Ohio Central Steam Photo Extravaganza
The October 5-6 weekend was limited to 100 photographers. Most of the space for this trip was sold aboard the photo special held in June. This weekend would be a two-day event. Since most of my friends had to work or had previous commitments I had to drag my wife, Ursula, along with me for Saturday’s run.
We left on Friday afternoon and met former Akron Railroad Club member and good friends John and Connie Surdyk for dinner. After our visit with them, we retired to the Super 8 motel in Newcomerstown for the night.
The weather for Saturday was my first concern. Showers from the second of the hurricanes that came up from the Gulf of Mexico were covering the area. Fortunately, the showers moved out after midnight. We were left with dry weather, although overcast.
After breakfast, Ursula and I headed for Morgan Run where the photo special was departing from. The parking area was very soft from the rain. Muddy ruts from car tires greeted our arrival. I thought sure the car would be sunk in the mud upon our arrival back at Morgan Run.
Departure was planned for 9 a.m. Since the steam engine for the trip, former Grand Trunk Western No. 6325, faced west, the first part of the day belonged to OC’s newest additions. The beautifully restored and painted FP7s from VIA Rail Canada were on hand. They would pull the passenger train. No. 6325 was tied on to a freight train. It was towed east and staged for runbys later in the day.
Shortly after our 9 a.m. departure, the first runby was held. At West Lafayette the tracks are in a cut that is spliced by an overhead bridge. The skies were still overcast, but a hint of sun shown through at just the right time. This was an omen of good things to come.
Normally when Ursula and I travel together she handles the video camera and I take stills. This would be our plan for today.
After the first runby, the Ohio Central crew came through the train selling raffle tickets for a chance to get a cab ride. Naturally, I bought several.
The second runby with the FPs was very nice. We set up at the east end of the massive overhead steel bridge over the Tuscarawas River near Newcomerstown.
Anyone who has ridden past this location on previous trips will remember how the area is a jungle of trees and brush. Not anymore. The crews did a fantastic job of clearing the area. We did several runbys at different angles here. The sun was still not out, but the shots were very nice. The FPs look very Pennsyish in their Tuscan red since this is former PRR trackage, they look right at home.
There were several more runbys before we got to Dennison. Here a runby was staged to simulate a PRR passenger train pulling in for a passenger stop. After this runby, the FPs ran around the train. This had then now on the west end.
It was time for lunch. Box lunches were passed out. Some people milled around the station to eat, but others reboarded the train
About 1 p.m. it was time to continue on with the show. A photo line was established at the east end of the station. Here the FPs with the passenger train ran by. Following them was the 6325, now lettered GTW, with seventeen freight cars. Included in the freight train was a Montour hopper car, PRR and C&O box cars, an NYC gondola and other period cars.
Former C&O Kanawha No. 2700 now resides on a siding facing east at the east end of the Dennison station. I used it as a prop for a shot with the No. 6325. After this series of runbys, we reboarded our train and headed west.
The next series of runbys were just west of Urichsville. The passenger train did one runby, the 6325 with the freight did two.
About this time the clouds were starting to break up. The lighting was improving with each passing moment.
Since we had done a good number of runbys with the diesels, it was decided to concentrate on the 6325 with the freight for the rest of the day. At the rest of the photo spots, the passenger train dropped off its passengers and disappeared.
When we reboarded after the Urichsville runby, the next cab ride winner was announced. “That’s me!” I shouted. I asked Ursula if she wanted the cab ride knowing full well that she’d decline. My excitement grew as we approached the next runby spot where I was to begin my cab ride.
I boarded the cab of No. 6325 at Port Washington. I again introduced myself to Tim Sposato and settled in for the photo runby. I recalled from my days firing former Grand Trunk Western No. 4070 on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad how busy the cab of a steam locomotive can be. My cab ride lasted 30 wonderful minutes, ending at the service stop at Newcomerstown.
I videotaped a good portion of the action in the cab. This way I can relive it over and over. At Newcomerstown, I thanked the crew and climbed down to watch the service stop.
About 30 minutes later we were again headed west. The next stop was at the Ohio Route 751 crossing. From there we headed to the east side of West Lafayette for a series of runbys at the site of a rear-end collision between a troop train and a passenger train in the early 1950s. The tracks here are on a fill overlooking a farm.
This spot proved to be so good that we did a total of six runbys here. The lighting and photo angles were so good that no one wanted to leave.
Arrival back at Morgan Run was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. A night photo session was planned for the evening. Since Ursula wasn’t interested in the night session, I asked Marty Surdyk if he wanted to attend. As luck would have it, Marty would be in Coshocton this particular day attending his niece’s second birthday party. He agreed to accompany me for the night shot. I called him at his brother’s house as we neared Morgan Run to fill him in on the time that the night session would begin. He was going to meet me at McDonald’s in Newcomerstown, next door to the Super 8 where Ursula and I were staying.
This sounded like a good plan until we got back to Morgan Run and found not that the car has sunk in the mud, but that I had a flat tire.
I called Marty and told him of our dilemma. Marty said he would be there as soon as dinner was over. I had called during that time. A fellow passenger from Vancouver, Wash., saw my plight and offered to assist. We rounded up some concrete blocks to place the jack on and began to change the tire, hoping the jack or car wouldn’t sink into the mud while we worked on it.
We got the tire changed without incident. Marty arrived just after I thanked the fan from Vancouver for his help. My spare is only a “donut” so we were limited to how far and how fast we could drive on it. Marty assured me it was OK to drive back to Newcomerstown. In fact when all was said and done we drove all the way home on the spare.
Marty followed us to the motel and after I got a “to go” order at Mac’s, we hustled back to Morgan Run. We arrived to find the steam locomotives, Nos. 1293 and 6325, already in position for the first shot. We hoped our arrival didn’t interrupt a shot. Since no one began throwing stones at us, we figured we were all right.
Since the photo line was already established, we had to squeeze in amongst the cameras and tripods. We had to guess at the f-stop for the first shot because they were ready to open as we finished setting up our tripods.
The first shot had the 1293 facing south on the former Wheeling & Lake Erie at Morgan Run and the 6325 facing west on the Panhandle. The second shot was just the 6325 with the freight train. Two shots were done of each setup.
The session was completed around 9:30 p.m. Marty drove me back to the Super 8 and he headed home. Coming down to accompany me on Sunday’s trip was National Railway Historical Society Midwest Chapter member Jim Arcaro. Before the flat tire, Ursula was going to drive home on Sunday and I was going to come home with Jim after Sunday’s trip.
Ursula didn’t feel comfortable driving so far on a “donut,” so she stayed at the motel as Jim and I went on the trip Sunday. Don’t think she was all alone all day. John and Connie Surdyk came over and took her shopping and to lunch.
Sunday dawned foggy. Thick as pea soup, the fog blanketed the entire Tuscarawas River valley. Jim picked me up and we felt our way to Morgan Run for the 9 a.m. departure of today’s train.
We arrived a little early and found No. 1293 coupled to the passenger train and No. 6325 still on the freight train. The first runby of the day was of both trains traversing the connection track from the W&LE to the Panhandle at Morgan run.
The runby with No. 1293 reminded me of a movie that the locomotive starred in with Jamie Lee Curtis. It was a Halloween flick called Terror Train and was made in the 1970s.
By the time we boarded the passenger train and left Morgan Run the fog was starting to burn off. Thank goodness!
West of Coshocton on the “high iron” of the former PRR, Nos 6325 and 1293 made numerous runbys. Included were side-by-side runbys, the passenger train overtaking the freight train. You name it, we did it.
No. 6325 rearranged the consist of freight cars to the delight of the photographers, but the best part of the trip was the next runby. A 54-car empty coal train was called to depart the Conesville power plant this afternoon. Ohio Central trainmaster Denny Varian wanted to know if we would like to see a doubleheaded steam freight train.
Our eyes lit up when he said this. Some in the group strongly suggested that No. 6325 could handle the 54 empties by herself. At first, Denny balked. But after some discussion with the steam crew, the decision was made to commandeer the empty hoppers from the freight crew and let the 6325 do a couple of runbys with them.
Word of the runby reached Ohio Central CEO Jerry Jacobson, who asked that the event be delayed until he got there. It didn’t take him long to reach Trinway, where the runby would take place. He had his three boys in tow. This was one of his dreams come true, as the 6325 would handle a good-sized train solo.
After the first runby a huge ovation was given to the crew. As an encore they did another one. Finally reality set back in and the OC diesels tied back onto the hoppers and off they went for another load of coal for Conesville.
The rest of the day was spent doing more runbys, doubleheaded on the short freight train, No. 6324 by itself on the freight, and more.
Arrival back at Morgan Run was at 6:30 p.m. Everyone hated to see it end, but sadly it had to. Reality was coming as I had to be back at work at 2:30 p.m. on Monday.
How would I rate this weekend? Top notch! Everyone on the OC went out of their way to make it a successful and enjoyable weekend. It was heard that trainmaster Denny Varian felt like he was going to give birth. His coordinating of the weekend’s movements was outstanding.
Sure the cost on a trip like this is high, but once you’ve done one, you’ll say it was a bargain. We were treated to over 40 runbys, a night photo session, meals and the friendliest crews you’ll ever meet.
Article and Photographs by Edward Ribinskas