The roots of the Akron Railroad Club date to 1936 when a group of Akron men formed a committee for the purpose of sponsoring excursions for railroad enthusiasts. The group, which included Robert W. Richardson, Bruce Triplett, Kenneth Richards, Robert McFarland and John Stein, initially met in a rented room at the Mayflower Hotel or at the YMCA. Their first attempts to sponsor excursions were not encouraging. The steam railroads were hostile toward hosting excursions or wanted too much money to charter a train.
The Stark Electric Railway was willing to charter a car for the Akron committee, but despite an extensive marketing campaign that included sending post cards to railroad clubs throughout Ohio and adjacent states only 15 people responded. Needing to sell 50 tickets at $1.45 apiece or 35 tickets at $2 apiece to break even, the commitee failed to meet either target and the trip was cancelled.
On June 20, 1937, the Akron committee decided to affiliate with the fledgling National Railway Historical Society. The Eastern Ohio Chapter was the NRHS’s westernmost outpost at the time. Chapter Richardson said the NRHS affiliation impressed some railway companies, particularly interurban railways. By the late 1930s, many interurbans were struggling to survive and welcomed any source of revenue.
The first excursion sponsored by the Eastern Ohio Chapter occurred August 1, 1937, a trip between Cleveland and Toledo on the Lake Shore Electric Railway. The Electric Railroaders’ Association co-sponsored the trip. A series of excursions followed on such railways as the Stark Electric, Toledo & Indiana, Ohio Public Service, New Castle Street Railway, Co-Operative Transit Company, Akron Transportation Company, and Inter-City Rapid Transit. Some of these trips involved last runs of routes of these railways or were the last operations of the company altogether.
By 1941, the Eastern Ohio Chapter had 19 members and dues were $3 a year. Meetings were held in the homes of members. The host often would hang a railroad lantern outside and serve sandwiches and refreshments. The program was usually a railroad movie and there was plenty of talk about railroads.
During World War II, excursions were prohibited and railroads did not want photography of their operations. Three of the Eastern Ohio Chapter officers left to serve in the military. Meeting attendance lagged and meetings were canceled or held every other month. But members still found time to ride the mixed trains of the Akron, Canton & Youngstown Railroad and go on outings to the Back & Front Yard minature railroad of Bill Schriber in Massillon.
The Eastern Ohio Chapter was splitting into factions that disagreed about the chapter’s direction and activities. Some members were primarily fans of steam railroads while others favored traction operations. Some liked the NRHS affiliation but others did not, citing how NRHS took $2 of every $3 in member dues.
On October 13, 1945, the members discussed dropping the affiliation with the NRHS. No action was taken that day, but a vote of the member was conducted and the board of directors counted the ballots on November 7, 1945. The results were nearly unanimous to end ties with the NRHS.
At the December 8 meeting, the results of the balloting were announced and those present voted unanimously to rename the group Northeastern Ohio Railfans. The Eastern Ohio Chapter officers would remain in place until new officers could be elected.
Those who favored continued NRHS affiliation formed their own group, the Midwest Chapter, which was organized on May 8, 1946. That chapter remains active today and in May 2014 had 21 members.
The Northeastern Ohio Railfans reorganized on March 27, 1947, as the Akron Railroad Club. Dues were set at $2 a year and the practice of meeting in members’ homes ended in favor of a permanent meeting site.
Beginning May 27, 1948, that site became the Akron YMCA, where the club continued to meet until May 25, 1967, when the meeting site moved to a First Federal Savings and Loan branch in suburban Fairlawn. On a few occasions the YMCA was booked so meetings were held in members’ homes or, as happened at least twice, in an idle Baltimore & Ohio Railroad caboose parked near Akron Junction.
Some meetings were held at Akron Union Depot. After having refreshments at the cafe in the adjacent Greyhound bus station, ARRC members would ride to Hudson on the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Akron-Hudson shuttle train. ARRC rode the last shuttle on July 31, 1951.
In some months, members boarded a B&O, Erie Railroad or Pennsylvania passenger train in Akron on meeting night and rode to Cleveland, Ravenna, Willard or Youngstown, where they conducted the business meeting and then returned to Akron, sometimes on another railroad. The train ride was that month’s program.
The ARRC resumed sponsoring excursion trips following World War II. Some trips involved chartering an interurban car, some involved riding regularly scheduled trains, and others involved riding the last trip of a failing railway company or the last passenger trip over a particular route. One of the more exotic trips involved chartering a Trans-Canada DC-3 for a 1954 trip from Cleveland to London, Ontario, and a trip on the London & Port Stanley interurban railway. The air fare was $17.40 and the rail fare was $2.25.
The club’s oldest regular excursion ended in 1951 when the AC&Y discontinued its mixed trains between Akron and Delphos, Ohio. Since the early days of the club, members had ridden the mixed trains on New Year’s Day unless it fell on a Sunday in which case the trip was made the following day.
During the 1950s, the B&O spurned the ARRC’s request to charter a rail diesel car. But the railroad relented in 1963 and thus began a series of RDC excursions between Akron and the Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky. The first of these trips, held July 21, 1963, drew 184 and earned a $361 profit. The trips continued through 1966. A year later B&O cited poor track conditions for declining to allow the trip.
By then ARRC outings largely were limted to riding regularly scheduled passenger trains of the B&O, Erie Lackawanna or Pennsylvania. These outings continued into the Amtrak era, although members had to drive to Cleveland or Canton to board the train.
In March 1961, a young man from Cuyahoga Falls was accepted as an ARRC member. Jerry Joe Jacobson would later own the Ohio Central Railroad and a fleet of working steam locomotives. In June 1991, he offered the ARRC a complimentary trip on his steam-powered tourist train operating between Sugar Creek and Baltic. Starting the next year, Jacobson allowed the ARRC to sell tickets for the Ohio Central steam excursions, which raised badly needed revenue for the club treasury, which had dipped under $100 at one point.
In subsequent years the ARRC’s excursions on the Ohio Central were held in October. The trips usually originated in Sugar Creek, but sometimes began in Dennison, and featured the various steam locomotives that Jacobson owned. Some trips featured double-headed steam locomotives and all had one or more photo runbys. On some trips, a steam locomotive pulled the train in one direction and a vintage diesel took it back the other way.
The Ohio Central ceased offering public excursions in 2005, but for the next three years offered trips on which only ARRC members and their immediate family members were permitted to ride. The last of these occurred October 7, 2006, and featured the first trip of an Ohio Central steam locomotive over the Apex branch, a former New York Central coal line.
As opportunities to ride trains or to tour railroad shop facilities became scarce in the 1980s, the ARRC turned to photography outings to railroad hotspots in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Train trips largely involved riding tourist railroads.
The ARRC met for the final time at the First Federal Savings and Loan in Fairlawn on March 24, 1989. The next month the club began meeting at a First National Bank branch in Ellet. That lasted until April 26, 1996. The club moved to another bank branch in nearby Mogadore, but the bank decided to close its facilities to public use and the last ARRC meeting there was on August 23, 1996. The next month the ARRC began meetings in the carriage house of the Perkins Mansion, owned by the Summit County Historical Society. The club moved to its current meeting site at the New Horizons Christian Church in January 2007.
Another enduring ARRC tradition has been the annual banquet, the first of which was held December 18, 1947, at the Seven Gables restaurant in Fairlawn. After the 1949 banquet, the club chose to hold a December meeting instead. The banquet returned in 1955 and has been a club fixture ever since. Held at various restaurants in the club’s early years, the banquet was held at the Maennerchor Club between 1955 and 1965 except in 1957 when it moved to the Liedentafal.
In the early years, the banquet program typically involved one or more club members showing movies or slides Beginning in 1965, the club began inviting outside speakers to the banquet. The first guest was Carrington Eddy of Fairview, Michigan, who showed movies. Eddy provided the program at all banquets held between 1955 and 1965 except in 1968 when Emery Goulash showed his movies. Among the acclaimed historians, photographers and railroad executives who have appeared at the banquet are Paul Reistrup, Harold Carstens, Jim Boyd, Henry Posner III, William Howes Jr., Michael Connor, Steven Wait, John B. Corns, Donald Hofsommer, Mark Smith, Ross Rowland and Don Phillips.
Perhaps the most notable speaker was Rogers E.M. Whittaker, better known as E.M. Frimbo, who addressed the banquet in 1980. It would be the last public appearance for Whittaker, who died on May 11, 1981.
The 1967 banquet was held at Sanginitti’s restaurant and remained there for the next 22 years. It has been held at a variety of sites since 1990 including the Martin Center of the University of Akron, where the banquet has been held since 2004. Declining attendance combined with the Martin Center existing the banquet business led to the 2012 banquet being the last. In late November 2013 the club instituted a end of year dinner at the Beef ‘O Brady’s restaurant in Stowe
The first summer picnic was held at the Broadview farm in Bath Township on August 28, 1948, with members playing badminton and croquet until being forced to go home by an attack of mosquitoes. The picnic has been held at various sites over the years, but in recent years it has been held most often at Warwick Park in Clinton, which is adjacent to the CSX Chicago-Pittsburgh mainline (ex-B&O). In 2012 and 2013 the picnic was held at the Willis Picnic area of the Bedford Reservation in the Cleveland Metropark system. That site is located adjacent to the Cleveland Line of Norfolk Southern.
The ARRC Bulletinhas chronicled the club’s events and more since the first issue came out in June 1940. The publication name probably mirrored the name of the national NRHS Bulletin. The ARRC kept the name even after ending its NRHS affiliation. The Bulletin suspended publication in late 1951 and no one active in the ARRC knows when publication resumed.
Aside from publishing the minutes of the previous month’s meeting, announcements of upcoming club activities and reports of past events, the Bulletin has featured a mish mash of content ranging from book and video reviews to accounts of riding trains all over the world to advice on how to railfan a nearby hotspot. At one time the Bulletin published news about the railroad industry, but that content has sharply diminished with the rise of the Internet.
In the early 1950s, the ARRC had about 20 members and the Bulletin was filled with pleas to members to invite friends and guests to attend meetings and possibly join the club. Membership hovered at less than 50 through the 1950s and into the middle 1960s. Membership began rising after the meeting site moved to Fairlawn.
The club constitution was amended in 1969 to allow junior members with the first junior members, Paul Woodring, Russ Jaite and Karl Stamm, being taken into the club on November 20. At the time, the club had about 30 members, which swelled to 51 by 1972 and 70 within two years. Many of those who joined in the 1970s are still club members.
For years, ARRC meetings were held on Thursday nights, but that changed to Fridays in 1973. The argument against Friday meetings was that that it would interfere with weekend railfanning plans. Two years later, the meetings switched back to Thursday before permanently moving to Fridays in the early 1980s. Some longtime members said they could not make Friday meetings and ceased attending. But by the 2000s, membership had topped 100 and the club’s financial position was the strongest it had ever been.