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For the fourth straight year, I drove down Interstate 77 to Cambridge on an unseasonably warm mid-December weekend to see the "Extravaganza of Light and Sounds" at the Guernsey County Courthouse.
Simply known as the Guernsey County Courthouse light show, I've written about it before. The spectacular show is synchronized to holiday music, and it's a trip I'd recommend for all area residents.
In fact, Aurora Parks Coordinator Bill Fellenstein and his family went down to see it this winter.
It is associated with Dickens' Victorian Village, which runs from the first weekend in November through the first week in January. Life-sized figures set up along Wheeling Avenue downtown depict many scenes from the Dickensian era in Great Britain.
After viewing the light show and walking around downtown Friday night, my Saturday was devoted to checking out some railroad-related attractions around Cambridge.
I've been wanting to visit the Cambridge Wooden Toy Co. ever since I heard several months ago that it features a handful of wooden carvings of some famous steam locomotives. That Saturday, I got the chance.
Brian Gray has a wood carving shop in a small building beside his home, which he has operated for 37 years. He is a retired manufacturing engineer who developed a passion for wood carving decades ago.
He grew up in Seattle, and his father worked for a railroad; thus he developed a fondness for trains as a youth in the 1950s. He eventually found his way to Guernsey County.
Gray hand-carves more than 45 types of wooden toys, and in recent years he carved four large locomotives using walnut. He was inspired by the famous train carvings of the world's master carver, Ernest "Mooney" Warther of Dover.
He has received the Senator and Mrs. John Glenn Americana Award and the Salt Fork Arts and Crafts Festival's People's Choice and Lenheart Woodworking awards.
He started carving steam locos more than four years ago, and has completed four, the largest of which is a Union Pacific Big Boy. Weighing in at 360 tons, the real iron horse was one of the largest steam engines ever made.
The American Locomotive Co. of New York made 25 Big Boys from 1941 to 1945 for the Union Pacific, which used them to pull trains up difficult grades in the western United States. They had a 4-8-8-4 wheel configuration.
Gray's Big Boy model -- engine 4002 -- is about eight feet long, including the coal and water tender. He said it took him nearly a year to finish. A half-dozen real Big Boys still exist, including one at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.
However, all are on static display, and none operate anymore.
Gray's other wooden models are a New York Central J3A steam locomotive, which stands 10 inches high and took 700 hours to make; the Northern Pacific's Four Aces made originally for Canton's Timken Co. which took 900 hours to make; and a Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul's (Milwaukee Road) bipolar electric locomotive.
Gray showed me a photo of his next project -- Pennsylvania Railroad Engine No. 7002 -- which in 1905 set a speed record for steam-driven trains at 127.2 miles an hour.
Also in the museum section of his shop is an operating N-scale model train layout. One passenger train and one freight train are pulled by two mini-light Mountain 4-8-2 engines. There are many photos of steam engines on the walls.
For the wooden toys that he sells, he uses hard woods and all edges are rounded and smoothed for the safety of children. Stains used on the toys also are safe.
Some of the wooden toys Gray hand-crafts are trains, rocking horses, buildings, forts, guns and scooters. However, he won't sell his large locomotives. He occasionally takes them to festivals in southeast Ohio.
Gray is more than willing to talk about trains and wooden toys with anyone who stops in. He doesn't seem to mind taking a break from his carving to tell visitors about his locomotives. And there is no charge to see them.
MINER MEMORIAL STATUE
The Byesville Scenic Railroad has operated for the last few years in Byesville, a small town just south of Cambridge.
However, it didn't operate this summer because of a dispute with the owner of the track.
However, in September the volunteer railroad group dedicated a bronze statue of a coal miner at its depot after a five-year fundraising drive to secure the $40,000 needed to cast it.
In the early 1900s, Guernsey County was one of Ohio's biggest coal producing regions. The scenic railroad's route runs past several long-abandoned underground mines.
The focus of the railroad's 1 1/2-hour, 9-mile roundtrip excursions between Byesville and Pleasant City always has been "the route of the black diamond." The crew dresses up in miners' garb, wears carbide lamps on their helmets and talks about the region's mining days.
The organization wanted to memorialize the miners with the statue. It already operates a small mining industry museum in a maintenance building near the depot and track area where the rolling stock is parked.
The purpose of the statue is to illustrate the tough lifestyle of miners, and commemorate the 382 people who lost their lives in Guernsey County's mines prior to 1940.
Zanesville sculptor Alan Cottrill of CooperMill BronzeWorks Ltd. was commissioned to design and cast the bronze statue. The money came from excursion proceeds, bake sales, barbecues and donations from the public.
The statue features a carbide lamp on the miner's helmet, an oil wick lamp at the base, an Edison light, a lunch pail, a powder box from the Austin Powder Co. in Cleveland and a pick and shovel.
The miner is missing his right index figure in honor of the men injured in the mines, and his check tag bears the number 382 in recognition of the 382 miners who died in Guernsey County over a 60-year period.
The nearby small museum was completed in 2011 and is open sparingly. The curator is Dave Adair, a huge rail fan who has collected much memorabilia over the years. He is an electrician who helped dissemble many of the signals along southeast Ohio's abandoned rail lines.
In fact, he's the guy I wrote about a couple of years ago who has four full-sized old cabooses on his property east of Cambridge, plus a replica depot housing many railroad artifacts.
The museum contains several photos of old mines, maps showing where they were located, old mining tools and other related artifacts.
When I rode the Byesville Scenic Railroad in 2008, I met Steve Stolarik, who is retired from the Ohio Highway Patrol and had some relatives who were coal miners. He's one of the guys who dress up on the excursions. He even sings some railroad-themed songs.
When operating, the BSRR usually consists of three passenger cars, a caboose and a General Electric 80-ton center cab diesel locomotive.
From what I am told, the dispute with the owner of the track may sideline the rolling stock for good. That's a shame because BSRR members spent many hours upgrading the old freight line and had planned to eventually extend excursions to Cumberland, making the roundtrip about 22 miles.
If the railroad excursions have seen their last days, it would be a major blow to Guernsey County's tourism industry since the train brought in hundreds of visitors each year.
TWO OLD TRAIN TUNNELS
During the afternoon, I also explored a couple of old railroad tunnels, one which still sees a couple of trains a week run through it and one which has long been closed and the tracks passing though it removed.
The active tunnel runs under Route 40 (the old National Road) at the western edge of Cambridge. It once was a Baltimore & Ohio route, which intersected with the now abandoned Pennsylvania line less than a mile away.
The old Cambridge depot still stands at the junction of the two lines. The Genessee & Wyoming Railroad now runs west to Zanesville on the former B&O line.
The abandoned tunnel I checked out is parallel to Route 821 just north of Ava in Noble County, a small town famous for being the site of the USS Shenandoah airship crash in 1925.
The steep inclines on both sides of the former rail bed have eroded, partially covering up the north portal of the tunnel. I could see the opening after parking along Route 821, but it was too steep to descend to peek into the tunnel.
I've been told that the south portal can be found in the dense brush on the south side of Tunnel Hill Road, just north of an abandoned and collapsing old brick plant, but I decided not to venture back there.
That rail line was once the Cleveland & Marietta and later the Pennsylvania. It ran from Marietta up through Dover and Minerva, and connected to the now Norfolk Southern line which runs through Twin Lakes, Hudson and Macedonia.
The portion of the line between Marietta and Pleasant City was last used in the late 1960s or early 1970s.
The portion of the line between Cambridge and Dover had two other tunnels -- one at Kimbolton and one at Stone Creek. The latter is the one I walked through a couple of times with a buddy of mine when we were teenagers.
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189