ROCHESTER STREETCARS................................ No. 51 in a series

Rochester and Syracuse RR 112
photo by Smith,Lindsley & Arnold, Syracuse, NY


by Charles R. Lowe

Chair cars of the Rochester and Syracuse Railroad undoubtedly offered Rochesterians their most deluxe regular-service interurban rides. In the 1920s, the R&S sought ways to retain its passengers in the face of threats from improved automobiles, buses and highways. Some modest track improvements were made. In 1922, the company bypassed several busy streets in the village of Lyons by constructing new track in the bed of the abandoned Erie Canal to avoid busy streets. The creation of the Chair Cars was another effort made by the company to retain its ridership.

In 1925, company officials began designing alterations to be made to regular R&S cars to transform them into Chair Cars. Car 112 (Niles, 1906) was selected as the first to be rebuilt. The walkover seats were removed and replaced with individual double-cushioned bucket seats. In the main compartment at the rear of the car, seats were arranged in 2-1 style, with the aisle offset slightly from the center of the car, a system required since two bucket seats were slightly wider than one walkover seat. Eight rows for a total of 24 seats, plus one seat each in the front corners of the compartment, gave non-smoking riders 26 bucket seats from which to choose. These seats were upholstered in a maroon striped plush. Forward of this was the smoking compartment. Three rows of four gray-colored leather upholstered bucket seats, plus two more in the rear corners of the compartment, provided 14 more seats. Five bench seats in other areas of the car gave a total of 45 seats. The fact that this was slightly less than the original 58 seats was offset by the deluxe character of the seating.

Other alterations were undertaken. Widened side windows were created by the removal of the post under each arch, giving riders an unparalleled view of the passing Upstate New York scenery. Rubber flooring deadened the noise of the motors and the roadbed. The interior of the car was entirely repainted in light colors. Modern light fixtures provided a soft, restive lighting instead of the glare of the car's original lighting.

Chair Cars were distinguished by being named and repainted. Car 112, for example, was named Newark after the home of the company's shop and offices. Rich orange paint, with black lettering and numbering, and red sash trim, created a classic interurban look for the Chair Cars. Six other cars were also rebuilt into Chair Cars: 110 ( Lyons ); 111 ( Palmyra ); 122 ( Rochester ); 123 ( Syracuse ); 126 ( Clyde ); and 129 ( Weedsport ). Cars 110 and 111 were 1906 Niles products while the others were built in 1910 by Kuhlman.

Since the bucket seats were fixed in a forward-facing position, the Chair Cars had to be turned at the ends of runs. In Rochester and Syracuse, Chair Cars were looped on city streetcar tracks. After the R&S started using the Rochester Subway in 1928, Chair Cars were turned on the Oak Street loop. A new wye was built at the Newark shops in 1927; turning could also occur at the Lakeland shops and at the West Belden Avenue freight house in Syracuse.

Starting in February 1927 when car 112 was brought into service, the Chair Cars were used in limited service between Rochester and Syracuse. No extra fare was required; as on regular cars, the fare between termini was $2.50 one way, $4.00 round trip. On weekends, the round trip fare dropped to just $3.40. A brochure promoting the new service carried a Chair Car Schedule dated April 17, 1927. Seven Chair Car runs each way, essentially at two hour intervals between 7:00 a.m. and 7:15 p.m., left each terminal city and were intermixed into the normal hourly schedule. The Chair Cars stopped for passengers only at the larger villages, leaving those wishing to use wayside shelter stops to ride on the local cars.

The deluxe serviced offered by the Chair Cars was doomed to be short lived. The onset of the Great Depression in 1929 and the steady rise in the use of private automobiles combined to force the R&S to give up all service, including that of its Chair Cars, on June 27, 1931. Our photo, though, gives us a last look at a happier era. Seen here on the loop at Lakeland shops near Syracuse just after being rebuilt in 1927, car 112 gives us a fine display of the grace and beauty of an interurban car ready to hurry passengers on their trips.

The sparkling interiors of the Chair Cars met company expectations of embodying “the beauty and easy riding qualities contained in the private automobile, steam road chair car and the deluxe bus. The left view shows the offset aisle of the main compartment, while the right view shows the leather upholstery required in the smoking compartment.