye surrounded by his family of cats. You just had to let it ring. This period in his life must have been very difficult for Ed as advancing age combined with the complications of diabetes left him less and less able to fight for a good home for his beloved trolleys. But it also must have been a relief for him, and a great satisfaction, when the Electric City Trolley Museum came into its own.
In 2003, Ed was hospitalized several times, and he was moved to an assisted-living facility in Scranton. His days of restoring trolleys were over, but his legacy would live long after him.
Blossomís importance to NYMT canít be overstated. As Charlie Lowe points out, "he gave some much-needed electric railway expertise to the museum founders and early workers at a time they desperately needed it". NYMTís car files are full of correspondence between Blossom and then-Curator Mike Storey, with technical help and advice.
Charlie goes on to say that "Edís most important contribution, though, was physically lugging trolley parts and equipment in all those 75 trips that he made to NYMT, bankrolled by museum founder, Henry Hamlin. Not only did we thereby obtain a well-stocked parts room, we also received enough bracket arms, insulators, wire frogs, trolley wire, etc. to get started with our electrification project. If the former Magee Transportation Museum overhead materials had never been brought to NYMT, it is doubtful that our electrification work that began in the mid-1990s would have been undertaken". Shelden King puts it even more clearly. "If it had not been for Ed, I doubt NYMT would have come to pass", he says.Ed Blossom wasnít a total stranger to the Rochester area before his 1973-1974 work with the newly forming NYMT. In 1970, it was Ed who moved Rochester and Eastern 157 from its Irondequoit Bay cottage location to the Magee museum. (photo, right). Itís back home now as the featured car in NYMTís collection. Someday, the trolley pole on Edís 157 will touch the overhead wire he brought us, and the car will glide down the rail line under bracket arms and fittings we also owe to him. Casual observers will think the car is energized by 600-volt DC electricity, but its true power will be the inspiration we gained through the love of trolleys and dedication to preservation that was unique to Edward Blossom.
Thanks to Charlie Lowe for researching information in NYMTís Magee scrapbooks. Additional material is credited to "The Museums of Harry L. Magee", a new book by Pat Parker.