Homer man takes pride in area’s last trolley car


Photos by Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Jude Niederhofer stands inside an old trolley car, which he has converted into a home along Cold Brook on Ayers Road in the town of Homer. The freight motor car is the last of its kind in the area.TrolleyABOVE:The former trolley car sits on the bank of Cold Brook.
BELOW:A photo from the Cortland County Historical Society collection shows the car in its heyday, carrying freight, milk and mail between Cortland and McGraw.trolley

Staff Reporter

HOMER — The trolley basked in the glow of the candlelight, a cozy space against the darkness.
Inside, the trolley’s owner poured himself a glass of root beer, sank down into a chair and closed his eyes momentarily, listening to Cold Brook gurgle past outside.
“This is my Middle Earth,” Jude Niederhofer said, chuckling and referring to the Shire settings of J.R.R. Tolkien novels.
Niederhofer, along with his wife, Traci, 48, and daughter, Laura, 16, balance their time between the historic trolley car, at 1472 Ayers Road, and their home at 6062 Route 281 in Little York.
The car, which served as a freight car between McGraw and Cortland from 1903 to 1931, is the only preserved trolley in the area, according to the book “Cortland County Traction”.
Niederhofer, 56, said he’s lucky to have stumbled across the unique structure, as its history, location beside a brook and originality bring him pride, peace and contentment.
Niederhofer grew up in Homer and said he’s always been intrigued with its history, from its role as an Underground Railroad stop to the accomplishments of the prominent Salisbury and Pratt families
“So you see, there’s a lot of history there,” he said.
Niederhofer was able to call part of that history his own in 1993, when he was vacationing in Homer and by chance found the trolley was for sale. The owner at the time — Sue Lewis — was looking to sell the car in exchange for money to go on a cruise, he said.
Sadly, Lewis never got to take her cruise, he said, as she passed away beforehand.
Since the trolley was not in the best of shape, he was able to buy it for the “price of a used car,” he said. He declined to reveal the trolley’s exact cost.
During two-week and summer vacations to Homer, he said, he would work on restoring, renovating and furnishing the trolley.
In 2002, he and his family moved from Oregon to Little York and lived in the car for eight months before they bought and fixed up their home in Little York.
Niederhofer said he has invested about $10,000 into adding a porch — which serves both as a porch and a bedroom — redoing plumbing that a previous owner had installed and replacing old windows with insulated windows, among many other changes.
“I’ve done a lot of things that don’t show,” he said.
He paid a relatively low amount for the repair work because as a building contractor, he has relatively easy access to many of the materials he needed, he said.
Niederhofer said he tried to preserve as much of the car’s original material as he could, such as a window between the car and the porch, steel bars on the car’s ceiling and the bell at the front of the car.
Many of the old materials have held up well, he said.
“(The car) was built to be on the rails and take all kinds of abuse,” he said.
The old materials help him imagine what it was like to be inside the trolley years ago, he said. He imagines the conductor ringing the bell, for example, or a crewman loading freight onto the wooden floor.
“This is where the freight door was,” he said Thursday, pointing to the entrance to the porch. Another freight door existed on the other side of the car, he said.
All of the history invoked by the trolley car adds another layer of interest to his life, he said.
Its location in a remote part of Homer beside Cold Brook also pleases him. Niederhofer said the sound of the brook counterbalances a high-pitched sound he otherwise hears in his right ear. The buzzing stems from tinnitus, the medical term for the perception of sound in one or both ears or in the head when no external sound is present.
“So I get really good sleep here,” he said.
Niederhofer said he cannot get cell phone or telephone reception inside the trolley, which contributes even more to its serene atmosphere.
“I have an excellent stereo system, though,” he said, which was playing soft rock tunes Thursday.
The remote location also makes it a perfect place to read a book, go fishing or have a barbecue with friends, he said.
His daughter and her cousins have friends over for sleepovers, he said.
Niederhofer’s wife, Traci, said she enjoys going to the trolley as well to relax, but her husband goes much more than she does.
“In fact he spent the night there last night,” she said this morning.
Even in the winter, the family visits the trolley once or twice a week, keeping the driveway to the trolley plowed, he said.
Various neighbors have expressed interest in buying the car, he said.
One of those neighbors is Dan Gustafson, who lives at 5915 Cold Brook Road. Gustafson’s dad, John, used to own the trolley, but sold it to Susan Lewis in 1986.
Dan Gustafson said he would have bought the trolley from his dad, but he was living elsewhere at the time.
Gustafson said now he would jump on the chance to buy the trolley from Niederhofer. He said the family memories associated with the trolley, its location on the brook and its potential as a guest cottage are all reasons he’d like to own it.
“We’d like to have some extra space to stay,” he said.
Niederhofer said its flattering that neighbors want to buy the trolley, but deep down they must know it is not possible.
“They know I’ll never sell it,” he said.


Niederhofer’s freight motor car is the last of area’s trolleys

Staff Writer

Jude Niederhofer’s freight car is the only preserved trolley car in the area, according to documentation of the area’s trolley history.
Most of the trolley car bodies were sold to local residents who had a variety of uses for them, but most have either disintegrated, been destroyed or been incorporated into structures that make them indistinguishable.
According to the book, “Cortland County Traction,” the Ellis Omnibus and Cab Co., of Cortland, made the car in 1903. The Cortland County Traction Company purchased the car from the company that year. The Ellis factory was sold to the Brockway Motor Truck Company in 1912.
The car had two motors of between 25 and 50 horsepower, air brakes and knuckle couplers (mechanisms for connecting railway cars in a train).
Niederhofer’s trolley made at least one daily round trip between Cortland and McGraw, transporting milk cans from the Sheffield Farms Milk Plant in McGraw to the Lehigh Valley freight office on Elm Street.
It also served such businesses as a feed mill in Polkville, a corset factory in McGraw and the Newton Line Co. in Homer, which received coal.
The car also carried mail and was equipped to tow railroad freight cars.
The car was the last to operate on the trolley line, running until 1931.
Niederhofer’s car was first sold to Louis Winchell, a local insurance agent, who had it moved to its current location at 1472 Ayers Road. He used it as a seasonal camp, as did the next owner, John Gustafson, a retired professor at the State University College at Cortland. Winchell added living quarters to the car, and Gustafson erected a steel roof shelter.
While Niederhofer’s is the only regular-sized trolley around locally, several small cars exist behind the county Highway Department on Traction Drive, he said. That used to be the location of the Cortland & Homer Traction Company’s trolley storage barn.
The cars used to pull tools along behind the trolley cars, he said.
Niederhofer said he is trying to get Don Chambers, county highway superintendent, to let him buy one. He would use it to store tools next to his trolley, he said.


A brief history of trolleys in Cortland

-- The Cortland & Homer Traction Company was incorporated in May 1894 with $300,000 in capital stock. The company took over the operation of the horse railroad, which had run between Cortland and Homer since February 1882.
-- The first electric cars operated in January 1895. The cars ran along Homer Avenue by way of Groton Avenue to Main Street to the Lehigh Valley Railroad station, and along a quarter-mile branch to the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroads passenger station on Railroad Street (now Central Avenue.
-- The bodies of the first two passenger electric cars were built locally by the Cortland Omnibus and Cab Company on Railroad Street. As of April 1895, the Cortland and Homer Traction Company owned six single closed passenger cars and 11 open passenger cars. Eight of the open cars were trailers. It also owned a mail and baggage car.
-- Freight services along the lines were provided with the companys own cars, including its passenger cars, as well as cars from the railroads. Its believed about 20 cars were eventually used for freight service.
-- In May 1895 the company expanded its service to McGraw, a bustling industrial community. A park was developed at the foot of Salisbury Hill and soon became a popular picnic area for Cortland residents.
-- The park, which had a pavilion, a menagerie with such animals as monkeys, a bear and rabbits, and a merry-go-round, remained popular for a decade until Little York Park, now Dwyer Memorial Park, was developed in 1906 and Cortland Park was abandoned.
-- The park at Little York, which could be reached by a new trolley line, had a large pavilion, a bandstand, an observation tower, hotels and dance halls, among other structures for guests.
-- As of 1900, trolley fares cost between 5 and 15 cents, depending on the length of the trip, and cars operated every 20 to minutes to hour, depending on the length of the trip and time of the year.
-- As automobile ownership became widespread and trolley cars lost passengers, lines started closing. By 1931, all of Cortland County’s trolley routes had been abandoned.

Source:Cortland County Traction — The Story of Cortland’s Trolley System,” by Richard F. Palmer and Shelden S. King, 1992



Neighbors object to airport study

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A runway obstruction study being done at the county airport has angered some nearby residents who are refusing to allow a firm hired by the county to survey their property.
Cortlandville residents Dr. Kevin Mack and Julian Wright, neighbors on Fercor Drive which lies adjacent to the airport, told the Legislature’s Highway Committee Tuesday that the expansion of the airport had already infringed upon their property, and questioned whether the study would ultimately mean cutting down trees on their land.
“If you take down the trees in my yard you basically destroy the only buffer from the airport we have,” Wright said during the meeting.
County Highway Superintendent Don Chambers said the study was meant only to gauge what sort of obstructions existed, and that it was too early to discuss tree removal or any impact on nearby residents.
“We want to get the data first, and then bring it to the public,” Chambers said, noting the study was basically meant to determine what obstacles needed to be dealt with to allow for a clear landing zone surrounding the existing runway. “Until we have definitive answers, we decided not to cause undue stress on the public.”
Both Mack and Wright said they would not allow CNS Engineering, the firm hired by the county to conduct the study, to do any work on their property.
A total of three homes refused CNS access to their property, Deputy Highway Superintendent Bob Buerkle said, but the study would go on without their cooperation.
“I’ve not been told that we cannot complete the survey,” Buerkle said Tuesday afternoon. “It definitely makes it easier if we can enter property to measure the height of the obstructions, but this will just cause the surveyor to establish the height and location from off the property.”
The study, which in total will cost $164,000, is a new requirement of the Federal Aviation Administration, and is 95 percent federally funded, with the remaining 5 percent divided between state and local funding, Buerkle said.
Buerkle and Chambers stressed that removal of trees wasn’t even being discussed at this point, but Mack and Wright were unconvinced.
“If you do remove trees from my property, have you thought about how much it’s going to cost the county to replace that buffer for me?” Mack asked the committee.
Mack and Wright bemoaned a chain link fence topped with barbwire put up around the airport three years ago.
“I understand you have to build a fence, but why do we have to have three strands of barbwire that make it look like there’s a prison in our back yard,” Wright said.
Mack said residents near the airport had been given little input into plans for expansion, and questioned expansion in a popular residential area in the first place.



Jail costs push Sheriff’s Department over budget

Staff Reporter

Saying there’s a good chance the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department will go over budget in 2006 for the first time in a number of years, Sheriff Lee Price gave the county further incentive to push forward in building a new jail.
The elevated cost of transporting and boarding out inmates due to overcrowding in the jail has been the primary problem, Price told the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Tuesday.
The committee approved the transfer of $80,000 from other departmental accounts to pay for overtime in the corrections division associated with the overcrowding, but Price said he couldn’t be sure if the transfers would allow the department to come under budget for 2006.
“I’m hoping we won’t have to go into the county coffers at the end of the year, but we just don’t know what our jail population’s going to look like and how much it’s going to cost us to board them out,” Price said after the meeting.
The jail has to follow specific classification guidelines for its inmates, Price said, and when it doesn’t have space to follow them, it has to send inmates to other counties at a cost of $85 per inmate, per day.
Through September, the corrections division had been billed $192,065 for housing inmates in other counties, exceeding its budgeted amount of $165,000.
For much of the year the county was averaging about 14 inmates out-boarded to Chenango, Tioga and Madison counties, but a recent dip in the jail population has allowed the jail to house its female population — one of the harder classifications to find space for — on one specific cell block, meaning there are only three inmates now being boarded out.
“Unfortunately that could change just like that, overnight,” Price said, noting that a change in one classification can impact the entire jail. “I think the Legislature gave me a fairly realistic budget but you can never tell how many inmates you’re going to get, what the individual cases are going to look like.”
Housing inmates in other counties also requires increased overtime costs, Price said, as two corrections officers have to accompany each prisoner both ways, and also have to transport inmates to and from court dates and any other appointments.
The increase of $80,000 in overtime costs, which will go before the full Legislature Nov. 30, comes from an account that has excess funding due to staff vacancies.
“Transporting all these inmates is something that has to be done with overtime because I just don’t have the officers to do it,” Price said. “That’s why I’m anxious to see a new jail here so we can save some of that money and maybe even bring in some money for the county.”



Housing Visions development firm to close on south Main St. properties

Staff Reporter

The Syracuse-based development firm that is backing an $8.2 million project to redevelop houses along south Main Street is expected to close on several properties in the area by the end of the week.
Housing Visions’ senior development manager Ben Lockwood said that the company hopes to take ownership of six of the nine properties by Friday. Lockwood said the three remaining properties, which are owned by John Del Vecchio, of Homer, may be purchased at a later date.
“Right now, we’re continually relocating folks, trying to get them into new places,” Lockwood said Tuesday. “Everyone’s being cooperative, from the owners on to the tenants.”
The organization intends to rehabilitate 19 apartment units, and demolish and rebuild what amounts to 11 apartments units. The project is being called Cortland Crown Homes.
These properties — four on Main Street and one each on Argyle Place and Union Street — will only be available to low- to moderate-income tenants who fall below 60 percent of the state’s estimated median income level, which is about $40,714 for a family of four. The nonprofit doesn’t rent to college students.
Current tenants of the properties are in the process of relocating, and others appear to have already left.
Lisa Downing of 164 Main Street, a property that the company intends to purchase, said Housing Visions has been helping her look for a new apartment for herself and fiancée, Aaron Bogart. They have known about the impending relocation since the summer, and have received their 90-day notice, which requires them to move by Feb. 8.
“We’ve just been looking in the newspaper. They’ll help us move” Downing said Tuesday afternoon. “I’m not positive, but I think they’ll help us with the security.”
The apartments that relocated tenants move in to have to meet state standards for adequate housing, Lockwood said. The majority will move into privately-owned buildings.
Some tenants, like Downing, may be able to move back in after construction is complete, but all applicants must go through an interview process.
The project should be complete by late 2007, Lockwood said.