Orrville Railroad Heritage Society ride combines nostalgia, history

Orrville Railroad Heritage Society ride combines nostalgia, history

Image Credit: Todd Stumpf

Earlier this summer Mike and Jessica Gonzales moved their family cross-country from Washington State to the Massillon area. One of the first things they did upon arrival was look for some fun things to do for their family of six.

Jessica Gonzales consulted a community board online and saw the Orrville Railroad Heritage Society was offering rides, which sounded fun enough.

“Somebody said they brought their kids here for Easter, and I said, ‘Oh, we have a train connoisseur and he’s obsessed,’” she said, referring to toddler son Maverick. “We hear trains in our house night and day.”

You don’t have to be a wide-eyed, little boy to enjoy the Orrville Railroad Heritage Society’s ride, which combines a bit of nostalgia and history with a short jaunt down a restored track.

For $15 per person, riders can enjoy the ORHS’s new converted flatbed car, which has room for a couple dozen riders and their belongings. Others can choose to take the caboose, which can be rented for $150 for parties of up to 10.

The Gonzales family chose the caboose.

“This was great,” said oldest daughter McKenley, who traveled with sisters Maeson and Madison, along with Maverick. “I loved it.”

The ride packs a lot in to a maybe half-mile trip up and down the spur off South Crownhill Road. There are railroad relics to see including a caboose owned privately by an area couple, a restored bridge over Sugar Creek and the Easter Bunny’s shack near the end of the line.

It’s not exactly the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, but it’s half the price or less, depending on the event, and if you’re reading about it in this publication, it also involves a lot less time getting there and back.

And it’s for a good cause.

“It supports a historically-based nonprofit that every ounce of our revenue goes in to restoring our equipment, preserving our depot, educating our public and paying our bills,” said Anna Davidson, the ORHS chairman of the board. “We have no paid staff.”

Anybody can be a part of that staff. Just go to www.orrvillerailroad.com and join the team.

“On the membership application, it asks what your interest is,” Davidson said. “Some people aren’t interested in driving spikes or working on the rails. Maybe they’re interested in helping us with our archives or working at the museum. They could sell popcorn. We’ve got all kinds of jobs for people with any ability.”

Davidson said there are between 80-100 members, but they are always looking for more.

In a perfect world, Davidson said the railroad would evolve into a metro park, something Wayne County is lacking. In fact, there is only one in the entire county, Barnes Preserve.

“And nobody knows really where it is,” Davidson said about the Wooster Park. “I’m kind of stretching that. There are people who know, but we need more.”

The counties surrounding Wayne all have good park systems. Davidson said she and her husband routinely attend hiking sprees in the metro parks system in Summit County. The sprees cost $5 to enter — $10 for first-timers. It’s not a lot, but when hundreds or thousands of hikers enter, it becomes a lot.

“That brings in all kinds of revenue,” Davidson said. “I would like this to be part of greater things in Wayne County.”

In the meantime Davidson said the ORHS will continue doing what it’s been doing, which is educating people about Orrville’s railroad history and how it got started, as well as trying to expand beyond its current borders.

The railroad relies on its ticket fees and donations to raise money, much of which is used on restoration and maintenance. The more people who ride, the better the ride can eventually get.

A recent addition to the complex was Block Station “Shale,” a small cabin that once sat in Summitville, Ohio on the Cleveland and Pittsburgh Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The shacks were used for controlling switches and junctions.

The ORHS, which uses the building as a ticket window and refreshment stand, estimates the building dates to the late-1800s or early-1900s.

“It just needed a coat of paint and a few other odds and ends,” Davidson said. “But it’s in really good shape.”

As for the Gonzales family, everyone was all smiles when the ride was over, especially Maverick. They got a tour of the engine at the conclusion of their caboose ride.

Davidson said nearly everyone will have a similar time.

“Right now they get a nice ride back and forth,” Davidson said. “They can bring their own refreshments. They can bring a picnic if they want to. They get some history lessons, and they get some stories. They get an experience. For $15, to get an experience for 45 minutes is a pretty good deal.”

For the rest of August and through September, the train will run on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 1, 2 and 3 p.m. October Saturdays will have the same schedule but will feature hay rides with kids each getting a small pumpkin. The last date for rides will be Oct. 29.

For more information including schedules and booking through Etix to guarantee seats (there is a small fee), visit www.orrvillerailroad.com or attend a membership meeting at 7 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month at the Orrville Union Depot at 145 Depot St.