Connor’s Ohio Central Book a Trip to the Past

Ohio Central stream locomotives No. 1293 and 6325 idle at the Morgan Run shops in June 2002 after bringing in an excursion train from Sugarcreek. Steam excursions were a regular site on the Ohio Central during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Ohio Central stream locomotives No. 1293 and 6325 idle at the Morgan Run shops in June 2002 after bringing in an excursion train from Sugarcreek. Steam excursions were a regular site on the Ohio Central during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Michael J. Connor probably didn’t set out to write a book about the steam locomotives of the Ohio Central Railroad when he began working on Volume 1 of his planned series of books about his former employer. The Ohio Central was and still is a freight carrier that handles coal, steel and other commodities.

But steam-powered excursions are what most Akron Railroad Club members probably remember the most about the more than 20-year ownership of the Ohio Central by Jerry Jacobson, a lifetime ARRC member.

For several years the ARRC had an annual excursion behind steam over OC rails. Most of those trips began and ended in Sugarcreek, Ohio, which was also the base for the Sugarcreek-Baltic steam-powered tourist train.

And if that wasn’t enough, the OC regularly hosted other steam excursions over various other components of its system. Those steam operations get more than their due in Connor’s book. You will see all of Jacobson’s steam locomotives out on the line in page after page.

But the thrust of  book, which was released earlier this year by Morning Sun Books, is how Jacobson took over a number of moribund railroad operations that Norfolk Southern and Conrail didn’t want and turned them into profitable ventures that earned him the moniker of “Doctor of Sick Railroads.”

Without the arrival of the Ohio Central, most, if not all, of these routes might have been abandoned.

Connor joined the OC in August 1988. By then, Jacobson was more than four years into the railroad business, having purchased Ohi-Rail in 1984. Ohi-Rail used tracks that the State of Ohio had purchased from Minerva on south to prevent their abandonment by Conrail.

In 1985 Jacobson began operating another state-owned railroad, this one based in Zanesville and thus was born the Ohio Southern Railroad and the beginning of the Ohio Central System.

Connor’s book provides an overview of how Jacobson cobbled together the OC system and how it proved to be quite successful in providing a level of service that the previous Class 1 owners had little to no interest in offering.

That helped to win back customers who had long since switched their shipping to trucks. But the OC also had to overcome the antics of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, which Connor writes had a decidedly anti-rail orientation. The OC was able to circumvent that in a way that might be comical if it wasn’t true.

In the typical Morning Sun “slide show in a book” format, Volume 1 is heavy on photographs. The content is organized by railroad segment. The captions are informative and it helps that Connor was around for much of the Jacobson ownership era of the Ohio Central.

The book also provides some information about how the freight business of the Ohio Central operated during the Jacobson era.

I came away with a sense that there is much more to be told about the Jacobson era of the Ohio Central and that will have to wait for another book in another format.

The Jacobson era at the Ohio Central ended at midnight on Sept. 30, 2008, when he sold the OC to Genesee & Wyoming.

The G&W owns numerous short-line railroads and takes a more corporate approach. Whether that is good for the customers that the Ohio Central spent years wooing and serving remains to be seen and probably depends on your perspective. Connor doesn’t go there in Volume 1.

The steam era on the Ohio Central as we knew it had ended well before Jacobson sold the OC system. Perhaps nothing like it will ever again happen in the lifetimes of those ARRC members who made numerous treks to OC territory to document Jacobson’s fleet of steam locomotives in action.

Volume 1 is a good way to remember those times. Although none of the excursions trains shown in the book are described as ARRC excursions, some of them might have been.

For those like myself who only got in on the tail end of the OC steam era, Volume 1 does a nice job of showing what we missed.

Review by Craig Sanders

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