Rochester & Genesee Valley Acquires New York Central 0-4-0 Shop Switcher

The locomotive was built in 1924 and used at New York Central’s Despatch Shops in East Rochester until the mid-1950s. Photo Courtesy of R&GVRM.

Rochester & Genesee Valley Acquires New York Central 0-4-0 Shop Switcher

By Railfan & Railroad Staff

A New York Central shop switcher that was saved by a school custodian in the 1960s has found a new home at New York’s Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum

The 0-4-0 tank engine was built in 1924 for the Merchants Despatch Transportation Company, a subsidiary of the New York Central, and used at the Despatch Shops in East Rochester, N.Y., until 1954. The locomotive was briefly put on display outside the shops before being sold to a local scrapper. It was there that former railroader and then-school custodian John Virgilio took an interest in the locomotive. Virgilio tried to buy the locomotive but the scrapper wanted what he thought was too much for it. A few years later, in 1964, when the scrapper was going out of business, Virgilio got them to come down on the price. He moved it to a piece of property in suburban Henrietta in 1965. 

The locomotive became the centerpiece of a private railroad museum operated by Virgilio and his family. In 1972, a small shed was built around the locomotive, keeping it out of the elements. The museum was open for tours for a many years, but eventually, those viewings came to an end. Tucked away in the shed, the locomotive was nearly forgotten. 

Despatch Shops No. 5

ABOVE: Despatch Shops 0-4-0T no. 5 was safely delivered to the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum on July 7. The saddle tank was previously removed to allow access for asbestos remediation from the boiler prior to delivery. —Courtesy RGVRRM

In 2017, the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum in Rush began cultivating a relationship with the Virgilio family. After John Virgilio passed away in 2021, the family agreed that the R&GV would be the ideal home for the local treasure. On July 7, 2023, the locomotive was moved by truck to the museum. 

“As the largest operating railroad museum in New York State, we feel a great responsibility to preserve the legacy of Rochester’s rich railroading heritage for future generations to enjoy,” said RGVRRM President Otto Vondrak, “With only a handful of New York Central steam locomotives preserved across the country, we owe a debt of gratitude to John Virgilio for saving such an important part of our local history.”

Despite being stored indoors for 50 years, considerable restoration work will need to take place before the locomotive is ready for tours. Museum volunteers will be working to stabilize No. 5 and perform a full evaluation to determine the best course for restoration.

Editor’s Note and Disclosure: Managing Editor Otto Vondrak is president of the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum.

Railfan & Railroad Magazine

This article was posted on: July 10, 2023