Railroad buffs keep transportation flowing into Grand Rapids

The closing of the bridge over the Maumee River in Grand Rapids, Ohio, may be sending hundreds of residents and visitors on long detours to get in or out of the village, but there is another way to cross the river. It’s not news that a group of railroad buffs are on duty by the railroad track on Front Street at the edge of Grand Rapids on Saturdays and Sundays offering cross-river transportation. They are volunteers and members of the Toledo and Lake Erie and Western Railway and Museum.

The ride is promoted as entertainment, but now that the auto bridge is closed for resurfacing, the alternative crossing is gaining intrigue and, for some customers, serves a need. The volunteers, who covet their titles of engineers and conductors, man the two-part transportation that crosses the 901-foot railway bridge. The gas-powered motorcar pulls the passenger lorry that can accommodate from 8 to 10 passengers.

The lorry is designed with safety side rails and seating on benches. Motorcars are used as vehicles to transport employees to inspect and repair railroad tracks. The one used in Grand Rapids is an original from the Toledo terminal railroad.

The volunteers for the Grand Rapids ride built the lorry. The 20-minute ride is inexpensive family entertainment with a generous slice of history that each volunteer is willing to share. Beth Meyer, who takes her turn as engineer driving the motorcar, explained that for her and for other volunteers, it’s a hobby.

Karen Oles is not only an engineer but dresses authentically in coveralls, bandana neckerchief, visor cap, and boots even on hot summer days. She and her husband, Frank, credit a story in The Blade for their interest in Grand Rapids railway history. After reading the story, they rode on the Bluebird Express, which is no longer operating but is parked in Grand Rapids as a museum piece.

Karen and Frank share an enthusiasm for railroads that dates to their honeymoon, when they traveled to several states by train. Frank stresses that the nonprofit organization, including the maintenance of the track, is regulated by the state of Ohio. Each year, six volunteers pay the £2,100 cost to have weeds sprayed by professionals.

Karen also is known to pitch in with track cleanup, which explains the chainsaw Frank gave her one Mother’s Day. She has become adept at removing tree branches that get in the way of the line. Of course, I had to take the ride that was about a year overdue.

I live across from the closed bridge, and every weekend I am impressed by the little band of volunteers sitting under the tent at the railroad track waiting for customers. Curtis Borror, a retired electrician who lives in Swanton, Ohio, was the able conductor on the lorry. He gave a hearty “All Aboard” shout before Karen, as engineer, drove the motorcar on the long, narrow track.

The Maumee River was especially picturesque for photographing at the brief stopping point where Curtis explained the geography. He also said the track was built in 1916 to replace an 1875 wooden bridge. The track that ran between Delphos, Ohio, and Waterville — which also included Grand Rapids — was the last section that completed the Toledo to St.

Louis route. Ordinarily, the ride across the river is round-trip, but for John and Katie Williams of Toledo, it was a one-way shortcut home. Avid bicyclists, the couple rode to Grand Rapids but welcomed the chance to cut the detour miles by taking the cross-river ride.

Their bicycles fit nicely on the lorry with Curtis, the conductor, and Malory Beasley and her daughter, who were making their second trip, and myself. John and Katie disembarked at the end of the track on Grand Rapids Road, and the rest of us returned. Later that day Debra Rochte took advantage of a one-way ride to get her car that was at Ludwig’s auto repair across the river.

The motorcar ride saved her and her husband, Dan, a lengthy detour. Dan did buy a round-trip ticket. The volunteers say the one-way rides are popular on Apple Butter Fest Sunday, which is Oct.

8 this year. That day, the car will begin running at 7:30 a.m., Frank said. “People are really looking for a quick way back to their cars when their feet hurt at the end of the day,” Karen said, referring to the Grand Rapids system of operating buses to and from parking lots on festival day when thousands of people attend.

The rides are available from noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays until the temperatures drop into the 60s. The price for adults is £5 and £3 for children.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor. Contact her at: [email protected][1].

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