A legend reimagined, in N scale.

Bachmann PCC at my fictional Kodak Park station.

A Bachmann PCC in Philadelphia Transportation Co. colors poses at my fictional Kodak Park station. The car -- and the station, a Japanese import -- are due for makeovers before this is all done.

Late last year I created, and subsequently abandoned, a blog devoted solely to a model railroading project I’ve been tinkering with. The old blog may be dead, but I’ve been breathing new life into the actual project over the past two months.

As noted elsewhere, I was born and raised in Rochester, N.Y., which was home to a fascinating trolley subway line from 1927 to 1956. It was and remains a favorite with railfans, especially those who straddle the spectrum between passenger trolleys and freight railroads — the line hosted both. Built in the former Erie Canal bed, it only ran truly underground for barely one mile out of nine. But the name stuck; ’twas easier, I suppose, than “The Rochester Rapid Transit and Industrial Railway,” its formal moniker.

I’ve long wanted to model the line, both out of homesickness and inspired by a 2000 Railroad Model Craftsman article I’ve carried with me all these years. Another inspiration was as an impressive N scale version built in the model railroad room at the New York Museum of Transportation in Rush, N.Y., near Rochester. But for me, it’s looking like a 2×4 card table and a glorified circle of track, folks. I have neither the space nor money to create anything like the spawling HO scale empire depicted in RMC or the equally sprawling N scale version at NYMT. 

Limited space isn’t the only consideration prohibiting a literal interpretation of the line. North American trolleys get limited love in N scale, and the distinctive equipment used by the Rochester subway is not represented by any commercially available models. Then, too, I’ve always been a streetcar and transit fan. Freight operations interest me not at all, and I would like to build something which would incorporate some element of surface trolley operation in Rochester — which is, after all, my primary interest.

Hmm. So what to do?

I’ve come up with an imaginary plan for my 2×4 table which is growing more attractive by the day. In summary:

1.) Two surface streetcar lines survived into World War II: The Dewey Avenue subway-surface shuttle and the busy Lake Avenue line, both of which served busy Kodak Park, hub of Eastman Kodak’s industrial operations. Perhaps enlightened management in early 1941 took a long look at events in Europe and decided, after all, keeping at least those trolley lines — in addition to the subway — might be useful should war come. And so it proved, especially as wartime gas and tire rationing kicked in.

2.) As proposed by the local newspaper and others, Rochester Transit Corp. and the city decided, in the late 40s, to strike a deal with the New York Central Railroad to lease track rights to extend subway service to Kodak Park over a prive-right-of-way, giving riders a trip downtown in as little as 11 minutes. The Dewey line, meanwhile, survives for rush hour service.

3.) At this time, the Lake Avenue streetcar line south of Kodak would be abandoned, with cars entering the expanded subway via the new station at Kodak Park. Lake Avenue buses from downtown would terminate at Kodak Park — as was proposed in real life — Riders headed from downtown to points north as far as Charlotte would be encouraged to take the speedy Lake Avenue trolley subway cars. This would relegate the truncated Lake Avenue buses to the status of a local route feeding the “express” subway.  It also would create a true intermodal facility at Kodak Park, where buses from several routes would meet up with the trolley subway.

Bachmann Toronto PCC.

A Bachmann Toronto PCC passes a neighborhood stop on Lake Avenue north of Kodak. The line was double-tracked in real life, but the layout isn't, save for a passing siding at Kodak Park. However, parts of the Lake line ran on roadside right-of-way, with the tracks on opposite sides of the street in spots. This could represent such a location.

4.) The system would be partially re-equipped with PCC cars –perhaps new, but more likely second-hand, perhaps from Cincinnati or Kansas City in the early ’50s. Many of those cars went to Toronto, in reality. Is it possible Rochester and the great PCC operator across Lake Ontario could have split an order(s) and swapped expertise and spare parts over the years? I’d like to think so.

5.) The eastern portion of the subway would, as in real life, be abandoned in 1956 to make way for the Eastern Expressway (I-490). The western portion would survive — as, in fact, parts of it (for freight service) and even the abandoned right-of-way essentially did. 

6.) The truncated West Side subway nevertheless has a reason for survival, providing rapid service between Kodak/Charlotte/General Motors and downtown. The downtown terminus would, for now, remain Court Street loop.

7.) Proposals to extend the line into the heart of the downtown commercial district would come to fruition when the builders of Midtown Plaza team up with the city and RTC to finance a two-block extension of the line under Broad Street to the new shopping center in the early ’60s. In real life, there was a multi-level parking garage under the mall, and wide tunnels for delivery trucks to serve the shopping center without disrupting surface traffic. Incorporating a trolley loop and station into the underground complex — had the system survived past 1956 — doesn’t seem nearly as far-fetched (to me, anyway) as some of the other expansion plans discussed over the years.

Had all of these things come to pass, it seems that the line would have had a solid foundation for surviving into the era of government subsidized transit authorities, and not long after that, the light rail boom. And maybe even further expansion.

Whew. Got all that?

OK. What I plan to model is the area around the proposed Kodak Park station, where some cars would terminate from downtown and others would continue as surface trolleys along Lake Avenue north to Charlotte on Lake Ontario.

As for rolling stock, this gives me a perfect opportunity to take advantage of the most common off-the-shelf N scale cars: Bachmann PCCs and Brills, with the latter as stand-ins for some of the old-style Rochester surface cars which may have survived into preservation and heritage operation thanks to the two surviving trolley lines. The Bachmann PCCs, like their HO scale counterparts, ride far too high on their trucks, but I’m content to live with that for now. The body design is attractive enough, and the price is right.

Oh, and PCCs in the 2000s? It’s my railway, dammit. So let’s pretend that like San Francisco, Mattapan-Ashmont, Kenosha and Girard Avenue, Rochester continued to operate a fleet of rebuilt PCCs carrying the tradition into the 21st Century, perhaps in the colours of various historic operators.

So that’s what I’m up to. Details to follow.

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