Friday, January 23, 2015

Visit to Worthington

Frank writes...

Last weekend I had a business trip to Columbus, Ohio.  When traveling I often look for railfanning opportunities and in Columbus you don't have to go far to find one: the Ohio Railway Museum is in the suburb of Worthington on the north side of town.  Of course, there is a significant drawback to visiting ORM, namely that you're guaranteed to leave more depressed than when you arrived.
"Closed for winter" is a bit of an understatement; in a way ORM has been going through a winter of its own making for nigh on 40 years now.  Founded in 1948, five years before IRM, ORM was among the earliest traction museums to begin regular operations on its own railroad and I believe was the first museum to operate both steam and electric trains.  Though it never had a large collection it did have a rather historically significant one.  It was among the earlier museums to complete "chicken coop" restorations; both a Columbus city car and a Columbus Delaware & Marion interurban parlor car were restored to operation from car body condition.
But then in 1975 the museum imploded.  From what I understand, ORM's volunteers had recognized the serious problems the museum's site posed.  They were shoehorned into a small slice of land along the old CD&M right-of-way, surrounded by houses (they actually had to abandon part of their line due to NIMBY complaints), with no way to expand.  The museum was offered an old AEP branch outside of Columbus for free, complete with an existing repair shop, which would have given the museum a good permanent home.  But the museum membership split over moving and eventually declined the AEP branch, electing to keep the museum where it was.  The membership split, with most of the working volunteers quitting, and ORM never recovered.
Today the museum is as shown, a yard full of rusting equipment.  The museum once had a small homebuilt car barn but that was dismantled a decade ago before it collapsed; now everything is either tarped or exposed to the weather.  A few pieces of have been deaccessed and transferred to other museums but most are being held onto stubbornly by ORM or - as in the case of the unique Stillwell-roofed Erie doodlebug shown above - have been offered for sale but are already so deteriorated that no taker can been found.
The electric fleet, the core of the museum's collection, hasn't fared well.  Among the examples in better shape is Ohio Public Service 64, shown above, a lightweight interurban car that ran on the old Toledo Port Clinton & Lakeside.  ORM's very first car was an old Niles wood car from the TPC&L and that too is tarped and deteriorating in the yard but I was unable to get a good shot of it.  Other historic cars hidden away include a C&LE high-speed, the CD&M parlor car, the Columbus city car, and an ancient Brownell single-trucker from Kansas City.
On the right is N&W 578, an attractive Pacific that once operated at the museum along with a train of nice Pennsy heavyweight passenger cars (some have since been sold, others are still sitting in the yard at ORM).  A few years back a plan to sell this locomotive was floated which ended with an ORM volunteer, apparently of dubious stability, threatening to chain herself to the thing to keep it from leaving.  On the left is a Pittsburgh PCC which ran only briefly, while in the middle is the better of the museum's two CTA 4000s.  The worse one was scrapped about five years ago.
And here's one of ORM's most recent acquisitions, a Cleveland "Airporter" rapid transit car from the Trolleyville collection.  Until a few years ago the museum's only operating car was its Illinois Terminal double-end PCC (a car which is coveted by several museums, IRM among them) but from what I understand it is no longer in use; passenger service is held down by a steeplecab towing a recently-acquired modernized coach of some sort that is lettered Ohio Railway Museum.  A video of this operation can be found here.  Sic transit gloria mundi.


Anonymous said...

I visited ORM last September on a day when it was open. Your comments about the depressing condition of the collection are right on target. I rode their train on a round trip ride of about a mile at ten mph. The coach has no seats, but features two rows of center-facing church pews! I was particularly interested in their early North Shore car, complete with coal stove. But you can see daylight through its collapsing ceiling. The IT PCC is actually in fairly good shape, but apparently no longer operated. Now would be the time to liberate it before it deteriorates further. Most of the rest of their collection is inaccessible and crumbling. This is an example of everything that can go wrong with a railway museum.
Dan Buck

Anonymous said...

i had not heard anything much about ORM lately; not that I expected to hear anything good.

It is too bad that those Delaware & Marion cars have gone to Hell. At one time they were great!

At least some cars have gone to other museums which can use them to make other cars go; such as the Birney car that went to Fort smith Trolley Museum.

Ted Miles
IRM Member

Anonymous said...

Some posts on the Museum's Facebook page show the 64 on the line last year, so apparently they do have an operable electric car. There are also some pictures of the 578 with headlight and marker lights. Still, it's a shame to see so much of the equipment out in the open, falling apart.

Cliff McKay

Randall Hicks said...

We can be sure that the passengers sitting in the pews when Dan visited last September were edified and uplifted by his impromptu sermon. Shades of Nelson Blount!

Seriously, though, it's a real tragedy that so many pieces of unique historical value are being left to rot away on the property. Besides those already mentioned, OPS 21 was the first interurban car to be selected for preservation, in 1939(!), and it is, or was, the premiere example of the typical Midwestern wood interurban car. I hate to think what it must look like now. The CD&M parlor car that Ted referred to was another gem, that by now has also suffered badly. But sadly there's nothing we can do.

Anonymous said...

Frank, I couldn't agree more with the comments posted regarding the sad state of affairs at ORM. To see such an historically significant collection of traction sitting outdoors rotting away is tragic. This situation should be monitored closely. I'm grateful we purchased the Detroit Peter Witt car for Seashore as it was rumored to be in danger of scrapping! I'm particularly concerned about the Interurban collection as it contains several important pieces. This should be on everyones "radar screen"! Lee Duncan STM Member