I was hiking on the Portage County Hike and Bike trail recently on a nice fall day. The sun was out and the leaves were at their peak color.
A portion of the former Erie Railroad mainline that once ran between Chicago and New York runs parallel to the trail for much of its path between Brady Lake and Kent.
If you know where to look, you can find a few relics of the Erie, although none of are functional any more.
They include a six-side former telephone shanty that was once used to call the dispatcher, the control box of a former yard light tower and a bridge over Breakneck Creek.
The telephone shanty lies on its side off the trail. I’ve seen it before, but on this day I noticed that vegetation is growing over it.
Built of concrete, the shanty was designed to last a long time, but the forces of nature are slowly breaking it down.
The control box for the light tower is in good condition, having been painted a few years ago. But the light tower itself is gone.
The tower was one of three that illuminated the yard and Akron Railroad Club member Bob Rohal said he used to climb those towers to change the light bulbs when he worked for the Erie back in the 1950s.
The bridge over Breakneck Creek is in the same situation as the telephone shanty. It was built to last and is likely to be standing for some time to come. But the wood is rotting and the metal structure rusting away.
Then there is the track itself. From what I’ve observed in photographs, it is the former eastbound main, the westbound main having been removed in the 1970s.
When walking on the trail I try to imagine what it must have looked like when Erie and Erie Lackawanna trains used those rails. Conrail also used it for a time and it was during Conrail ownership that the infrastructure of the ex-Erie was greatly reduced.
Today, the Akron Barberton Cluster Railways uses the tracks, which are owned by Portage County. Service is infrequent and I’ve seldom seen trains on the line while out walking. I’ve never seen one on weekends when I am most likely to be on the trail.
It would be nice to see trains more often on the ex-Erie, but that is not likely to happen. So I rely mostly on my knowledge of railroad history and imagination to “see” what used to be while enjoying what is there now.
Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders