Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Talking about Trains....

This weekend I had the opportunity to visit a great piece of local transportation history: the Ohio Railway Museum in Worthington Ohio (990 Proprietors Road-- open 12-4pm Sundays). The museum sits on the old rail line of the Columbus, Marion and Delaware interurban electric railroad. Founded in 1948, the museum had fallen into decay before a local group of volunteers took it over a couple of years ago. Since then they have been working hard to restore the museum's short stretch of rail line and the cars themselves. 

The museum is very kid-friendly, although it is also basically a railroad junkyard so close parental attention is in order. I took my 6-month old son for his first experience of railroad travel.

The No. 578 steam locomotive looms over the rest of the equipment in the yard. It was built in 1910 and served between 1917 and 1944 on a Ohio railroad. Its top speed was 70 miles per hour, not bad for a mountain of cast iron and steel!

The museum lacks the expertise or resources (or space, really) to run a steam locomotive, so they use two more modest locomotives to pull their cars. This electric switcher was once used to pull coal cars beneath a power plant.

Mass transit, pre 1970s style. The museum is proud of its interurban heritage and sports a number of old trolleys and cars which used various means of propulsion. Unfortunately, many of the older trolleys were made of wood and are quickly rotting away under exposure to the elements.

Inside one of the better-preserved trolleys. For those of us familiar with Central Ohio's mass transit system, it's a bit sad to think of the intricate network of light rail systems that once tied Columbus' neighborhoods together.

Several of the older passenger cars were slowly rusting and rotting apart, but the excursion car, a 1930s vintage Canadian National Railways coach, was clean and nicely painted. Although many of the old benches and seats had started to spill out their horsehair guts, you could see the glamour that even ordinary rail travel carried in the early 20th century.

One of the more interesting specimens was a hybrid, self-propelled car, which had an engine in the front and a passenger compartment in the back half. Coupled to a couple of other cars, this train would have plied the short lines linking smaller cities in the waning days of passenger rail service.

What the Ohio Railroad Museum could really use is a shed to shelter its historic equipment from the elements, and a lot of mechanical and upholstery work on its cars. The legacy of the interurban lines and early 20th century light rail is here to see and walk around in. In a new century when people are moving back into the city and automobiles are becoming less sustainable as a transportation system, the museum is not a collection of decaying relics-- it is an ark for lost technologies and ideas whose time may come again.