Kaleidoscope: Native of Cuyahoga Falls and crew have passion for steam; he built roundhouse

by KEN LAHMERS | EDITOR Published:

It’s common for most Americans to have a garage to house one, two or maybe even three autos, SUVs, pickup trucks or vans. But not many have a garage to house 18 vehicles.
One man who grew up in Cuyahoga Falls, later lived in Stow, and now lives in the hills near Sugarcreek in Tuscarawas County has an 18-vehicle “garage.” But it’s called a roundhouse, and its occupants are a dozen monstrous iron steam locomotives, plus a handful of vintage diesel locomotives.
Surrounded by Amish farms, the Age of Steam Roundhouse is the dream of train lover Jerry Joe Jacobson, who for about 25 years owned the highly successful Ohio Central System railroad before selling it to Genessee & Wyoming in 2008.
Having moved to Sugarcreek in 1989, Jacobson and his wife live in a home not far from the roundhouse, which is the first to be built in the United States in decades.
A few of the old ones built in the late 1800s and early 1900s still stand — including the Midwest Railroad Preservation Society’s former B&O roundhouse in Cleveland’s Flats — but most have disappeared.
Although the facility easily can be viewed along a country road, area residents shouldn’t rush down there to examine it or its contents closer. It’s not a museum, and tours are not offered. It’s a private, working operation which discourages visitors.

ABOUT  THE  ROUNDHOUSE
On its website — www.ageofsteamroundhouse.com — the Age of Steam Roundhouse outlines its goals as follows:
• Preserve the steam locomotives, historic diesels, passenger cars and other railroad relics in Jacobson’s collection.
• Construct a full-scale, operating and realistic roundhouse and back shop to overhaul, repair and maintain his rolling stock.
• Fire up and operate the steam locomotives on non-passenger carrying freight trains.
•Display and interpret this railroad heritage for the edification, enlightenment and entertainment of future generations of Americans.
Construction of America’s first roundhouse since 1951 began in 2010 on a 36-acre parcel adjacent to Ohio Central System’s line between West Lafayette and Beach City, and the red brick building was occupied in 2012.
When he owned the 540-mile regional railroad, Jacobson ran a highly popular tourist train on a stretch of the line between Sugarcreek and Baltic — about 8 miles — during the 1990s.
The 48,500-square-foot structure contains separate interior and exterior walls, and nearly 330,000 bricks. There are 44, 70-foot long wood beams that make up the 22 roof trusses above the seven long stalls, and 19 individual wood timbers make up each 17,000-pound long roof truss.
About 48,500 square feet of southern yellow pine planking make up the roundhouse’s ceiling, and there are 8,250 square feet of wall windows.
The building has 21 double doors for locomotives to enter and exit, each measuring 16 1/2 feet high. Some of the locomotives stand close to 15 feet high.
A back shop where knowledgeable steam experts work on the locomotives is behind the roundhouse. Its main bay is 74 by 151 feet, its machine side bay is 36 by 97 feet, and there’s a 70-foot wide, 27-foot high, 30-ton travelling overhead crane.
The shop has one-of-a-kind dual drop tables, with a 24-foot long, 57-inch wide and 13-foot deep pit underneath. One table handles steam locomotive driving wheels and the other accommodates an entire six-wheel truck assembly for a diesel loco or passenger car.
The facility’s old-fashioned looking office and break room are sandwiched between the roundhouse and back shop.
Outside the buildings are a 50,000-gallon wooden water tank made of 17-foot tall, 16-by-16-inch white oak columns, and a 115-foot long, 400-ton capacity turntable, which was installed at a roundhouse in Hagerstown, Md. in 1940 and moved in 2008.
The remainder of Jacobson’s 16 vintage diesel locomotives and some newer ones are parked on the grounds outside the buildings, along with two dozen vintage passenger cars and other rail cars and equipment. The passenger cars have been used for many excursions around Ohio.
The complex also includes a boiler wash track, store house and water column.
Jacobson employs a crew of seven, including chief mechanical officer Tim Sposato, who’s been with him for nearly 25 years, and machinist Scott Czigans, considered to be one of the most knowledgeable steam men in the country. Jacobson, Sposato and Czigans are certified steam locomotive operators.
One of the Age of Steam Roundhouse employees is acquisitions manager John B. Corns, a former Kent State University photography instructor who is the author of the two-volume history of the old Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway.

STEAM  LOCOMOTIVES
Several of Jacobson’s steam locomotives are in running condition, or have run in recent years and are currently being rebuilt or repaired.
The newest acquisitions are an 1897 Porter-built 0-4-0T saddle tank loco — Jacobson’s smallest at 49 tons — and a four-wheel “bobber” caboose from the city of Sewickley, Pa.
Jacobson’s second oldest locomotive is Moorhead & Norfolk Railroad 13, built in 1903, last operated in 1963 and acquired in 2011.
One with which area residents might be familiar is Canadian Pacific 1293, which has pulled fall excursions on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in recent years. It was built in 1948 and was used in the filming of the 1980 horror movie “Terror Train,” starring Jamie Lee Curtis.
Others which have pulled excursion trains in recent years are Canadian Northern 1551 (built in 1912), Grand Truck Western 6325 (built in 1942) and Buffalo Creek & Gauley 13 (built in 1920).
Another which is operational is Lake Superior and Ishpeming 33, once owned by the Hocking Valley Scenic Railroad.
Among locomotives not in operation are Grand Truck Western 96, Nickel Plate Road Berkshire 763 and Canadian Pacific 1278.
The Nickel Plate 763 is the largest in Jacobson’s collection at 201 tons. It is similar to the Nickel Plate 765, which is owned by the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society and has pulled excursions on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in the past, including in fall 2013.

ABOUT  JERRY  JOE  JACOBSON
Jacobson, 70, lived on Chestnut Boulevard in Cuyahoga Falls and used to watch steam and diesel locomotives travel on the old B&O line through town. He graduated from Cuyahoga Falls High School in 1961, and fondly remembers his days as a wrestler and drummer in the marching band.
He said he still has many friends in the Cuyahoga Falls-Stow-Kent areas. He has children who graduated from Cuyahoga Falls and Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy.
After graduation, he served in the U.S. Army — his dad also was an Army man — where he rode on many trains, and then became an anesthesiologist, working at Brentwood Hospital in Warrensville Heights and St. Thomas Hospital in Akron.
When he was 13 years old in 1957, he was watching one of the area’s last steam locomotives switch some cars in Cuyahoga Falls, and during a break the engineer invited him to crawl up into the cab, set in the seat and actually take the controls and operate the engine down the track.
“It was exciting,” he said, and it was then that he vowed some day to own a steam engine and maybe even a railroad. Fifty-seven years later, he has 11 steamers.
In 1984, Jacobson acquired a few miles of track that was going to be abandoned in the Warren-Youngstown area. He eventually added the former Pennsylvania RR Panhandle line between Pittsburgh and Columbus, a line between Dresden and New Lexington and the one between West Lafayette and Beach City.
Altogether, the Ohio Central System (now G&W) comprises 10 separate shortline railroads. Its headquarters is in Coshocton, with shops at Morgan Run between Coshocton and West Lafayette. It employed nearly 200 persons and had about 85 diesel locomotives at the time of sale to the G&W, which owns other lines in the U.S., Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and Belgium.
It was in the late 1970s and into the ’80s when Jacobson realized his dream and began collecting steam locomotives. He said his roundhouse and shop comprise “the most complete steam facility in America.”
Although they happened before he was born, Jacobson is very familiar with local rail disasters such as the Doodlebug and a trolley car’s fall from the State Road high level bridge, both in Cuyahoga Falls, and he has read many books and heard many stories about railroading. He is a member of the Akron Railroad Club.
After selling the OCS, Jacobson made a hefty donation to Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, where two of sons attended, and the money went for construction of a new barracks named after him — Jacobson Hall.
Today, his steam engines occasionally pull freight cars on other railroads in Ohio. Jacobson also still owns the depot built in 1916 in downtown Sugarcreek. He and his Age of Steam Roundhouse crew definitely have a passion for steam.
Email: klahmers@recordpub.com
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext.4189

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