Posts Tagged ‘Cuyahoga Valley National Park’

Memories of My First CVSR Trip

May 17, 2018

My first photograph of a Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad train came during a railfan event. It would be another decade before I saw the CVSR again.

Twenty-one years ago today I saw and rode the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad for the first time.

I was a passenger on a railfan special that traveled the length of the CVSR.

I don’t remember how I learned about this event. Maybe I read about it in The Plain Dealer.

At the time I didn’t belong to any railroad clubs and the only railfans I knew were a few guys I regularly saw in Berea.

I bought my ticket by phone and during that conversation the ticket agent asked if I also wanted to buy a cab ride. Sure, why not.

Aboard that day were at least three Akron Railroad Club members: Marty Surdyk, Robert Farkas and the late Dave McKay. There may have been others.

Little did I know that photographs made by Marty and Bob on this day would later turn up in book I would publish about the CVSR.

Although I don’t remember it, my rail travel logs indicate the event started at Boston Mill station with the train being pulled to Rockside Road station by RS3 No. 4099.

It would be my first and only time to see that locomotive, which in the CVSR’s early diesel era was one of its workhorses.

At Rockside Road, we got off and did one of many photo ops staged for us by the crew.

This one involved the conductor and two crew members comparing watches and train orders on the platform.

There was also a handing up of train orders at Jaite, a scene of a pickup truck and tractor waiting at a rural road crossing that was located at Szalay’s Farm, and a “farmer” handing up milk cans to a crew member in the baggage section of the combine.

There were photo runbys at various places, including just south of Pleasant Valley Road, along the Cuyahoga River just south of Fitzwater Yard – although it wasn’t a railroad shop at the time – and at Brecksville to get the classic Ohio Route 82 bridge shot.

For the latter, the CVSR got permission from the National Park Service to cut down vegetation growing along the bank of the Cuyahoga River so as to afford a more open view of the train.

There probably were other photo runbys, but I don’t remember where they were. I knew virtually nothing about the CVSR of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in those days.

The train arrived in Akron at the site of today’s Northside Station and we rode buses to the Spaghetti Warehouse to have lunch.

It was one of two times I’ve eaten there. The other time occurred in summer 2013 when fellow ARRC member Paul Woodring and I were scouting for a place to hold the first end of year dinner.

My cab ride came during the last segment of the event. I don’t remember where I got on at, but it probably was at Indigo Lake.

I rode in the cab of FPA-4 No. 14, which today is CVSR No. 6777. The other FPA-4 in the motive power consist was No. 15, which today is CVSR No. 6771.

At the time, CVSR locomotives had a red, black and gold livery that heavily emphasized the gold. It has since been revised to emphasize black on the flanks.

The railfan event was one of just two times that I’ve seen lounge-observation car Saint Lucie Sound operate uncovered.

Most of the time, the observation end of the former Florida East Coast car is covered by a locomotive due to trains operating with motive power on each end.

I don’t recall us being allowed into the Saint Lucie Sound during our trip.

It would be just over a decade before I again rode and saw the CVSR. I’ve been trying to make up lost ground ever since in documenting the CVSR.

There is much I’ve missed that I could have recorded. I arrived in Northeast Ohio three years too late to see former Grand Trunk Western 2-8-2 light Mikado No. 4070 on the then-named Cuyahoga Valley Line.

I missed the Delaware & Hudson look-alike livery era even though it played out during my earlier years here.

The photographs I made of that railfan trip from 1997 are my only ones of CVSR locomotives in that first red, gold and black livery.

Given that the CVSR has moved to nearly all year scheduled operations on weekends, it would be difficult to duplicate this event.

It would have to be done on a weekend in the off-season and that would not encourage ridership.

Like so many railfan events, it was a good things that I did it when I did.

Comparing watches at Rockside Road station.

Creating a farm road scene at Szaly’s Farm.

Coming into Peninsula during my cab ride.

We were able to see Saint Lucie Sound operate as it was designed to operate.

Handing up train orders at Jaite.

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CVNP Begins Construction of Visitor Center

January 10, 2018

A groundbreaking ceremony was held this week for what is being billed as the first full-service visitors center in the 44-year history of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Although eight people engaged in a ceremonial turning of a shovelful of dirt, the new visitor’s center actually will involve renovating what had been a privately-owned apartment building adjacent to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad tracks just south of the Boston Mills station.

The visitor’s center is projected to cost $5.9 million and open in spring 2019.

It will supplement and not necessarily replace the nearby Boston Store visitor’s center, which will remain open but be given a new focus.

Park officials do not consider smaller-scale facilities at the Hunt House and the Canal Exploration Center to be visitor centers.

Once opened, the Boston Mills Visitors Center will be described as the main stop for park visitors to learn about attractions and activities inside the 33,000-acre park.

The CVNP was created in late 1974 as the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation area.

Now one of 59 national parks, CVNP drew more than 2.4 million visitors last year, ranking it 12th in attendance among the national parks.

For 2 Hours I Outsold a NYT Bestseller

November 11, 2017

I’m sitting at a black square table just inside the front door of a Barnes & Noble book store in suburban Cleveland engaging in a ritual familiar to many authors. On the table is a stack of 19 copies of my latest book Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

I’m a niche author and not many people are interested in railroad history. Therefore I don’t have high hopes about selling all of those books.

Directly in front of me is a table piled high with books labeled “new releases.” One of them has an orange cover that catches my attention. Titled The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, I’m hoping the book by Mark Manson won’t be a summary of how my book signing will go.

The railroad about which I wrote is known in Cleveland and last year carried a record 214,063 passengers.

Anyone who has visited the Cuyahoga Valley National Park probably has seen and/or ridden on a CVSR train. I’m hoping that that might help sell a few books.

A few people mentioned having ridden on the CVSR with some saying they had ridden several times. But they didn’t buy my book. Not today at least.

Twelve minutes into my book signing, a guy walked in, spotted me and immediately came over. In a matter of minutes he bought two of my books, one for himself and another for a friend.

I felt much better because at least I had made a sale. But he was more the exception than the rule.

As I expected, most who came into the store had little to no interest in me or my book. They walked past as though I didn’t exist, not making eye contact or saying hello. They were not subtle in not giving a . . . well you know.

This is my eighth railroad history book and I learned a long time ago how these book signings are often about learning the art of humility.

What I experienced at B&N I’ve also experienced at events filled with railroad enthusiasts. That was tough to take at first, but it comes with the territory.

The afternoon wore on and I made a few more sales. I had interesting conversations with a few folks. Interactions such as these make book signings worth doing even when sales success is modest.

One woman said she had seen a poster advertising my signing and came in to get my book, buying two copies.

There were some near-misses in which people expressed interest but didn’t buy. Maybe later.

A woman pointed at my table and said to her daughter, “look, there’s an author. He wrote a book. Isn’t that great! Maybe someday you’ll write one, too.”

The girl never looked my way, but I understood. Preschoolers have short attention spans.

I had plenty of time to keep an eye on those new releases, the Christmas-themed table to my right and the magazine racks slightly to my left. High on the walls were posters for such classics as Walden, The Maltese Falcon and To Kill a Mockingbird.

I wondered how many people come into bookstores and buy those books just to read them and not because the title is on a school reading list.

It was getting late. My publisher had said the signing was to be for two hours, but I stayed a half-hour longer.

As I was packing up my fliers and business cards while getting ready to leave, a B&N employee asked me to sign the unsold books. She placed a “signed by the author” sticker on each as soon as I finished signing. Sometimes that helps sell a book.

I don’t recall anyone even looking at Mark Manson’s book, but I might have missed it. He will sell far more copies of his book then I’ll sell of mine. It has been, after all, on The New York Times bestseller list.

I’ll never have Mark’s level of success, but for two hours on one afternoon in one store I outsold him.

Train Time at Canal Exploration Center

November 4, 2017

I’ve photographed the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad multiple times at all of its stations except two.

I had never been to the CVSR station at Hillside Road, which CVSR refers to as the Canal Exploration Center station.

The visitor’s center is actually located on the east side of the Cuyahoga River whereas the tracks are on the west side.

You have to take a trail that spans the river on a dedicated bridge. Otherwise CEC is just like any other CVSR station.

I decided to visit the CEC station after disembarking at Rockside Road station from a steam excursion train pulled by Nickel Plate Road No. 765.

The CVSR website designates CEC station as a bike aboard station. But on the day of my visit a large crowd was on hand to board the train and they were not bicyclists.

It was probably a tour group that had been to the visitor center there and had made arrangements to ride the train.

In the top image, cell phone cameras are out as the train approaches. In the middle image some passengers are heeding the call of a notice in some CVSR stations to wave at the engineer if they plan to board the train.

The bottom image was made from the farm south end of the station platform.

Now the only station where I need to photograph the CVSR in action is Big Bend in Akron.

Skirting the Swamp

October 14, 2017

Last month I posted some images made of Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 passing a swamp located south of the Brecksville station o n the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

I had walked along the tracks to reach that location. But the steam locomotive wasn’t the only thing I photographed there.

I also captured the CVSR diesel on the north end of the train, RS18u No. 1822, and some passenger cars.

Note how the smoke in the bottom image is still hanging in air back near the Brecksville station. It almost looks like the 765 is still there.

Wonderful Day for a Picnic and Steam

September 18, 2017

The photo line is out as Nickel Plate Road No. 765 passes the Valley Picnic Area en route back to Akron with the first excursion of the day.

It was a perfect day for a picnic. Under sunny skies with temperatures in the upper 70s, 17 Akron Railroad Club members and guests descended on the Valley Picnic Area in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to watch Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 pass by four times as it carried excursionists out of Akron on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

The Berkshire locomotive built in Lima, Ohio, performed flawlessly and cameras were out to record its passage.

At least one ARRC member, Vice President Emeritus J. Gary Dillon, was aboard the train, riding in car 165 on the afternoon trip with his niece Lisa.

As always, Chef Martè fired up the grill and served up hamburgers and hot dogs.

It was the second time the ARRC has held a September picnic in the CVNP in conjunction with a visit by the 765.

Last year we also held a picnic at the same location when the 765 was operating as the 767. Attendance at that picnic was 27 and may have been boosted by the novelty factor of NKP 765 operating with a different number.

We observed that there didn’t seem to be quite as many photographers out chasing the 765 as there had been last year or in some previous years.

To be sure, there were still a lot of people in the park with cameras. But the posse chasing 765 along Riverview Road as the steam train passed by wasn’t as long as in previous years and we didn’t recognize anyone we knew.

However, the steam trains appeared to be well patronized and as in past years the premium seats in the open window and dome cars were sold out.

Between runs of the steam train we also observed the passage of the regular CVSR train, the National Park Scenic, three times.

It had FPA-4 No. 6771 on the north end and Alco C424 No. 4241 on the south end. Most of the CVSR’s feature cars were on the steam train so the Scenic had an abbreviated consist that included a caboose.

For the record the steam train had RS18u No. 1822 on its north end.

If you missed the 765 this past weekend, it will be pulling another slate of trips on Sept. 23 out of Rockside Road station and on Sept. 24 out of Akron.

The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society is paying tribute to the late Jerry Joe Jacobson, a lifetime ARRC member, by placing his name beneath the cab widows on both sides of the 765 above the number.

Jacobson, who died on Sept. 13, was the developer of the Age of Steam Roundhouse as well as a friend of the steam locomotive preservation community.

The chef has another round of burgers on the grill while hungry members go through the serving table.

When two old railroaders get together they are going to talk a little shop. Paul Woodring (left) and Bob Rohal try to solve the problems of the industry while agreeing it’s not what it used to be.

The engineer of NKP 765 gives us some whistle as the train passes the ARRC picnic. The locomotive paid tribute to Jerry Jacobson on the cab.

A few ARRC members can be seen at right photographing the northbound excursion in mid afternoon.

The sunlight was still barely over the tree line as the last excursion of the day headed for Akron along Riverview Road.

CVSR to Run Fall Foliage Specials

September 14, 2017

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad plans to operate two-hour fall foliage trains in October in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

The trains will depart from Rockside Road station and run nonstop to Indigo Lake before reversing direction and returning to Rockside.

The specials will operate on Saturdays and Sundays and consist of coach, ADA and dining car seating. Snacks, drinks and merchandise will be available for purchase in the concession car.

Tickets will be $20 for coach and $25 for deluxe seating at tables in the dining car

All passengers ages 3 and over require a ticket. Passengers ages 2 and under do not require a ticket, but must sit on a parent’s or guardian’s lap.

CVSR Now Running 6 Days Each Week

June 3, 2017

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad has resumed its summer schedule, operating six days a week, which is a change from past seasons when trains ran five days a week during the summer.

Also new this year is that the National Park Scenic will make just two roundtrips on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The Scenic will make three roundtrips on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Trains will not operate on Mondays.

On Tuesday and Thursdays, the train will depart Rockside Station in Independence at 9 a.m. and 12:50 p.m. Akron departures at 10:55 a.m. and 2:50 p.m.

On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays the same schedule is in effect plus a 4:45 p.m. departure from Rockside and a 6:45 p.m. departure from Akron.

Intermediate stops include the Canal Exploration Center, Brecksville, Boston Mill, Peninsula, Indigo Lake, Botzum and Big Bend.

Coach tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children and are good for travel all day.

Upper level dome tickets are available for $28 for adults and $23 for children. These tickets are good for one continuous roundtrip and passengers may not disembark at an intermediate stop.

The same conditions also apply for first class tickets, which are priced at $23 for adults and $18 for children.

Tooling With Thomas

May 25, 2017

Most railroad photographers give little thought to getting out to photograph Thomas the Tank Engine. I didn’t either until this year.

It is hard to take seriously a pint-sized steam locomotive that’s not really a locomotive but a “shoving platform” that is a cartoon character designed to appeal to children.

I’ve done my share of mocking Thomas by referring to him as “Thomas the tanked engine” and “man, is our Thomas tanked.” The word tanked in this context refers to being intoxicated.

The fictional steam locomotive first appeared in The Railway Series books by British authors Wilbert and Christopher Awdry and later became the star of a television series.

There is nothing small about Thomas, though, when it comes to money. For many tourist railroads, Thomas pulls in badly needed dollars to fund restoration and maintenance work. Trains magazine recently described him as “Thomas the bank engine.”

The Thomas franchise operates worldwide and is worth $1 billion annually in sales.

Since making his first appearance on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in May 1998, Thomas has become the second most popular special event behind the Polar Express – another children’s story – and draws 25,000 to 26,000 passengers a year.

That is far more than who ride behind a real steam locomotive, Nickel Plate Road No. 765.

There are multiple versions of Thomas that tour the United States, often appearing on tourist railroads. One Thomas was converted from a 1916 steam locomotive that served Brooklyn Dock & Terminal in New York City.

Google “Thomas the Tank Engine” and you’ll find that in some quarters there is an intense dislike of Thomas, with one commentator saying the TV program featuring Thomas is filled with messages of classism, sexism and anti-environmentalism bordering on racism.

Other parents have been critical of Thomas by saying he and his friends are nasty, negative and set a bad example for children, particularly in their shirking of their responsibilities, showing off and competing against each other.

Such thinking, though, hasn’t kept Thomas from becoming a superstar among children or kept many parents from taking their children to see and ride behind Thomas.

Earlier this year when I was working on my book about the CVSR, I decided I would get out to see Thomas this year. I wanted to document Thomas because, like him or not, he is a part of the story of the CVSR.

The half-hour Thomas excursions leave from Boston Mill station every hour at half past the hour.

As I approached Boston Mill while driving southbound on Riverview Road, there was a long line of people waiting to get into a large tent, presumably the passengers for the 9:30 a.m. trip.

I knew from reading the CVSR website that various ancillary activities surround the visit of Thomas – most of which are designed to appeal to children – but I was surprised at how much the area around the station resembled a carnival minus the Ferris wheel and tilt-a-wheel rides.

Much of the carnival was located on the west side of Riverview on the property of Boston Mill ski resort. You can’t gain access to the site without a ticket.

So much for my idea of walking around and getting a feel for the Thomas experience.

On every other excursion, Thomas would meet the CVSR National Park Scenic train in Peninsula.

So that was where I waited. At 10:44 a.m., Thomas came steaming into town and went into the siding.

Maybe “steaming” isn’t the right word to use since Thomas is not a live steam locomotive. But he does make smoke, although not consistently.

Thomas has a steam whistle, which isn’t that loud, but it’s a whistle. There is one light on his right side that at first glance resembles a ditch light.

His eyes go back and forth and his mouth moves, too. I didn’t know that Thomas could talk, but he does.

The Thomas specials on the CVSR were being pulled and propelled by CVSR FPA-4 No. 6777. A crew member in the cab of Thomas communicated with the 6777 by radio.

Shortly after the arrival of Thomas and his train, the southbound Scenic arrived. Thomas departed and the Scenic did its station work.

My plan to photograph Thomas next to CVSR 4241 was marred somewhat by people standing in front of Thomas when the Scenic arrived.

A small crowd of onlookers was drawn to Thomas with their smart phone cameras out.

I stayed in Peninsula until the next meet occurred between the Scenic and Thomas. This time the Scenic did its station work before Thomas got there and I was able to get a clearer view of No. 4241 and Thomas. The Scenic left and Thomas followed it out of town a few minutes later.

I had made enough photographs of Thomas, to satisfy my curiosity and to fill a void in my CVSR collection so I left, too.

Thomas takes the siding at Peninsula to allow the CVSR Scenic to pass on the mainline.

Thomas is modeled after a British steam locomotive design.

Here comes Thomas minus his friends.

CVSR crew members have their smart phones out as Thomas chugs into Peninsula for a meet with the CVSR Scenic.

Children aboard the CVSR Scenic get a glimpse of Thomas as the two trains pass in Peninsula.

Thomas steams out of Peninsula to return to Boston Mill.

Thomas Returns to CVSR this Weekend

May 19, 2017

Thomas the Tank Engine is returning to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad this weekend with trips from Boston Mill station on Saturday and Sunday.

Thomas will make a return visit on May 26-28, also departing from Boston Mill station.

The CVSR said that only those who have purchased Thomas tickets or a site ticket will be allowed into the boarding and festival area at Boston Mill. A site ticket grants admission to the Boston Mill station area, but does not include the half-hour train ride.

The site will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and include magicians, bounce houses, balloon artists, live entertainment and railroad displays.

Fares are $18 for all trips on Friday and $20 or $22 for Saturday and Sunday trips.

The $20 tickets are good for the 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. trips.  The $22 tickets are for the 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. trips.

Passengers are advised to arrive at the site an hour before departure time.