Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad turns to eclectic group of volunteers


It takes a little creativity.

A little ingenuity.

And even a retired NASA technician to run the scenic trains along the tracks in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Jim Vocaire is on May 18 to repair conference room shelves at the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad Service Garage in Brecksville.

Tucked away on the Valley View Road in Brecksville is the Fitzwater Maintenance Yard where the engines and cars of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad rest at night and occasionally get the necessary TLC.

The railroad has a small, eclectic staff of workers who run the trains daily, but once a week or so a small group of volunteers get together early in the morning to roll up their collective sleeves to keep the trains running along of the road. tracks.

Retired NASA technician Chip Redding makes passenger car spring cups on a metal lathe at the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad garage.

To one side of the large maintenance garage – large enough to accommodate two engines and even wagons at the same time – is volunteer Chip Redding’s work area.

The retired NASA tech is the one they turn to when something breaks or needs to be replaced that you simply can’t find anywhere else.

Redding said that when it comes to vintage 1940s wagons and late 1950s and 1960s engines, you just can’t go to the local store to buy the right part.

And trying to get the parts and parts on the Internet or elsewhere can be time consuming and quite expensive.

So building on his career working on various projects at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, Redding said he simply creates a drawing and then machines the parts himself.

Easier said than done.

You learn to be a bit of a perfectionist when working on space travel components and experiments for 38 years and Redding said he brings that philosophy to the Scenic Railroad as well.

He shows a series of pins he made that are essential to the braking system of a train engine.

Redding said he machined them to a 1000th of an inch “tolerance” to make sure they fit and perform flawlessly.

Working as a volunteer for the railroad is a bit of a homecoming.

His father made a career out of working on the rails, and as a child he was no stranger to a rail yard.

Redding said his father was a yard master and in a time when regulations were less, his father took him on the engine for rides.

“I’ve come full circle,” Redding said. “I’m back at the railroad.”

A fan of the Scenic Railroad, he read an article about volunteer opportunities so he left Lakewood to check it out as he was looking for something to do in retirement.

“I showed up one day and they took the wheels off one of the cars and took the brakes off,” he said. “I was like ‘This is cool’ and I just got sucked in.”

Volunteer Don Schneider, left, works with mechanic Dan Palmentera to set up a line painter at the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad maintenance garage in Brecksville.

Tom Sadlo, a retired electrical engineer from GM, is the guy they turn to for electrical expertise.

One of those projects involved removing the old, unattractive, harsh fluorescent lights from the rail cars and converting them to less-maintenance LEDs.

Like everything with those old trains, simple work isn’t that simple, Sadlo said.

“We fix them like we break them,” he said with a chuckle.

The project also involved replacing all old electrical wires in cars and figuring out how to integrate modern LEDs into existing light fixtures.

That’s why volunteers work to help full-time railroad workers on side projects that need to be done but might otherwise be hijacked.

In addition to offering its electrical expertise, Sadlo also coordinates the ten or so volunteers who show up every week to get their hands dirty.

What’s really cool, he said, is that there seems to be a volunteer with just about any skill, including a professor from Akron University who specializes in corrosion.

Ron O'Dee, left, and Bill Blewitt work on reusing plexiglass panels May 18 at the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad maintenance garage in Brecksville.

There are even a volunteer or two looking to experience something totally different.

It wasn’t that long ago that Bill Blewitt’s work outfit was a suit and tie.

As CEO of the Lima Family YMCA, he has been responsible for leading and fundraising for the charity business in Northwest Ohio.

After retiring from the post and moving to Akron so that he and his wife could be closer to their daughter, they were looking for something to do.

To make his way through college, Blewitt said, he worked hard at a steel factory in Youngstown.

So when he heard about the opportunity to work with his hands again, he said, he jumped at the chance to show up for work in a t-shirt and get a little dirty.

Besides, he works on trains and in his own words – who doesn’t love trains?

His task lately has been to help build plexiglass shields to protect passengers and volunteers during the height of the pandemic and now reuse them.

“It’s totally different,” he said. “I’m not the CEO here. I’m just a volunteer. It’s totally different. I like it.”

Craig Webb can be reached at [email protected]

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What: Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway


Jim Spayer, volunteer, vacuums a passenger car at the garage of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in Brecksville.

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