Lucking Into a Cab Ride on the Wheeling

Akron Railroad Club member John Puda is blowing the horn as the Wheeling & Lake Erie Santa train approaches a crossing in Tiltonsville. (All photographs by Richard Thompson except where notedn otherwise)

By Richard Thompson
On Sunday, November 29, 2009, John Puda and I awoke at around 7 a.m. to head south for the Ohio River Valley, where we were hoping to photograph all nine of the locomotives being used in the movie Unstoppable.

After about two hours of driving, with a quick stop in Dover to try and get the newly delivered RJ Corman Genset locomotive, No. 5400, (which we failed to photograph), we arrived in Rayland, Ohio, which was our first stop to check for the movie locomotives.

Upon arrival at the location, where the four widecab locomotives being used in the movie were sitting, we were blessed with an even greater surprise — the Orrville Railroad Heritage Society (ORHS) “Santa Train.”

It was about 9:30 a.m. and the first trip was to leave at 11, according to Jim Hill, one of the two engineer’s being used on the train. At the south end of the train, was ORHS GP7u, No. 471, and at the north end was Wheeling & Lake Erie SD40-3, No. 3068.

We photographed the widecab movie locomotives (this would be my second weekend in a row photographing these units) and went on to shoot photos of the stopped ORHS Santa Train.

Two little boys dressed as locomotive crewmen were walking all over the train, climbing all over everything and having a good time. Soon enough, we got to talking to them.

They were sure interesting! Their father was Jim Hill, the engineer who would be operating the WE 3068. They were going to ride with him on all three of the excursions throughout the day. They showed John and I throughout the train, and in the cabs of both locomotives (ORHS 471 and WE 3068).

Sooner or later, I told them, “You guys are lucky to ride with your dad in the cab of the locomotive. That must be fun.” That sentence really blessed John and I for the next couple of hours. One of the little boys, Hugh, who was the oldest (8) responded by asking, “Do you want us to ask our dad if you can ride along with us?” I promptly responded by saying “Yeah, sure, if you want to.”

The next time Jim Hill walked by, the two boys asked him if John and I could ride along. His first answer was something along the lines of, “I don’t think so,” but he quickly changed it to, “Let me think about it.”

After the two boys, Hugh and Joey, showed us through the rest of the train, they offered to take a photo of us posing on the WE 3068. They would take the photo through the bay window of the Buckeye Lady.

Upon completing this, they asked us to take photos of them posing on WE 3068, both on the front porch and in the cab. We did so — whatever it took to keep them on our good side!

It was about 10:30 a.m. and the passengers were starting to board. I nervously went up and asked Jim Hill, “So are we allowed to ride or not?” He kind of chuckled and said, “I don’t care.” Both John and I were happy as could be.

At around 10:45, I climbed up on the locomotive. I quickly used the restroom and then plopped myself in the hogger’s seat, where I’d wait for departure.

Sooner or later, a voice yelled up to me. I looked down to see Dick Jacobs. He wanted me to pose in the cab window. He took my photo, and went to board the train.

Not much long after, another familiar figure showed up — Roger Durfee. I called him on his cellphone and told him to quick take photos of the WE 3068, which I was sitting in. He told me that he’d be right down.

After about two minutes of waiting, he walked up, and started photographing the engine, as well as me in the cab window. The boys, Hugh and Joey offered him a ride too, which he responded to by saying, “I do this for a living; No thanks.”

During his photo shoot of the 3068, the ORHS 471 at the opposite end sounded the horn twice. With a quick jolt, we were at 3 mph heading in reverse. (During the first half of the trip, we’d be at the back end. On the return trip, we’d be leading).

After moving several hundred feet, Jim Hill climbed aboard. We continued picking up speed and I broke out the camcorder.

Jim told me that I could have his seat. I wasn’t arguing! We passed by several grade crossings, and saw Roger Durfee quickly overtaking us on Route 7. We passed through various interlockings and big, mostly closed, steel industries.

Jim, John and I exchanged quite a bit of conversation. But it was soon interrupted when the engine started rocking. Not just gentle baby rocking, we’re talking violent rocking, to the point that Joey asked, “Are we going to die?”

Jim Hill soon went to the radio and told the engineer on ORHS 471 to “Pick it up or slow it down.” Within no time, we were down to about 10 mph, as opposed to our previous 15-20. Back to being calm.

The horn at the other end of the train sounded faint, as the breeze came in the open window, and the scenery blew by. I videotaped/photographed as much of the ride as I could. It was fun.

We made it just south of Martins Ferry, Ohio, when it was time to put an end to the outbound trip. We would now return north and be at the helm. This was going to be the fun part.

With a quick air test, and a toot, toot on the horn, we throttled up and started easing north. The roar of the 645-prime mover behind us sounded great. We were up to 10 mph in no time.

We got into Martins Ferry again, where there are about 17 private grade crossings in a row, which require horn acknowledgement. I was expecting Jim Hill to handle these crossing “salutes.” But instead, I heard him say to Hugh, “You’re gonna have to move, so he can blow the horn.”

I realized he was talking about me. I stood up and quickly grabbed the horn lever. I waited for the right moment, and started blasting the crossing sequence of two longs, short and a long. Jim turned on the bell.

I kept going and going through each and every private crossing. The horn echoed and reverberated off the buildings. John was videotaping every minute of it. Whether I sound like a little kid or not, this was one of the funnest things I’ve ever done, hands down.

After about two straight minutes of horn blasting, I was finally done. My arm was worn out. But it was well worth it. I gave the next few crossings to John.

I continued videotaping the ride, now in the conductor’s seat. Joey and Hugh talked a bit to me about riding with their father. They told me about the previous day of running the train between Orrville and Lodi. It must be nice to be able to run trains with your dad all of the time. I certainly wish I could do it.

John finished up his first two crossing salutes, when we arrived at the third. He started doing the long, long, short, long sequence, but was quickly interrupted when he saw Roger at the crossing photographing us. Being a showoff and all, John quickly acknowledged Roger by playing Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits on the horn. Roger chuckled and waved at us going by.

We passed Yorkville and Jim pointed out the nearby Wheeling yard, which is now defunct, and the steel mill that is no longer in use. He believes that it will return to service once the economy picks up again. I’m not so sure, though.

Approaching Rayland, John said that I could have the last three crossings. So, I got up and went over to the horn lever again. During the second crossing, I would be having to sound the horn under the Route 7 overpass. It was going to get loud. So there was only one thing to do — lay on it! And that’s just what I did. Joey said, “Wow!” as the horn sound bounced off the walls of the bridge. Afterwards, I continued with the normal crossing salute.

It wasn’t long until we reached the next crossing, where Roger Durfee once again was photographing us. It was my turn to show off. After the first two long blasts and the short blast, I pulled off a Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits, Who’s the Barber, Tom Hanks. This is an extended version of the plain old Shave and a Haircut that I learned from a hogger on the Canadian Pacific. After doing the final long for the crossing, I did a plain, old Shave and a Haircut right by Roger. He photographed me with my hand on the horn lever.

We arrived at the boarding site in Warrenton. As we approached our stop, I photographed the movie locomotives once again, out of the front window. I set my camera down and waved at all of the passengers waiting to ride the next trip, which we would be chasing.

After stopping the train, John and I gave Jim and the two boys a BIG Thank You. He told us that it was no problem and gave us his card. He wanted us to email him the photos we took. I ended up doing so the next day.

We climbed off the engines and met Roger. He said that he had some good photos of us. We took several more photos of the stopped train and decided to head for lunch and wait out the next excursion.

It was a nice day. And the cab ride was a big surprise. I’m glad that I met Joey and Hugh. If it wasn’t for them, we would’ve had an average day, chasing the train, but because of them, we had the time of our lives.

Santa Train Photo Gallery

The Orrville Railroad Heritage Society provided the passenger equipment used on the W&LE Santa train for company employees and their families. Also along for the ride was ORHS No. 471.

The Santa train had a locomotive at each end. W&LE 3068 provided the power for the return trip.

Joey and Hugh Hill pose on the front porch of W&LE 3068. Their father, Jim Hill, was the engineer on the return Santa train trip.

Moving along south of Yorkville.

The Santa train has entered Martins Ferry and will soon halt and reverse course.

Entering the yard limits at Yorkville.

Locomotives painted for use in the movie "Unstoppable," repose at Rayland.

The Santa train waits in Rayland beside the locomotives use in "Unstoppable."

ORHS No. 471 and the Santa train pause on the W&LE at Martins Ferry, Ohio.

The Santa train as seen from the cab or ORHS No. 471.

What confronts the engineer of W&LE 3068 as he sits down to operate a train.

John Puda (left) and Richard Thompson pose with the Wheeling Santa train. (Photograph by Roger Durfee)

Richard Thompson is ready for his cab ride adventure. (Photograph by Roger Durfee)

Santa Claus might get used to traveling by train and thus put some reindeer out of work. (Photograph by Roger Durfee)

The photographer went to southeast Ohio to capture the locomotives used in the movie "Unstoppable," which are shown at left. He ended up getting a passenger excursion as a bonus. (Photograph by Roger Durfee)

The Santa trains on the eastern end of the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway were a cooperative venture between the railroad and the Orrville Railroad Heritage Society. (Photograph by Roger Durfee)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 59 other followers

%d bloggers like this: