Now and Then: My How Things Have Changed

Saturday, May 7 found Roger Durfee, Peter Bowler and myself chasing an Orrville Railroad Heritage Society excursion train on the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway. Our chase ended in Creston, where the train had gone after unloading its passengers in Lodi to clear the main for an eastbound freight train.

The freight passed — with fellow Akron Railroad Club member Chris Lantz — at the throttle and then the ORHS train backed up to Lodi to await its passengers, who spent the three-hour layout at a nearby outlet store shopping center.

It has been years since Roger had been to Creston. He began talking about the trains he photographed in the early days of Conrail, when the former Erie Lackwanna mainline was still in use, although barely.

It is difficult to find the former Erie Railroad right of way in Creston today. But we tried anyay. After a few false starts, we finally determined where the mainline had been. Mother Nature has reclaimed the ex-EL in a major way, but a few open areas and some other clues remained. Among the hints are leftover ballast, some rotting ties, discarded batteries and the concrete base for the westbound home signal.

Article by Craig Sanders. Photographs by Roger Durfee

Shown above is a Norfolk & Western train heading eastbound in Creston in February 1976. Note the buildings and home signal to the left of the train. The photo below is of a W&LE eastbound in Creston on May 7, 2011. Only the foundations are left of the buildings and the signals, but the Wheeling has installed a new signal and a siding.

In July 1979, Roger ran into N&W No. 4146 again, this time interchanging an ore train with Conrail on the former EL in Creston. These moves would be history by the end of the summer, and by 1980 the former EL route in this location would go dormant.

The N&W would bring ore trains into Creston to hand off to Conrail, an arrangement that pre-dated Conrail during the EL era. The N&W power would cut off and the Conrail power would couple on and leave town. The power for the two railroads is shown in the top photograph.

Today, the opening amid the trees shown in the photo below is one of the few clues that a major railroad used to be located here. This May 2011 view looking east down what was the EL was taken in the same spot as the ore train. You would never know a busy railroad once ran through this spot.

Our search for the former EL in Creston ended when light rain began falling. A week earlier, Roger and I had stopped in Marshallville in Wayne County after photographing the Norfolk Southern office car special train pass through nearby Orrville.

At one time, Marshallville was on the Pennsylvania Railroad line that operated between Hudson and Columbus via Akron and Orrville. Today only a small segment of the track at Orrville remains.

We spent some time looking for the former PRR right of way, which is slated to become a walking trail and bike path between Clinton (Warwick) and Orrville. Our visit brought back memories from Roger of trips spent chasing early Conrail trains on the ex-PRR line. Not long after Conrail began, it diverted much of the traffic off the former EL to to the PRR Fort Wayne Line west of Orrville. These trains used the ex-PRR “Akron Branch” between Akron and Orrville.

A Conrail train passes through Marshallville in March 1978 in the photograph above. In the photo below is the same scene in April 2011.

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4 Responses to “Now and Then: My How Things Have Changed”

  1. jake Says:

    The Erie/EL mainline does indeed still exist in Creston; not as a railroad but as the Wayne County Rails to Trails. The hiking and biking trail extends from Brooklyn Street in Creston to Rittman over the former right of way. A dedication ceremony was held this past Saturday, May 14 in Rittman.
    I wrote an article about the former B&O freight house in Sterling that has been moved to the trail head at Kauffman Ave in Sterling. The trail leaves the former Erie/EL rofw at Kauffman Ave to travel along the road on Atlantic Ave before rejoining the trail. This allows crossing the CSX mainline at the grade crossing. The B&O crossed the Erie/EL at Sterling, thus putting the new trail on the north side of the CSX mainline. The “Loop” railfans meet there on Wednesday afternoons to watch trains.

    I spent many an hour at the N&W/EL crossing in Creston photographing trains since Columbus Day 1970. The concrete lineside phone booth from there now resides on the Orrville depot apron. Many photos of the Erie/EL and B&O adorn the walls in the Pike Station Inn in Creston. Drop in to see them and enjoy a bite to eat.

  2. Roger Durfee Says:

    Thanks for the info Jake. We did notice a new paved trail located on what was the former N&W/EL transfer track near where we were taking our photos- it is on the track right of way seen behind the 4146 in the B&W photo above. The shot above with the gate in the woods was the location of the main, but we didn’t go east from there to see where the trail was beyond that point. There were all kinds of private property signs at the gate, so maybe the trail used the transfer track right of way to get around this area and back to the mainline alignment. Thanks for the tip on the Pike Station- I’ll try it next time I’m there! RAD

  3. jesse perkins Says:

    i wish conrail never ripped out the akron branch line. it would have been neat to a see a train go by on those tracks, but never did before they were taken out. i wish it wasen’t becoming a trail. it be better off still being a set of tracks, but it could be used for orrville depot day rail cart rides as many would railfans would agree to it and the ORHS could take an excursion through there too or NS would volunteer as yet they still own that right of way so what i am told by. its neat to see the ex EL train on the akron branch as its my first to see a train on them tracks when it was still there

  4. Charles Miller Says:

    The last trains to use this line were the Chessie/CSX Wooster Local, they ran maybe 2 or 3 times a week until around 1985 when the line was closed.

    They came down from Akron through Warwick and Marshallville and used the Conrail main to get from Orrville to Wooster. At the time CSX owned all the industrial tracks in the west side of Wooster in the fairgrounds area, but had no tracks leading into Wooster (washed out in the 1969 flood). RJ Corman has since taken over this business.

    Sometimes I would hear the local leaving Wooster on my scanner, and would head over to the Marshallvile area to watch it go through. What a sight! That yellow Chessie cat locomotive leading the way and matching gondola caboose bringing up the rear, on the old CA&C. Sometimes they would use a blue B&O unit!

    When the line closed, it happened so unexpectedly and fast. One day I was driving up Forrer Road east of Orrville, and as I drove over the crossing I noticed that the rails had been paved over! When I checked another crossing to the northeast I found that the rails had buckled and came off the ties. A few months later Conrail would tear the tracks out.

    Another piece of railroad history gone.

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