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Kaleidoscope: Enjoyable visits to railway museum, site of Fort LeBoeuf in Pennsylvania

Published: August 3, 2016 1:00 AM
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It's been a while since I visited a railroad museum. They are few and far between, especially those that feature full-size rolling stock.

The Mad River & NKP Museum in Bellevue is probably the most extensive in Ohio.

The Dennison Depot in Tuscarawas County and Conneaut Historical Railroad Museum in Ashtabula County have a few pieces of rolling stock.

The Northern Ohio Railway Museum in Medina County boasts several old public transit vehicles, and Marion's Union Station features small rail-related items, but no rolling stock.

Greenville, Pa.'s Railroad Park and Museum boasts the largest remaining steam switch locomotive, plus some cars and cabooses.

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On Memorial Day weekend, I spent a night in the grape growing region around North East, Pa. (population 4,300) and visited the Lake Shore Railway Historical Society and Museum.


The society's indoor items are housed in a red brick depot built in 1899 by the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad (later New York Central).

It's a great spot for train watchers, with a busy double-track CSX line about 40 feet from the depot, and a single-track Norfolk Southern line another 50 feet beyond the CSX.

The Nickel Plate Road (NKP) and Norfolk & Western previously operated on the single track, which passes a Welch's Foods grape processing plant within sight of the depot.

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In the 2 hours I was on the grounds, five CSX and two NS trains passed. A museum volunteer told me an average of 60 trains pass the depot each day.

The LSRHS was founded in 1956. Its emphasis is collecting rail products manufactured by General Electric, Heisler Locomotive Works and the Pullman Standard Car Co.

GE assembles diesel electric locomotives at a sprawling Erie plant. Stearns Manufacturing Co. produced Heislers, a geared steam engine, in Erie from 1894 to 1904.

The grounds features three GE diesel electric mainline locos -- 2-D+D-2 "Little Joe" 802 built in 1949, U25b NYC 2500 built in 1963 and DASH 8-32B NS 3563 built in 1989.

The latter is one of my favorite late models. It has a distinctive overhanging rear roof. NS 3563 was retired in 2013, and is the first DASH 8 to be preserved in a museum.

The 3,200-horsepower iron beast is one of only 49 built. It is merely a shell, with its "guts" (power equipment) removed. GE still makes DASH units in Erie.

Little Joe is one of only three 2-D+D-2s known to exist from the original 20. It was retired in 1983. The 2500 is the first of a series of U25bs built for NYC, and was last used by Conrail in 1982.

Also on the site is Heisler 6, a 0-6-0 fireless steam (thermos bottle) loco formerly used by the Cleveland Illuminating Co. in Ashtabula. It is operational and runs on compressed air.

Other locos are a GE center cab unit (1940), GE small unit (1950), Baldwin 30-ton gas-mechanical unit (1941), 15-ton cabless unit (1959) and a 1910 electric unit used to shunt coal/ore cars around Hulett unloaders (last used on Cleveland's Whiskey Island).

The rolling stock also includes several passenger cars, a baggage car, cabooses built in 1915 and 1916, a 1922 tank car, box cars, a flat car and refrigerator cars.

The 2500 loco and a couple of the passenger cars were open when I visited, and I had the opportunity to sit in the 2500's engineer seat behind the controls.

Smaller rail-related items are displayed in the depot, such as a 5-foot long steam engine, lanterns, photos, paintings and railroad company patches. And there's a gift shop.

A ticket window has been restored. Over it hangs a sign indicating that money orders, foreign drafts, travelers cheques, letters of credit and telegraphic transfers were available.

The depot and grounds were a joy for me to explore, and I'd recommend area rail fans to take the trip to do likewise.


GE Transportation's diesel electric locomotive assembly plant is a few blocks east of downtown Erie. Engines for the locos are made in Grove City, Pa.

GE is the nation's largest loco maker. I was told the plant once employed about 8,000 people. It is in the process of permanently laying off about 1,500, reducing its workforce to 3,000.

The plant once was the city's largest employer, but now is about even with University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Hamot operations.

According to news I read, some of Erie's production will be moved to a new plant in Fort Worth, Texas. Less coal moving by train is one reason for the cutbacks.

A beautiful mural with the slogan "Built with Pride to Move the World" graces the side of one of the plant's buildings. The 340-acre complex includes a 2-mile test track.

The plant has operated for more than 100 years. An Erie resident I talked to claimed 2015's production numbered about 500 locos.


Erie's Union Station is a huge building along CSX's mainline. When passenger service ceased years ago, it morphed into the Brewerie at Union Station, an eatery and brewery.

I visited it for an hour or so to sample the beer and try to picture what the atmosphere was like when the depot was bustling with travelers.

A barmaid told me the bar is situated where the soda shop and newsstand used to be. A former barbershop is in one corner, and a large "tickets" sign hangs over diners.

The station has a patio from which patrons can watch passing CSX trains, but it was booked for a private function and not open to the public when I was there.

Erie has three other craft breweries within five or six blocks of Union Station. I also patronized Lavery Brewing Co. Erie Brewing Co. and Erie Ale Works are the others.


As I headed out of the Erie area, I had one more stop on my list -- Waterford, Pa. and the site of Fort LeBoeuf from the French and Indian War era of the 1700s.

Fort LeBoeuf Historical Society has jurisdiction over three structures -- the Eagle Hotel, Judson House and a museum in a modern building. The latter two were not open.

But the Sugar 'n Spice restaurant in the well-preserved Eagle Hotel was, so I enjoyed a large slab of meatloaf while admiring the dining area on the lower floor.

Fort LeBoeuf was built by the French in 1753, but in 1759 it was evacuated and burned. The British built a new fort in 1760, but Indians burned it down in 1763.

The Americans built a third fort in 1794 and erected a blockhouse in 1796. The latter served as a prison, store house, post office, hotel and residence until it burned in 1868.

The Eagle Hotel, also called the Stone Hotel, was built in 1826 as an inn, stagecoach stop and livery stable. Amos Judson's home is across the street on the site of the three forts.

The two-story Judson House is furnished in mid-1800s style. Part of its second floor houses the society's library and genealogy collection, plus a model of original Fort LeBoeuf.

The Eagle Hotel's second and third floors display historic artifacts. The third floor once was a ballroom with a spring floor. Judson was one of the hotel's former owners.

The hotel housed many dignitaries, such as President Zachary Taylor, and was touted as one of the finest accommodations in the country. In the mid-1900s, famous Big Band members stayed there.

Beside the Eagle Hotel is a small lot called Washington Park, which focuses on the history of the nearby forts and boasts the only known statue of George Washington in a British uniform.

Because Fort LeBoeuf was in British territory, Washington visited it in 1753 to present the commandant with an ultimatum to abandon the premises, but the request was denied.

Washington's visit was commemorated by the citizens of Waterford in 1922, with the purchase of the statue for $13,000.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

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