Remembering ‘Big Jimmy’

Jim Mastromatteo at the Feb. 26, 2017, Akron Railroad Club member’s night.

He was known as Jimmy, Big Jimmy and, most of the time, Jim.

Jim Mastromatteo died last Sunday at age 60 after being stricken with heart failure during a model railroad show in Akron.

His death was a shock yet not surprising given his history of health issues.

A notice posted on his Facebook page announcing his death noted he had lived in an assisted living facility for the past year and a half and had been in declining health.

A longtime fixture of the Akron Railroad Club, Jim served as club secretary between 2017 and 2020.

We will remember Jim for how much he enjoyed photographing trains, his affection for the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway, and his interest in railroad history.

He was knowledgeable about locomotives and could rattle off details about them, including the railroad for which an older locomotive had been built and if it had been a unique model for that carrier.

Jim had a reputation of being a locomotive roster photographer, yet when he offered to allow me to use some of his photographs in two of my railroad history books I found a number of action and environmental images in his collection.

Some of those appeared in my second Akron Railroads book and in my book about the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

Jim would show his photographs at ARRC meetings but was not a regular presenter.

On his Facebook page, Jim wrote that he enjoyed “music; laughing; photography,’ railroads, [and] watching football, hockey, baseball and soccer.”

He served as secretary-treasurer of the General Alvin C. Voris Camp Number 67 Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War group and was an associate member of the General James Longstreet Camp Number 1652 Sons of the Confederate Veterans of the Civil War group.

He was secretary at the Tallmadge Civil War Society as well as a member of the Kent Civil War Roundtable.

His interest in the Civil War is interesting to me because as a history major while a college undergraduate I had focused on the Civil War period, a carryover from all the Civil War battlefields I visited during family vacations during my childhood.

I can only wonder what conversations Jim and I could have had about the Civil War.

Aside from the ARRC, Jim belonged to the Forest City Division of the Railroad Enthusiasts, Northern Ohio Railway Museum, Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, Nickel Plate Road Historical and Technical Society, Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Historical Society, Akron Canton & Youngstown Railroad Historical Society, Erie Lackawanna Historical Society, Orrville Railroad Heritage Society and the Ohio Museum of Transportation.

The last contact I had with Jim was in early 2020 when he called to talk about railroad operations in Indiana.

Jim had developed an affinity for the Indiana Rail Road and he, Ron McElrath, Richard Thompson and Richard Antibus were planning a trip to Indiana in late spring or early summer to see the INRD among other rail operations.

We also chatted about what he had been up to and his plans to get an apartment after having sold the house he had lived in for years in Akron on North Hill.

Jim had been born in Ravenna and graduated from Ravenna High School in 1979 but Akron had been his home for much of his life.

I don’t know if that Indiana trip ever came about. At the time Jim was in a rehabilitation facility after having had surgery the previous August.

There are many stories about Jim that have made the rounds within the ARRC over the years. One of the most often told was about an accident that happened on May 11, 1997.

Jim and many other ARRC members had tickets to ride a Carl Franz photo special on the Cass Scenic Railroad in West Virginia.

During a photo runby at Back Mountain Road, Franz informed Marty Surdyk there had been an emergency involving Jim, J. Gary Dillon and Corey Jackson.

The three of them were traveling in Jim’s car when Jim missed turning for a curve, ran off the road and clipped a house. The Corsica rolled over onto its roof.

Miraculously, none of the car’s occupants was seriously injured. After that accident, Jim let his driver’s license lapse and never drove again.

Consequently, he had to rely on the generosity of others to take him railfanning and to railroad club events.

ARRC member Steve McMullen told another story of how he and Jim were riding in that Chevy Corsica on back roads near Massillon when the car got stuck in the mud.

Steve said he crawled out through a window and ran over to ask a nearby farmer working a backhoe for help. The farmer used a chain and his backhoe to pull the car out.

There were times when Jim acted in ways that were not in his best interest and we’ll remember those, too.

After Jim’s death, former ARRC member Richard Thompson wrote on Jim’s Facebook page, “It’s crazy what a staple in your life people like him can become. You don’t realize it until they’re gone.”

ARRC member Steve McMullen shared a similar sentiment, saying he was 15 when he met Jim and is 41 now. Rich, now 28, said he was 14 when he met Jim and has thus known him for half of his life.

He credited Jim with teaching him much of what he knows about the railroads of the Ravenna, Kent, and Akron areas.

The two often spoke by phone, Rich wrote, and now he wishes he had been able to talk with Jim one more time.

Rich has created a 40-minute tribute to Jim on his YouTube channel featuring video made of W&LE trains around Akron during the many outings he had with Jim.

It can be viewed at

I’ll let Jim have the last word in this remembrance by quoting from one of his last posting on Facebook, dated Feb. 25, 2018. And posted below are a series of images including ARRC group photos taken during various outings that Jim attended.

“I’ve noticed that there is a pattern in my life that most of the things I like the most tend to be older than me: Things that were a bit ahead of my time, such as trains of the 1950s/1960s, TV shows, and movies, among other things.

“Some, but certainly not all, of my friends are also older than me. And, of course, one of the biggest things in my life is music, and all of my favorite artists are in their 60s or 70s, if they’re even still alive at all. I don’t attend many concerts, but usually when I do, I’m not the youngest but am among the youngest in attendance.”

Jim’s Corsica is shown the day after being involved in a rollover accident in West Virginia. (Photographs by Edward Ribinskas)
An ARRC group photograph at Cassandra, Pennsylvania, on Aug. 29, 2004, shows Jim Mastromatteo as third from right. Second from right is the late Dave McKay, who was in his last year as ARRC president and would pass away in December.
ARRC members at Cassandra on Aug. 28, 2011. Jim is second from left.
ARRC members and guests during the longest day outing to Marion on June 23, 2013. Jim is shown in the back row at far right.
The group photo at Dave McKay Day in Berea on April 6, 2013. Jim is second from right standing behind J. Gary Dillon (seated).

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One Response to “Remembering ‘Big Jimmy’”

  1. csxno601 Says:

    Very good article about Jim here, Craig. Unfortunately, the INRD trip never did come off, but maybe I’ll have to venture out there in remembrance of him sometime down the road. I’ve never spent any time on the INRD myself, but do find it very interesting.


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