Local 46 apprentices help restore historic Rochester trolley car

January 18, 2024

This article was originally published on WNYLaborToday.com. Images courtesy of WNYLaborToday and Local 46.

When it comes to giving back to the Rochester, N.Y., community, the members and apprentices of SMART Local 46 are ready, willing and able to do what they can, when they can.

Case in point: Back in October, WNYLaborToday.com spotlighted SMART Local 46’s apprentices, who are playing a key role in helping provide a local nonprofit with a main cog needed to assemble hundreds of devices that give the life-changing gift of mobility to children with physical disabilities.

Now, many of the local’s apprentices are back at it — giving their time and skills at the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum, where they’re working to restore an idled trolley car that once ran the rails in downtown Rochester many years ago.

Local 46 apprentices at work restoring an old Rochester trolley car.

Established in April 1899 (the local is getting ready to celebrate its 125th anniversary), Local 46 represents 425 active and 200 retired members, and provides the highest quality craftspersons — described as pre-eminent fabricators and installers — to its union contractors.

The local also has more than 100 apprentices in its training program.

“We’ve been sending 10 apprentices at a time, about forty in all, and they are loving it,” Local 46 Training Director Allen Mort told WNYLaborToday.com about the restoration work being done at the Railroad Museum. “They’re working on the car’s roof and their sheet metal paneling. This has been awesome — they’re working to preserve our local history.”

Museum President Otto Vondrak says Local 46’s apprentices are helping restore a trolley car that ran on the Rochester system from 1938 to 1956.

“We got it donated to us back in 1998,” Vondrak said. “It also has a wood interior, and it’s been sitting here for more than 20 years. Before Local 46 got involved, we were fundraising to get the money to repair, and it was being restored — incrementally.”

“This makes me feel proud,” said SMART International Organizer Warren Faust, who joined WNYLaborToday.com for a tour of the Railroad Museum with Mort, Vondrak and Jonathan Perna, a Local 46 marketing representative. 

“You have to have a diverse skill set to do work like this, and most people just don’t know we have it,” Faust added. “This is giving everyone a sense of pride, and it ties in with the fact that we band together to help.”

Offering what it describes on its website as “the most unique museum experience in the greater Rochester area,” the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum is a nonprofit educational organization that traces its roots back to 1937 as the Rochester chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, the third-oldest chapter in the organization.

Its purpose, according to Vondrak, is to educate the public on the technology, history and impact of Rochester’s railroad industry through the preservation, restoration and operation of railroad equipment — as well as the display of relevant historic artifacts and documents.

The mission of the museum is advanced through the preservation of rolling stock and locomotives, tools and equipment, documents, artifacts, photography and video.

In 1971, the museum group purchased an abandoned Industry Depot from the Erie Lackawanna Railroad with the goal of restoring it as a museum — and over the last 50 years, the organization has preserved more than 40 pieces of historic railroad equipment and built its own demonstration railroad to bring Rochester’s rich railroading heritage to life. In fact, the museum operates and offers train rides every month from April through December.

Vondrak tells WNYLaborToday.com he is “super excited” to have Local 46’s apprentices working to help restore the rail car.

“They’re helping preserve the railroad heritage for all to enjoy, and their expertise in metal-working was something we don’t have here. [Local 46’s apprentices] have the expertise to help get it over the finish line,” he said.

The museum has spent more than $100,000 to date to help pay for the majority of restoration work that needs to be done, added Vondrak, who knows his nonprofit is “literally saving hundreds of thousands of dollars” thanks to the work being donated by Local 46.

“They are doing it all right — the first time” he said.

For Local 46, such projects aren’t only the right thing to do for the community; they help raise public awareness of the important role unions play, both on and off the job.

“It’s baffling, the perception [the general public has about what labor unions and union members do] — you just never get a good answer, but there’s a lot SMART does to help people,” Perna said. “When people ask me, I say: ‘Sure, we’re going to get our apprentices involved, because they care.’ And our focus is to give people a better life.

“If you’re not in a union, you’re doing it wrong – you’re missing out on the benefits. I feel good for our members and our apprentices that we’ve given them these opportunities [to do good things across the Rochester community.”

According to Mort, Local 46 apprentices who have participated in the effort include: Rand Warner, Earl Delong, Hunter Angarano, John Bertolone, Karl Biedlingmaier, Robert Dettore, Anthony Hayslip, Matthew Olek, Alexsi Ortiz, Cody Pascalar and Richard Andrew Ross.