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September 6, 1998, article one
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Mad River & Nickel Plate Railroad Museum
September 6, 1998, article one

PIX#1 NW Ohio Railroad Heritage. The mad River and Nickel Plate Railroad Museum in Bellevue is an interesting place to take the family and it's just a short 45 minute trip by car. The museum features a number of passenger railcars, locomotives and cabooses and a building that houses all different kinds of railroad memorabilia from northwest Ohio. The museum is open from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays in September and October.

It's hard for me to believe, but there are people, now well into adulthood, who have never ridden a train. I grew up around trains. When I was a kid you could ride the Chesapeake & Ohio or the Baltimore & Ohio. But the one I remember best is the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad - The Nickel Plate (NKP). That's the one my father worked on, the one we took to Chicago I don't know how many dozen times to visit my mother's family.

It was a world full of the smell of huge diesel engines, the swaying of the cars as the train clickety-clacked down the rails, green baggage cars with red wheels and linen tablecloths in the dining car.

Not far from here, in Bellevue, the history of railroading is on display for anyone to see at the Mad River & Nickel Plate Railroad Museum.

From behemoth engines weighing over 60 tons to specialized railroad tools to cocktail napkins with the emblem of the Rock Island Line, literally hundreds of exhibits chronicle railroading's rich past.

The 18-ton Plymouth diesel switcher was built in 1943 for the War Department and later used at an Alcoa Aluminum plant in Pennsylvania. This workhorse was restored with the help of Fostorians Cliff Cockie and Louie Manthey. Cliff is a member of the museum board and was my tour guide on our visit to there a couple weeks ago.

The 1943 Porter 0-6-0 fireless cooker weighs in at 65 tons and was used at the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company's Avon Lake Plant. It operated without a firebox by getting a charge of superheated steam from a stationary boiler. The charge lasted four hours. It was fireless to avoid the chance a stray ember from the firebox would ignite the plant's coal.

Ever wonder how produce was shipped before mechanical refrigeration? The museum's Milwaukee Road ice bunker has a bay at either end of the car each with a capacity of 4,800 pounds of ice. Fans circulated frosty air over the fruit and vegetables during shipment.

Over 16 million Americans were served in the nation's armed forces in World War II. Many of them were transported to their assignments aboard troop sleepers such as the one the museum acquired and restored in 1994. Each car slept 30 soldiers in bunks stacked three high.

How important was happy unit cohesion? Well, let's just say each sleeper had only one small rest room. There are only a few troop sleepers left. Most were converted into boxcars after the war.

The museum's oldest car is the France Stone Quarry side dump car. It was built in the early 1900s and used in Bellevue area quarries until 1954. This gravel car was designed to tilt to either side to dump its cargo.

There are many smaller exhibits, too. Speaking of WWII, plastics weren't in wide use then and all metals were devoted to the war effort. Kids who wanted a toy train had to content themselves with one made of cardboard and there is one on display.

If you like a Fostoria connection, you can look over the collection of cocktail napkins. There is one that simply has the name "Henry Flagler" on it.

Flagler was involved in establishing the Florida East Coast RR and was an associate of our own Charles Foster, Calico Charlie. Flagler lived on the site where the museum is located.

On the wall of the relocated Curtis depot on the Wheeling & Lake Erie Line is an 8-foot-by-6 foot enlargement of a photograph taken by Willard Meyers in 1942 showing a steam engine chugging past a farm field. The train is paralleling some telephone lines.

Meyers' intention was to depict industry, communication and agriculture in a single photo. In addition, there are post cards, tableware, lanterns, commemorative plats, schedules, maps, equipment and every other imaginable artifact characterizing the world of railroading. (That even includes a bottle of Nickel Plate Beer. That seemed appealing. It was a hot day.)

There's even a photostat of the time card issued by the Cleveland & Erie RR for the train that carried the remains of President Abraham Lincoln to a cemetery in Illinois.

Do you think you could move a fully loaded boxcar all by yourself/ If you put your shoulder into it and grunted and strained, the odds are you'd be tired and the car would stay put. But if you were a veteran railroader (an "old head," as my father used to say), you might know how to use a car mover.

This wedge-like tool was snugged up under a wheel. The bottom had teeth that bit into the rail for traction. The wedge was attached to a 4 ft. Long wooden arm.

When you rocked the arm, the wedge exerted pressure against the wheel causing the car to creep down the rails. (Those old heads were pretty dam slick!). The car mover is only one of many specialized tools on display.

Museum volunteers refurbish the exhibits in their own restoration building. To be considered restored, 65 percent of the original engine or car must be preserved. Otherwise, it's considered rebuilt.

So if you've got up a good head of steam to learn more about railroading, a visit to the Mad River & NKP Museum might be just the thing to get you on the right track.

The Mad River and NKP Railroad Museum was established in 1976. It's open daily 1-5 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day and on weekends in May, September and October. Admission is $3 for adults and $1 for children.

The museum is located on Southwest Street in Bellevue. The mailing address is 233 York St., Bellevue, Ohio 44811-1377.

On Sept. 12-13, the museum society will sponsor an overnight passenger excursion train from Cleveland to Cincinnati and back. There are two packages available, both under $300. Contact the museum.

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