ROCHESTER STREETCARS................................ No. 53 in a series

Rochester Railway Co-Ordinated Bus Lines. Inc. 307
company photo


by Charles R. Lowe

Fans of ROCHESTER STREETCARS may be aghast at this installments photograph. Before we go further, though, let me assure you that New York State Railways painted these vehicles in the green and cream of its streetcars, not the red and cream of its buses. For that matter, NYSR referred to such a vehicle as a trackless trolley car rather than a trackless trolley bus or some other "stink can" inspired name such as trolley coach or electric trolley bus.

No, in Rochester, this vehicle was every bit a trolley except that there were no rails, and a second wire was hung in the overhead. In a street railway electrical circuit, the rails serve as the return path to the power station, these being replaced in a trackless set-up by the second overhead wire. Needless to say, any crossing of a "hot" trolley wire and a ground wire for the trackless would be disastrous.

Rochester had some horrific flaws in its street railway system. The important LAKE, ST.PAUL and PORTLAND/SEA BREEZE lines to the north were about twice the length of any of the others in the radial system of lines emanating from downtown. In addition, nearly all the city's 14 streetcar lines converged on Main Street, clogging it full of traffic for 18 to 20 hours a day. Most travelers between the northwest and northeast quadrants were forced to journey through downtown, lengthening their travel by several miles. A direct crosstown route was seen in the early 1920s as the answer to all these problems.

Standing in the way was the 100- to 200-foot-deep Genesee River gorge. In the 1920s, a few spans crossed the gorge, the northern-most of which, perfectly situated for a crosstown line, was the 1890 wrought-iron arch bridge at Driving Park Avenue. By this time, though, streetcars weighed far in excess of the safe carrying capacity of this bridge.

To the rescue came the new trackless trolley. While a few other installations were in place in an experimental form, the choice by usually-cautious New York State Railways of an unproven trackless trolley for the crosstown line is remarkable. Beginning in 1921, NYSR forged ahead with its trackless plan, and by mid-1923 was ordering vehicles and erecting overhead.

On the morning of November 1, 1923, trackless service began. Streets followed were Driving Park Avenue, Avenue E, Conkey Avenue, Avenue D, North Street and Clifford Avenue, with terminals at Driving Park and Pierpont, and at Clifford and Hollister, and a total distance of three miles. Nine streetcar lines were either crossed or within easy walking distance.

The trackless trolley cars themselves, of which no. 307 is seen above, were unusual. The chasses were built by Brockway in Cortland, NY while the bodies were built by Kuhlman in Cleveland. Either a gasoline engine or electric motor equipment could be used. Of the twelve vehicles ordered, five were originally electric while the others had gasoline engines and were used on other lines. By 1928, when this company photo was taken with eastbound 307 pulled over to the curb on Driving park Avenue at Maplewood Avenue, just west of the Genesee River gorge, all twelve vehicles had been converted to trackless trolley cars.

When the Driving Park Avenue streetcar line was abandoned in 1929, service on the outer portion of Driving Park Avenue was continued by extending the crosstown trackless line a quarter-mile to the west. By 1932, when the ten-year agreement with the city for the line’s poles and overhead was coming due for renewal, the 1923 trackless trolleys and their solid rubber tires had become anachronistic. Rather than invest in new trackless vehicles, gasoline buses offered New York State Railways, then in receivership, with the least expensive way to continue the crosstown line. With a last full day of service taking place on March 3, 1932, and a final pull-in occurring in the early morning hours of March 4, the trackless trolley cars were retired. Gasoline buses started grinding across the Driving Park Avenue bridge on the morning of the 4 th, the trackless wires soon were removed, and the cars soon scrapped, erasing forever the trackless trolley from Rochester.