Article From the Winter 2005 Issue of
The Journal of the New York Museum of Transportation
There are volunteer tasks at the museum to match any age, skill set, or interest, and a glance at our roster of 35 or so people confirms that. Men and women, retired or still working, unskilled or professional, young and not-so-young, each one makes a valuable contribution. Stepping into the Spotlight this time is someone with the classic combination: a Kodak retiree with an aptitude for mechanical things and a love for things with wheels on them. Meet John Ross.
Maybe we canít call John a "volunteer" in the purest sense, as we kind of roped him into helping with one of our projects that fit his experience. Since then, just like quicksand, the more he does for us the deeper he gets! Several years ago, the museumís calliope was slowly deteriorating outside in its "circus trailer". John, happy and innocent, was a member of the Finger Lakes Chapter of the Buick Club of American along with museum Board Secretary Jim Dierks. When the two discovered a mutual interest in player pianos, John was urged to take a look at the calliope and see if he wanted to adopt it.
As if he had a choice! All those keys, pipes and hoses called out to him, as Jim stood by mumbling ideas about removing the apparatus from its trailer and placing it on a small cart so it could be brought safely indoors and placed wherever convenient when needed for entertainment. With help from Bob Miner, Don Quant and Lew Wallace, John removed the calliope and found a nice balloon-tired cart for it, then undertook to assess the needs and make repairs.
Seeking the origins of Johnís interests we find ourselves in St. Louis where he was born in 1939. His father was a chemist there, with the family relocating in the early 1940s first to Easton, Pennsylvania and then to Cleveland, Ohio as Dadís job with General Electric moved him around. Living in Shaker Heights, Ohio, John got his first glimpse of a rapid transit car, but that wasnít enough to suck him into railfandom.
While the father hoped John would follow in his footsteps toward a career in chemistry, the son seemed more interested in electrical and mechanical things. He tore apart his dadís Briggs & Stratton power mower engine (no word if it ever went back together successfully), and he and his buddies found fun working with radios and telephones. When cars were being designed with 12-volt electrical systems, the guys picked up a bunch of old 6-volt police radios. They converted them to ham outfits, installed them in their parentsí cars, and drove around town talking to each other. Although heís no longer an active ham operator, he still has his license, W2HCU.
John attended Penn State, graduating in 1961 with an Electrical Engineering degree. By 1967 he had earned a PhD, doing his thesis on analog computers. He joined Kodak and spent his career in computers at the Research Labs, designing specialized test equipment for chemists doing research in the silver halide field. John retired in 1999.
John met his wife, Carol, around 1970. She was a fellow Kodaker with a degree in business statistics and hailing from Addison, Washington ("population 3", says John), a small(!) town 80 miles north of Seattle. They married in 1972 and promptly moved to their present home in Pittsford. Seems neither of their apartments was big enough.
Not "big enough" for a family, of course, eventually adding two sons to the roster, but also not "big enough" for his 1966 Corvette convertible which heíd had since his pre-Carol bachelor days. The unrestored ĎVette is still part of the family.
John added some more wheels to his collection in 1993 when he became the second owner of a 1955 Buick Roadmaster convertible. He spent eight years restoring the car, including a new top and a lot of engine work. On the latter count, someone had earlier mis-timed the cam shaft, so they had ground down the pistons to clear the valves. Oh boy. John eventually diagnosed the problem, but had to replace all the pistons. There was some rust to deal with on the Roadmaster, but it was largely in good shape. With the exception of the front seat, the interior is all original and looks great. The top-of-the-line buick has been to a few local shows, taking a 1st place both times it appeared at the Sage Rutty show in Honeoye Falls, and a 3rd at GVAC. John enjoys stopping at local cruise-ins, and is looking forward to this summerís Buick national meet in Batavia, for which heís one of the club members doing the preparation and planning.
Another of Johnís varied interests is antique music boxes and record players, as any visit to his home will attest. He has all these interesting old instruments in good working order, ready to play a tune for a receptive audience. Even more spectacular are the two player grand pianos that take up most of the family room. These are both reproducing players, meaning that they play paper rolls that have additional holes to replicate the nuances of the actual playing of the performer who made the master roll. One piano is a Duo-Art, and the other is an Ampico (of E. Rochester piano factory fame). For anyone who thinks the compact disc is the catís meow, try standing next to a grand piano with George Gershwin, himself, playing Rhapsody in Blue! All the subtleties of the great composerís rendition was captured when he sat down and played, and itís all there for the listener to enjoy today.
John is now a "regular" in the Thursday group at NYMT, most recently helping with painting and glazing the windows for P&W car 161. Last winter he built up two dozen down guys for our stockpile of parts and subassemblies that will enable us to string more wire over our rail line.
When asked what his hopes for the future are for the museum, he hasnít any special ideas. "Thereís obviously a lot to do!" he says. That says it all. With John Rossí willingness to pitch in and the thoroughness he demonstrates on any task he takes on, we know weíre up to the task!