Welcome to the Akron Railroad Club Blog

March 2, 2009
The photo line is ready to capture an eastbound Norfolk Southern manifest freight with BNSF motive power during the July 2012 Akron Railroad Club picnic.

The photo line is ready to capture an eastbound Norfolk Southern manifest freight with BNSF motive power during the July 2012 Akron Railroad Club picnic in Bedford.

The Akron Railroad Club has about 80 members who meet monthly in Akron, Ohio, to share their passion for railroad operations and history.  On this blog you will find information about our meetings, activities, how to join us, and news about railroads and railroad oriented organizations.

ARRC logoOn the feature pages you will find information about popular Ohio railfan hotspots within a few hours drive from Akron, stories about railfan outings, trip reports and information about railroad operations and radio frequencies.

Many features are amply illustrated with photographs.  Take a look around and enjoy yourself. There is always something new to read so come back often.

Better yet, come to one of our monthly meetings or join us at one of our many events. We look forward to meeting you and joining us. Dues are $16 yearly and include a subscription to the monthly newsletter, the Bulletin. We meet on the fourth Friday of the month at New Horizons Christian Church, 290 Darrow Road in Akron. Visitors are always welcome at our meetings.

Next Meeting: October 26. Program by Chris Lantz.

Next Activity: December 1. End of Year Dinner.

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Exploring CVSR’s Silver Fleet: Part 3

October 17, 2018

A view from the dome section of Silver Solarium as the Fall Flyer of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad cruises northward along Riverview Road south of Peninsula.

The Fall Flyer of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad had many hallmarks of the late, great California Zephyr.

It carried three cars lettered “California Zephyr” along with a dome coach that once operated on the CZ. The latter, the Silver Bronco, today wears CVSR markings and colors.

Like the CZ, the Fall Flyer had sleeping car accommodations and a dining car serving breakfast.

But the similarities ended there. The three-course breakfast was prepared off the train by a caterer.

There was no overnight travel and no porters to make up the beds in the sleeping accommodations.

It was merely a two-hour trip from Rockside Road station to Howe Meadow and return.

Those not purchasing a meal car ticket could buy popcorn, candy bars, beverages and, what a CVSR crewman described as “the best hot dogs in the world” in the concession car.

Fellow Akron Railroad Club member Edward Ribinskas had purchased four tickets for the dome section of Silver Solarium and our travel party also included his brother Steven and Ed’s former J.C. Penney co-worker and railfan Shawn Novak.

The CVSR did its best Amtrak imitation by leaving Rockside Road station nearly 15 minutes late. We still got our two hours of travel time.

For the most part, the trip was like riding the CVSR’s National Park Scenic.

A CVSR trainman provided occasional commentary as the train rolled through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

He also made a pitch to join the CVSR as a volunteer, noting the railroad is currently short 22 trainmen.

It had rained earlier in the day and water droplets clung to the windows of the dome section for most of our trip thereby making photography a challenge.

Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 was sitting outside the shop at Fitzwater Yard along with two Charter Steel cars that it brought to Cleveland last month and will reportedly move when the Berkshire-type locomotive returns to Fort Wayne.

As I expected, there was scant fall foliage to view. The warm summer and relatively warm autumn have delayed the process of leaves transforming into their autumn colors.

The CVSR trainman said the Silver Lariat has a full kitchen and plans are in the works to hire some top chefs from Cleveland to prepare meals for a dinner train operation.

Those dinners will be pricey. The CVSR website indicates that an adult breakfast ticket is $37 per person whereas adult lunch tickets are $40 per person. A child breakfast or lunch ticket is less.

Tickets for the beer and wine trains range from $85 for a seat in the dome section to $65 for a table car.

This is not to be critical of the fares. It is to say the dinner trains won’t be like dining at Bob Evans or Eat ‘n Park.

The CVSR has always described its mission in part as preserving rolling stock from the streamliner era even if it doesn’t use that term very often.

It pays lip service to the heritage and history of this equipment, but most who ride the trains are not interested in railroad history in any depth.

They probably know little to nothing about the original California Zephyr and have no more than  a passing interest in it.

They see the CVSR as providing transportation within the CVNP or presenting a pleasant sightseeing experience.

I don’t know how much repeat business the CVSR gets from the sightseers, but it strikes me as the sort of thing you do once or, maybe, occasionally.

Hence the railroad must continually offer new programming and gimmicks to continue to draw passengers.

It remains to be seen how much longer the new silver cars will retain their current California Zephyr look.

Chances are the interiors will remain the same even if the exteriors might receive CVSR colors.

Then again when the Saint Lucie Sound was overhauled a couple years ago it was stripped of its CVSR colors and those have yet to be reinstated.

It also remains to be seen if the Silver Solarium will operate in the manner that it was designed to operate as the last car on the train and with an unobstructed view of the scenery as the train rolls down the rails.

CVSR operating practice is to have diesel locomotives at each end of a train. That is done for practical and safety reasons.

I can’t imagine the Silver Solarium operating routinely uncovered by a locomotive.

Perhaps it will operate in that manner on special occasions. CVSR was willing to detach the FPA-4 behind the Silver Solarium during the photo runbys of the last NKP 765 excursions on Sept. 30.

Perhaps that was a trial run to determine how easily and efficiently a locomotive can be detached and attached to a train on the road.

What I would not expect is for a train to back up from Akron to Rockside using only the tiny whistle on the rear of the Silver Solarium to warn vehicular traffic at grade crossings.

All of these are matters to play out in the future. For now the Silver Solarium, Silver Lariat and Silver Rapids have that new out of the box feel even if they have been around for several decades and are entering yet another phase of their service lives.

But at least they are still in revenue service rather than sitting static in a museum or, worse, being cut up in a scrap yard.

Looking toward the rest of the train from the dome section of the Silver Solarium. The dome car ahead is the Silver Lariat.

Edward Ribinskas (left) and his brother Steven repose in the lounge section of the Silver Solarium.

An overhead view of the dome section of Silver Solarium as seen from the East Pleasant Valley Road bridge.

For the time being the CVSR’s dome car trio have been operating in tandem.

Chicago-Columbus Passenger Line Hearings Set

October 17, 2018

Four public meeting have been scheduled in Indiana and Ohio to discuss a proposed intercity rail passenger route between Chicago and Columbus via Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The meetings are being conducted by the Northern Indiana Passenger Rail Association and will cover recent work that has been done to bring the service to fruition as well as how to secure funding for the service.

The only Ohio hearings will be held Oct. 23 between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. in Lima at the Lima Municipal Center.

Other hearings are set for Oct. 24 between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne; Oct. 24 between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. in the city hall council chambers in Warsaw, Indiana; and Oct. 25 between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.  at the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce in Valparaiso, Indiana.

At each meeting, there will be a brief presentation from HNTB, a consulting firm hired to complete an analysis required under federal law in order for the rail project to receive federal funding.

The analysis includes a purpose and need assessment, a public involvement plan, an analysis of the route options, development of service alternatives along the preferred route, and preliminary engineering to develop cost estimates of the service alternatives.

That work is being done in phases and the meetings and analysis to be presented will focus on the corridor between Lima and Gary, Indiana.

South Shore to Hire Project Managers

October 17, 2018

The South Shore Line has hired managers to oversee two expansion projects.

The commuter railroad will spend up to $35.8 million for management of the West Lake project, a new commuter line between Hammond and Dyer, Indiana; and work to double-track the South Shore main line between Gary and Michigan City, Indiana.

The contracts cover management of the West Lake project through its completion, and administration and real estate services for both projects.

The South Shore will now begin to acquire property for projects with that process is expected to begin early next year.

Coal Booster Plans Quietly Dropped

October 17, 2018

The Trump administration has quietly set aside its plans to bolster the coal industry amid opposition from within and outside the administration.

Politico reported that various ideas to force utility companies to keep coal-fired generating plants operating were opposed by members of the National Security Council and National Economic Council.

The report did not say whether President Trump, who campaigned in 2016 on a pledge to revive the coal industry, agreed with or made the decision himself.

Coal remains the single-largest commodity by carload volume hauled by Class 1 railroads, but that traffic has sharply declined in the past decade as utility companies have retired coal-fired plants or switched them to burning natural gas.

The Politico article said the coal industry has been frustrated by lack of progress in the administration’s effort to boost coal production and use.

In particular, they have been hoping for economic assistance, but that has met with fierce opposition from oil and gas producers, consumer groups worried about rising energy costs, environmentalists, and conservatives fighting federal intervention in markets that might cost billions of dollars.

Exploring CVSR’s Silver Fleet: Part 2

October 16, 2018

It wasn’t fall foliage that enticed me to ride the Fall Flyer of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

It was an opportunity to get an inside look at a dome-observation-sleeper that until this year had operated as private varnish in charter service and at one time had been assigned to the fabled California Zephyr.

It can cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars to ride in a private rail car and I’ve heard stories of guys who saved money all year for a once-a-year trip.

I knew when I boarded the Fall Flyer that my $30 ticket would not include a bed in a sleeper compartment, an overnight trip or a freshly-prepared meal.

It didn’t even include a complimentary beverage. But that wasn’t the point.

The platform at the CVSR’s Rockside Road station is too short to accommodate all cars of the Fall Flyer so we boarded the train through the vestibule of dome coach Silver Lariat.

The first thing you see after entering the Silver Solarium is a long hallway with rooms on the left side.

The car, built by Budd in 1948 for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, has a drawing room and three bedrooms.

I glimpsed into those rooms as I made my way down the hall, but didn’t linger.

At the end of the row of bedrooms is an alcove containing a wet bar and serving area.

On one wall of the alcove is a set of five images, four of them photographs of the Silver Solarium on the back of Amtrak trains.

The fifth image is a painting of Silver Solarium on the rear of the California Zephyr on the Denver & Rio Grande Western.

That would have been the original CZ and not the Amtrak iteration.

The bar has images of white birds against a light blue background. Birds are also etched into the mirrors behind the bar.

It is touches such as these that have been lost in the Amtrak era. The national passenger carrier has economic reasons for offering a generic, although pleasing, look to its dining and lounge cars.

Beyond the bar is the lounge area of the observation end of the car. It includes chairs that follow the contours of the walls.

Silver Solarium has had a series of owners throughout its lifetime, including Amtrak, so it is difficult to tell at a glance how much of what you see today is original to the car versus having been added by one of its many owners.

The stairway to the dome section is typical of dome cars with lighted acrylic handrails accenting the stainless steel sides of the stairs.

The dome section features bench seating at tables. The benches are light blue and comfortable enough for a short journey, but I’m not sure I’d want to sit on them all day.

As best we could tell the white tablecloths adoring the table were original CZ issue. The Zephyr logo was faintly visible in the fabric.

Each table had a glass vase of fresh cut flowers and a white china vase with the Silver Solarium name printed on it in black.

That vase was purely decorative and empty. Each table also had an inexpensive battery-powered portable plastic lamp that only activates during the hours of darkness.

I would later explore the bedrooms of the Silver Solarium, which were a mixture of old and new.

The former included Pullman style seating that converted to a bed that folded down from the wall. The fabric of those seats had the look and feel of the streamliner era.

Yet the table that I found in one bedroom had the appearance of something more modern. It felt like a rolling conference room.

The flat screen television in the lounge area was undoubtedly not a product of the streamliner era.

We settled into our seats in rows 13 and 14 and awaited the highball to roll southward.

Next: Riding the Silver Solarium

The California Zephyr logo is faintly visible in the linen adorning out table in the dome section of the Silver Solarium.

PUCO Approves 2 Grade Crossing Projects

October 16, 2018

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has approved construction authorization from the Ohio Rail Development Commission for upgrading railroad grade crossings in Columbiana and Tuscarawas counties.

Norfolk Southern will install lights and gates at the Bayard Road and the Essick Road/Township Road 704 crossings in West Township, Columbiana County.

PUCO said the work must be completed by Oct. 10, 2019.

Ohio Central will improve the circuitry at existing crossing signals at the Dover Road/State Route 39 crossing so that they interconnect with nearby traffic signals. That work is to be completed by July 10, 2019.

Federal funding is helping underwrite both projects.

Kentucky Museum Completes Land Purchase

October 16, 2018

A Kentucky museum has taken possession of a portion of a former Louisville & Nashville Railroad yard in Ravenna, Kentucky.

The Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation said it has completed a deal with CSX to take over the yard, which will be used for shops and a museum.

The shop will be used to restore railroad locomotives and rolling stock. The steam corporation plans to establish a partnership with Estill County Schools to offer technical skills training.

The next step in the development project will be rehabilitating a shop and yard office used by CSX, which had built a three-bay car shop on the property in 1991.

The steam corporation plans to restore in the shop the former Chesapeake & Ohio 2-8-4 No. 2716.

Steam corporation officials said they hope to raise enough money in the next several months to lay track to the shop and to update its electrical system.

There will be a formal kick-off party and grand opening gala later this year.

C&O 1309 To be Fired up for Open House

October 16, 2018

An open house is being planned to show off Chesapeake & Ohio 2-6-6-2 No. 1309, whose boiler will be fired up for the occasion.

The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad will conduct the event at 3 p.m. on Oct. 30.

Tickets for the event will cost $130.90 and may be ordered from public.whistletix.com.

Ticket holders will be given a look at the boiler in steam and a chance to blow the whistle. They will also ride a diesel-powered dinner train that departs at 6 p.m.

The boiler of the 1309 was test fired earlier this month, the first time it had been in steam since 1957.

The restoration of the locomotive is being done under contract by Diversified Rail Services.

The 1309 was built by Baldwin in 1949.

WMSR officials recently said that newly-profiled wheels for the 1309 are expected to arrive soon followed by the installation of the boiler jacketing.

The railroad said it will cost $300,000 to complete restoration, includes construction of a coal storage and ashpit areas at the shop in Ridgeley, West Virginia.

Exploring CVSR’s Silver Fleet: Part 1

October 15, 2018

The Fall Flyer with the Silver Solarium on the north end arrives in the station at Rockside Road.

Three-fifths of the CVSR’s Silver fleet is visible in this image made at Jaite. Shown (right to left) are Silver Bronco, Silver Lariat and Silver Solarium.

Sleeper Silver Rapids made its CVSR debut this month on the Fall Flyer. Passengers could book rooms, but only traveled for two hours and not overnight.

An air of mystery surrounds the world of private railroad cars. The phrase “private varnish” conjures images of opulent surroundings; gourmet dining on fine china; and all of the trappings of wealth, power and authority.

Traveling in a private car is far from the experience of a journey in an Amtrak Amfleet coach.

I was expecting to get a glimpse into that world as I boarded dome-observation car Silver Solarium on Saturday at the Rockside Road station of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

Fellow Akron Railroad Club member Edward Ribinskas had purchased four tickets for the dome section of the Silver Solarium, which this month is operating on CVSR Fall Flyer.

I wasn’t expecting so much to travel like a king as I was seeking to see how kings traveled at one time.

Of course Silver Solarium wasn’t built to transport royalty. It began life in 1948 on the assembly line at Budd, which built it as Chicago, Burlington & Quincy No. 377.

The Q assigned the car to the fabled California Zephyr, where it was one of six dome-observation-sleepers used on the CZ.

The three railroads that hosted the CZ, the CB&Q, Denver & Rio Grande Western, and Western Pacific, described it as “the most talked about train in America.”

It traversed the heart of the Colorado Rocky Mountains and California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, offering some of the best scenery in the West.

In short, it personified the best that the streamliner era had to offer along with such other headliners as Santa Fe’s Super Chief, Union Pacific’s City of Los Angeles, Northern Pacific’s North Coast Limited, and Great Northern’s Empire Builder.

Today the mere mention of those trains prompts a longing for a paradise lost.

The CZ also was known for its Zephyrettes, the young women who provided a variety of tasks ranging from welcoming passengers to providing first aid to serving as a liaison between passengers and crew members.

The CZ began its final trips on March 20, 1970, but the story of the Silver Solarium didn’t end there.

Until the coming of Amtrak in 1971, the successor of the Q, the Burlington Northern, operated a tri-weekly “California Service” that involved making a transfer at Ogden, Utah, to the City of San Francisco, which Southern Pacific operated between Ogden and Oakland, California.

The Silver Solarium joined the Amtrak fleet as No. 9252 where it operated until April 1978. Amtrak retired the car in October 1981 and sold it more than four years later.

After its retirement by Amtrak, the Silver Solarium transitioned to the private varnish world, most recently in the fleet of Rail Journeys West where it joined fellow CZ alumni Silver Lariat (a dome coach) and sleeper Silver Rapids in charter service on the back of scheduled Amtrak trains.

That often found the trio on the Amtrak version of the California Zephyr, which uses the route of the original CZ between Chicago and Salt Lake City.

For four months in 2002 the Silver Solarium brought up the rear of an American Orient Express train.

Rail Journeys West decided recently to sell its CZ class and the CVSR was a willing buyer.

The three cars along with baggage car Silver Peak made their final trips on Amtrak to Chicago where Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 picked them up to transport them to Cleveland and the CVSR.

Silver Solarium and Silver Lariat debuted on the CVSR last month in the consist of excursion trains pulled by NKP 765.

Silver Rapids made its CVSR debut on Oct. 6 in the consist of the Fall Flyer. Silver Peak has yet to operate in CVSR revenue service.

There was a lot of history to ponder as I boarded the Fall Flyer at Rockside Road station for trip that would be part nostalgia, part exploration of another world, and part consideration of the state of contemporary train travel.

Next: Inside the Silver Solarium

AOS Acquires ex-W&LE Steam Locomotive

October 15, 2018

A former Wheeling & Lake Erie steam locomotive has been shipped by truck to the Age of Steam Roundhouse, which plans to cosmetically restore it

The 0-6-0 was owned by the City of Canton where it sat on static display for 33 years.

In 1991 No. 3960 was moved in anticipation that it would be restored to operating condition by Silver Throttle Engine and Museum.

That didn’t happen and in recent years it has been stored in a disassembled state in Minerva.

During the time that No. 3960 was stored in Canton many of its appliances and parts were stolen.

AOS has some parts that have been stored in boxcars for more than 10 years and it plans to give the 0-6-0 a new cab and replace rusted, lost, and stolen parts.

The 21st steam locomotive to be acquired by AOS was built by the Wheeling in 1935 at its Brewster shops.

It was part of a class of 20 0-8-0s and 30 0-6-0s locomotives built to a USRA design.

The locomotives 51-inch driving wheels with No. 3960 capable of producing 41,200 pounds of tractive effort and a boiler pressure of 200 pounds.

After the Nickel Plate Road leased the W&LE in late 1949, No. 3960 became NKP 360.

It operated in revenue service for the final time on Oct. 31, 1957. After being cosmetically by the Wheeling, it was put on display in Canton’s Mother Goose Land Park. It was re-lettered to W&LE 3960 in 1973.