It is with tremendous sadness that we share news of the passing of our Restoration Manager Donald G. Curry. Donald dedicated 70 years of his 87 years of life to Seashore Trolley Museum and the trolley preservation movement. During this incredible tenure, Donald was known as one of the nation’s foremost authorities on streetcar restoration, particularly in the area of body reconstruction and rebuilding. Donald worked to lovingly preserve our collection nearly every day of his life; there is not a trolley at Seashore that doesn’t have a mark of Donald’s expert hand. All who have ridden a trolley at Seashore Trolley Museum and enjoyed the incredible craftsmanship of the cars have been at the receiving end of Donald’s gifts, talents, and passion for the streetcar preservation movement.
Donald became a railfan at age five following a visit to the Schenectady (NY) Railway, the closest city to his childhood home that had streetcar operations. In his teens he became acquainted with Railroad Magazine, where he was drawn to Steve McGuire’s “Traction Topics” column. A few years later, he attended Northeastern University in Boston, which exposed him to a much larger trolley operation with many PCCs and a dwindling fleet of type five streetcars.
While at Northeastern, he roomed one year with Channing Morse, who just happened to be a member of the Seashore Electric Railway. Mr. Morse told Donald of this strange place up in Kennebunkport, Maine which was trying to preserve old trolleys, and of course Donald was amenable to a northward trek to see what that was all about.
When Donald first viewed the property in 1953, Seashore’s 600v infrastructure had yet to be installed and track only extended from the entrance to near where Arundel Station is now. The trolleys in our collection at that time were lined up in more or less in the order in which we obtained them. What is now known as Shop 1 near the museum’s main entrance was under construction and the Volunteer Bunkhouse was half the size it is now. The body of Birney 615 (Portland [ME] Railways, Biddeford & Saco) served as additional sleeping quarters and a dining facility. Donald often served meals to groups of 10 or so volunteers using hot plates inside No. 615.
The following year, 1954, Donald Curry became the first paid employee at Seashore. His first work on streetcars consisted of a re-paint of Minneapolis/St. Paul 1267, which had arrived on the property in 1953. This was followed by work on Portsmouth, Dover & York No.108, Biddeford & Saco 31, the City of Manchester, and Manchester 38.
After South Boston Carbarn was constructed, this barn was also used as a shop for, among other things, re-paints on Blackpool double-decker 144 and Connecticut Co. open car 1391. Upon completion of today’s Restoration Shop in 1969, the building was filled with trolleys, and machines and tools that gave us the capability to reproduce virtually any wooden part.
Donald was the first to admit that his great body of knowledge was the result of “on the job training;” learning many new skills out of necessity and accomplishing some great things through the time-tested method of trial and error. Out of this came some beautifully restored streetcars. During the 1960s-90s, some of these projects included:
- New Haven open car 838 (progressively worked on through most of Donald’s tenure);
- Montreal 2052 (Seashore’s first riveting project, which involved replacing one side in its entirety);
- Biddeford & Saco 31 (arrived in poor condition and continued to weather outside for an additional 15 years at Seashore);
- Boston Elevated 5821 (addressing salt damage to the steel in the car’s lower body);
- Brooklyn 4547 (major structural and truck problems due to salt car service);
- Montreal 957 (a line painting car in its last years);
- New Orleans 966 (came to us as a heavily vandalized shell);
- New Haven open car 303;
- Cleveland 1227 (came to us partially stripped and in ruinous condition due to years of outside storage); and
- Wheeling 639 (came to us as a completely stripped car body).
From 1989 to 1997 Donald was half-time Museum Director and half-time Shop Foreman. As Museum Director, Donald focused on community outreach (the circus, Ghost Trolley, a revival of trolley parades, Moxie Day, CajunFest and an expanded Christmas Prelude) and in getting Visitors Center improvements in place so that the structure could be more efficiently utilized. This included moving the museum’s business offices from the second floor of Tower C and the bunkhouse to the second floor of the Visitors Center, where they are located today.
When Donald began his tenure at Seashore, he was typically the only person working at the property on weekdays year-round. Early shop crews consisted of local high school students hired for 10 weeks during the summer months. However, by the 1990s, there was as much activity as during the height of the summer as there was during the off-season and the campus was flourishing. In addition to recruiting volunteers to work alongside him on the various restoration projects in the Shop, Donald also oversaw the creation of the present railway operator training program with its series of texts, along with mandatory training and testing.
But Donald’s first love was the Shop and he returned there full-time by 1998. He continued to accomplish much that benefited the Seashore collection, beyond the actual work on cars. Donald became a recognized leader in the trolley restoration field due to his expertise, extensive writings in the field, and his cooperative efforts to arrange reproduction of hard-to-find components. His stature and longevity in the “trolley business” resulted in a wide variety of valuable contacts across this country and abroad. If Donald didn’t know it, chances were that he had a contact who did, and Donald was invariably very giving of his time to help gather information both for our museum and for others. Donald also took the initiative to coordinate joint purchases with other trolley museums of such nonstandard items like controller parts and rattan (seat cane).
In 2014, Donald was awarded the Association of Tourist Railroads and Railway Museums’ most prestigious honor, the Lifetime Achievement Award. The award was met by a standing ovation from the delegates in attendance.
In 2017, Donald officially retired from Seashore as Restoration Manager after 64 years of staff service. In honor of his years of service and his retirement, the board voted to change the shop’s formal name to the Donald G. Curry Town House Shop.
Donald remained a Seashore volunteer until the unfortunate day he suffered an acute stroke, on June 1, 2023. Just a few hours prior, Donald was at Seashore, continuing to work on the restoration of Bay State Street Railway 4175, as well as being honored with a brand new sign for the Donald G. Curry Town House Shop. Donald had just turned 87 years of age on May 30, 2023. On June 9, 2023, Donald passed away in hospice care surrounded by family and close loved ones.
Donald’s loss is not just felt by Seashore, but by the trolley preservation movement worldwide. Condolences to Donald’s family and loved ones, and to all who admired Donald.
Seashore Trolley Museum will be honoring Donald’s incredible life during our 2023 Members Day, taking place on August 19, 2023. If you would like to share photos of Donald’s life and work that will be included in a presentation shared during this event, please email your submissions to [email protected].