Exploring the Ashland Railway to West Salem

The West Salem turn begins the day leaving the Mansfield Yard running light. The view is from the second floor of the yard office building.

Craig Sanders and I had been planning to photograph the Ashland Railway turn to West Salem from Mansfield for several months. But there always seemed to be something that kept getting in the way of doing it.

We finally settled on Wednesday, July 25. What a fortunate choice. The weather was 56 degrees F and clear at 6 a.m.

We met at the McDonald’s in Orrville for breakfast then parked Craig’s car in the Orrville muni-lot near the Orrville Railroad Heritage Society depot. We headed for U.S. Route 30, which we took to Mansfield.

Upon arriving in Mansfield, we took Main Street (Ohio Route 13) north to the dirt lane leading to the ASRY yard office and dispatching center. It is located on the east side of the yard, which is next to AK Steel.

After a few quick photos of GP-38 No. 2023, we entered and talked briefly with the crew. We then headed upstairs to chat with Sheila, the chief dispatcher, who filled in the details of the trip for us. I had talked with her the day before on the phone to verify that the turn was indeed scheduled. It usually runs on Wednesdays.

The locomotive left and headed south to Longview Avenue to collect its cars. We did not go there; instead we hung out at the Main Street crossing next to the large grain facility where the ASRY loops around from the former Baltimore & Ohio Newark-Sandusky line to the former Erie Lackawanna main line.

The local would travel the EL line east to West Salem via Ashland. As much as I chased the EL in its last six years before Conrail, I never photographed it in either place.

The lighting was superb with bright sun and blue sky as the ASRY turn crossed Main Street with the large grain elevator emblazoned with “Welcome to Mansfield” as a backdrop.

After it passed, we headed back north on Main Street toward Lahm airport. We turned east on Crall Road and set up at a crossing near the Mansfield Speedway. Here we photographed the five-car train as it headed in a northerly direction.

We then followed various country roads northeastward, zigzagging as needed to obtain more crossing photo locations.

I had plotted out a route from Google maps on the Web and Craig had brought his DeLorme Ohio Atlas and Gazetteer. With him navigating, and listening to the scanner it worked out fine. The ASRY frequency is 161.175.

After several nice photo locations along the way, we entered Ashland on West Main Street. We then headed north to an industrial park, home of the Barbasol plant among others.

We knew that the ASRY would be switching the park, but did not find any roads leading to the action.

There was a long string of box cars on the Barbasol siding, perhaps being stored for rent. A lone tank car sat at the Barbasol plant.

We then headed back into town to look for photo locations. The former EL mainline loops through the north side of Ashland from northwest to northeast.

We found the large and abandoned Hess and Clark plant between Orange and Union Streets which offered nice historical photos. The plant, which once manufactured animal pharmaceuticals, is no longer active.

The ASRY passes over Union Street (Ohio Route 58) on a former three-track girder bridge that had been cut back to a single track.

Browsing about, we headed east on 4th Street to Miller Street where we found a couple of sidings with freight cars and a rusty track that led off east toward a clump of trees.

Craig thought that might be the remains of the Lorain, Ashland & Southern. Sure enough, while surfing the Web when I got home, I found a listing of the Ashland stations.

The Ashland & Wooster, predecessor to the LA&S, station was listed. It also mentioned that the A&W line paralleled the Erie in that area.

The A&W had a passenger station on the east side of Union Street between 4th and the Erie tracks. After this railroad was folded into the LA&S, which itself was controlled by the Pennsylvania and Erie railroad, the depot was used as a freight station by the PRR.

We then headed back to Cottage Street to await the train as it headed for West Salem. There was a nicely lit crossing there, just north of Vine Street.

We then noticed the remains of the former Erie station, including the concrete loading platforms for both east and westbound trains.

There was also an Erie stone milepost with “S 252” chiseled on it. That was the mileage from Salamanca, N.Y., the beginning of the former Atlantic & Great Western line to Dayton, Ohio.

It left the original New York and Lake Erie line at Salamanca. Both lines became part of the Erie Railroad, later the Erie Lackawanna.

Interestingly, there remains on the westbound platform a faint painted line, which serves as a warning to passengers to remain behind this line as a train arrives in the station.

Our exploring was interrupted by the sound of a diesel horn. Soon the headlight of the ASRY  2023 appeared to the north. This GP38 was originally built in June 1969 for the Monongahela Railroad and graced two other locomotive rosters before coming to the Ashland.

It stopped to switch several covered hoppers on a siding west of Cottage Street. There were enough cars that it required crossing Cottage Street a couple of time, affording nice photos.

We then opted to move to the Orange Street crossing so we could get photos of the train passing the old Hess & Clark plant.

After it passed, we then headed out of town on Route 58. We again did  some zig-zaging to find photo opportunities. Along the way we got photos near the Ohio Route 89 crossing in Polk, from County Road 800, and some across the field photos from County Road 700.

The Polk photo site featured a former feed plant and a nice red barn. We then picked up Route 42 into West Salem.

We opted for the grain elevator backdrop at the Route 301 crossing (South Main Street) for our first photo location. There was another Erie stone milepost “S 238 there.”

The ASRY crew informed Sheila that they were near the Britton Road crossing where the plastic plant was located.

After unsuccessfully looking for the end of EL track, we went to the Britton Road crossing to photograph the action. Action it was.

The conductor unlocked the plant’s gate, and lined the switch for the 2023 to back in and retrieve the empties. It pulled six covered hoppers from the plant and parked them on the main track.

It then shoved three of them back into the plant along with three more loaded ones that it brought from Mansfield.

The conductor told me the first three were either not empty or their paperwork was not completed.

The GP38 then sat in the siding east of Britton Road, while the engineer got off and lined the switch for the main. The conductor then rode the string of cars coasting along the slightly downgrade main track to the east of the siding switch.

The engineer guarded the Britton Road crossing with a fuse to protect against a traffic accident. The siding switch was then lined and the 2023 coupled onto the train. It would now head back to Mansfield, long hood leading, after the obligatory brake test was completed.

We left for the Route 301 crossing for our last photographs of the ASRY on this day. As the train approached it came to a stop, however.

A track crew in a pickup arrived and worked on the track a bit. That caused the Route 301 crossing gates to activate thus blocking traffic.

The train then edged forward a few hundred feet and stopped again. The conductor got down off the engine and checked the track gauge ahead of the train with a steel tape.

After what seemed like hours, the ASRY train crept forward at much less than restricted speed. Alas all went well and it left town.

We then headed back to Orrville to pick up Craig’s car. Craig heard an NS train calling signals, so we opted to wait trackside a while.

Soon NS local C27 appeared and called out an approach signal at CP Orr. It turned out that the former CA&C siding was lined to allow the local to proceed directly to the Smucker’s plant. Usually it works the Orrville yard and maybe the Scott fertilizer plant first. Apparently that was not needed today. After a few photos, we called it a day. It had been a day of fun chasing the ASRY over the former EL mainline in the bright sun. Some days, God smiles on you!

Article by Richard Jacobs, Photographs by Craig Sanders

There isn’t any doubt where this image was recorded.

About to cross Ohio Route 545. The train is headed in a southeasterly direction due to many twists and turns between Mansfield and West Salem.

Approaching Osbun Road near Pavonia. There is clear evidence that this was a double track mainline during the Erie Railroad days.

Switching next to the remains of the westbound platform at the site of the former Ashland passenger station. Despite it being more than 40 years since the last passenger train stopped here, a line is still visible warning passengers to remain behind this line when the train is arriving. Note that a notch was cut in the platform to accomodate a siding.

Having finished its work in Ashland, the train departs for West Salem. It is shown passing the abandoned Hess and Clark plant in Ashland. This area once teamed with industry, but most of it has since shut down.

The six-car train is crossing over Ohio Route 302 just east of Nankin. Few of the crossings between Mansfield and West Salem have crossing gates. Many have simple crossbucks.

I thought this red barn would make a nice photo prop, but when I went around to the other side I discovered that one side had yet to be painted. Ah well, it still looked nice. The view is in the village of Polk.

Crossing one of the many ubiquitous rural road crossings in Ashland County.

Gliding through the fields en route to West Salem.

The boxcars were hauled to West Salem, but they were actually bound for Mansfield.

Spotting the covered hopper cars for the shipper in West Salem. This is the reason why the rails are still here.

There is no run-around track at West Salem so the crew must let gravity roll the cars past the locomotive. The conductor releases the hand brakes and the engineer protects the Britton Road crossing during the roll by.

The conductor uses a tape measure to check the gauge of the track. It was OK and the train proceeded back toward Ashland and Mansfield, albeit very slowly over this potential trouble spot.

West Salem is 238 miles from Salamanca, N.Y., but you can’t get there from here by rail. The Erie tracks have been removed between West Salem and Rittman.

4 Responses to “Exploring the Ashland Railway to West Salem”

  1. shannon c Says:

    great post…i watch the asry cross over the black fork river bridge in my back yard twice a day…just like a kid every time i hear the diesel engines i have to stop what im doing to peak my head out back..i have some great videos in different seasons of the train crossing the bridge

  2. Andrew B. Says:

    What days do they usually go to West Salem and when do they usually arrive?

  3. Gloria C. Says:

    You have captured what I always felt Mansfield could be —– a rail thorough fare to other places. This article with pictures has made my the rest of my 2015!!!

  4. Craig Wiley Says:

    Thank you for the interesting story and pictures. The “red barn” in Polk belongs to me. It was built 1879-80 as a steam powered flour mill when this railroad was the Atlantic & Western Railway broad- gauge line.

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