FOSTORIA - The Fostoria Railroad Preservation Society hosted its third annual Railroad Employees Reunion April 26 at St. Wendelin Parish Center. About 65 people attended the 2012 event, which outgrew its original site at the LE&W Depot.
Jim Roberts of Tiffin, president of FRPS, served as master of ceremonies. He asked for a show of hands to see what railroads were represented. They included Nickel Plate, Norfolk Southern, Pennsylvania, Chesapeake and Ohio and CSX.
Secretary/treasurer Ellen Gatrell did a lot of the organizing for the dinner, with help from several other people.
Mike Pelton displayed his HO scale trains. FRPS member Jim Hohman helped clean up the kitchen and dining area. Bob Lorenz of Fremont, railroad artist and photographer, gave the program, and Findlay resident Deb Wireman videotaped the festivities.
"The dinner was prepared by Leah Hipsher, an FRPS member, with the help of FRPS board member Teresa Lee. They spent a lot of time in the kitchen preparing, serving and cleaning up the kitchen. Desserts were prepared by Teresa Lee and Marilyn Beers," Gatrell said.
Guests had plenty of time to reconnect and reminisce during dinner, and Roberts also invited guests to share stories with the gathering.
The first to approach the microphone was Eddie Durnwald, whose railroad photographs are on display at the Wesley Gallery.
"When I was 3 years old, I was riding with my parents in a 1950 Plymouth. I was born and raised in Fremont, and we stopped at a railroad crossing by our home to see a train. I had my arms around my dad's shoulders when I looked out the left-hand window and saw this steam locomotive sitting all by itself. I knew it needed a friend and I knew it needed to be loved. That was the beginning of my railroad career," Durnwald said.
He also recalled walking along the tracks to school every day. At that time, Lake Erie and Western and Nickel Plate trains traversed the line for Durnwald to observe.
At 16, he met Fremont artist Bob Lorenz, who also loved trains.
After graduating from Fremont St. Joseph High School, Durnwald went to work as a power operator for Norfolk Southern Railroad. The company sent him to Fort Wayne, Ind., for his physical exam. He started work the next day, going between Bellevue and Fort Wayne.
When a railroad agent in Continental went on vacation, Durnwald was asked to substitute for the man.
Durnwald was instructed to take care of a package of 150 IBM cards. His supervisor told him to "put it on a string" and hand it off to the conductor on the caboose of a hopper train that was to pass through.
It was a task easier said than done.
"This train comes flying by at 60 miles an hour, and the conductor grabs this loop or this string, and those IBM cards went 'bing' all over the countryside," Durnwald said.
His career included some layoffs and transfers to various communities. He spent six years in Conneaut in Ashtabula County and then moved to Lorain to work as a drawbridge operator.
For eight years, Durnwald worked in Norfolk, Va., and his family lived in Virginia Beach. After bouncing from place to place every few months, he asked to return to Fostoria in 1990, retiring in 2001 after 30 years of employment.
"My fellow employees were my biggest asset. They're my best friends," Durnwald said.
The next person to speak was John "J.C." Sharrock, who worked for New York Central, followed by Penn Central, Conrail and CSX.
"On Conrail, in '78, I moved from Sycamore, Ohio, to Grand Rapids, Ohio. My wife said 'You might have to get rid of some of the insurance policies that you have. We're not going to be able to make this house payment.' I told her 'Just hold on, dear.' January of 1979, we found out it was a good thing that I did. I ran into the side of another train, went down an 85-foot embankment," Sharrock recalled.
Somehow he was able to pull himself up the embankment to where an ambulance was waiting. At first the crew that came to examine the wreck thought the engineer had been killed.
When they learned he had not only survived but climbed the slope, they were incredulous. The C&S maintainer decided he was in the only place in the cab that could protect him from serious injury.
"That was the cabinet - 600 volts. My back was up against that. I crawled out saturated in fuel oil," Sharrock said.
When he got home, he took off his boots to find them filled with glass.
One last story came from Roberts, who grew up in a house near the railroad tracks in Tiffin.
He said his father would load him and his brother in a wagon in the evening and walk down to watch the trains.
"I've been watching trains for about 76 years now. My dad got me started. During World War II, there wasn't a lot of entertainment or a lot of money to go around," Roberts said. "First, we'd start out with the Pennsylvania, the Red Arrow out of Detroit, and then we watch the stream of the B&O streamliners as they'd go by."
The only bad railroad experience he had was riding the Nickel Plate from Green Springs to Cleveland's Terminal Tower to join the military for four years.
During his three and a half terms as Seneca County Sheriff, Roberts did a lot of traveling and watched a lot of trains in the process. He called himself a "closet rail fan" for a lot of years before joining FRPS and the Mad River Railroad group in Bellevue.
Through those memberships, he met many other railroad enthusiasts, including Jim Seaman of Sandusky, a railroad photographer who also attended the dinner.
Bob Lorenz program
"I've been coming to Fostoria for 70 years. I'm 87 years old, and I've been married for 64 years to the same woman (Bea). She's spent a lot of time with me," Lorenz said.
Having examined is family history, Lorenz discovered many of his ancestors worked for the railroads. His maternal grandfather was a conductor on the New York Central Limited, and one of his great-uncles transported Civil War prisoners via the Mad River Railroad to Johnson's Island in 1863. In 1896, another relative, Dr. William Seward, was associated with a company that built Pullman rail cars.
Although Lorenz never officially worked for a railroad himself, he was involved with many railroad projects.
In 1950, Lorenz met Jack Conley, an engineer on the Boston and Albany Railroad. Conley operated a rail photo service, providing photos to many railroad magazines. Lorenz took a photography course Conley offered and made many connections.
"He kind of opened the switch for me to go down the main line," Lorenz said. "I never had a contract with any railroad. ... it was just, 'Bob, will you do this?' and a handshake. That's the only connection I ever had."
Starting in the 1960s, Lorenz was invited to work as an artist on several steam-powered rail trips, including the Golden Spike trip in 1969, the American Freedom Train 1975-76, the B&O Birthday Train, the Chessie Steam Special and Operation Lifesaver.
Now, he is working on a project for Greenbrier Valley Railroad, which operates scenic tours in West Virginia.
His program included slides of the trains for which he had designed the art, chosen the color schemes and did much of the lettering.
The Golden Spike trip was a re-enactment of the 1869 joining of the Union and Central Pacific Railroads at Promontory Point, Utah. A Berkshire steam locomotive was refurbished and painted to pull the train from New York to Kansas City, where a Union Pacific engine took over for the rest of the distance.
In Utah, Lorenz got to meet actor John Wayne, who had been invited to the anniversary celebration.
The Freedom Train was assembled for the U.S. Bicentennial, with a red, white and blue design by Lorenz. The train's cars served as a rolling museum, each representing a period of U.S. history.
Pulled by three newly-restored steam locomotives, the train made numerous stops across the country. Lorenz described how the train was stretched out along the Navy Pier for its stop in Chicago.
He and Bea traveled with the Freedom Train and even helped to operate and maintain it.
"Bob Lorenz, with the help of his wife, Bea, were the only voices heard in the room during his program. It was amazing to have so many people completely involved in the program. Bob and Bea have spent decades working with many railroads and private enterprises designing and painting locomotives and train cars," Gatrell said.
At the railroad reunion, Jim Roberts announced Cathy Harriman has started a fund in memory of her husband, John C. Harriman III, who had worked for Nickel Plate. The money is earmarked for the restoration of a vintage caboose FRPS plans to obtain.
The Lake Erie and Western/Nickel Plate 107 is sitting in a farm field until a permanent place for it can be found in Fostoria.
The Henry Geary Jr. Memorial Foundation provided a $5,000 grant to help FRPS purchase the caboose and move it.
Last July, the Davis & Newcomer Building on Columbus Avenue in Fostoria was donated to the FRPS. The building needs some repairs and updating, but FRPS plans to use the space for offices, a library, display area and woodworking shop. It is located next to the proposed railpark site.
The webcam that had been installed at The Rail Bar was relocated to the Davis & Newcomer structure. For now, it transmits activity from the Iron Triangle on a pay-per-view basis at www.railstream.org.
FRPS has done extensive repairs to the Lake Erie and Western Depot, including a new roof last year.
The society also plays a major role in Fostoria's Rail Festival in September and offers "Santa at the Depot" during December. Business meetings take place the fourth Thursday of the month at the depot.
Gatrell said FRPS hopes to have a program to attract new members or old members who did not renew. A handful of members have agreed to match whatever the new members can contribute.
"The minimum is $10 a year. ... or whatever people want to pay. Whatever they can afford is wonderful," Gatrell said.
To learn more about the Fostoria Rail Preservation Society and its activities, check the group's Facebook page. Its website is not up to date at this time.