Despite being around since 1870, there are few rides in Cedar Point’s 144 years of existence that have an enduring operating history. With one exception… as the park has changed, so has its railroads. Where else do the real work horses of yesteryear steam?
Railroading is nothing new to Cedar Point. The second-oldest continuously operated amusement park in the United States has a long standing railroad history. For many years a tram railway operated between the old government docks and the Hotel Breakers. Ships on the Great Lakes brought thousands of passengers to Cedar Point, where the little trains would then carry them the half mile from the dock, through the woods to the resort area.
By the early 1950’s the automobile had all but wiped out the Great Lakes passenger business. With the passing of the venerable old steamers, Cedar Point’s little tram railway no longer had a real purpose and was closed. It was replaced by a number of miniature railways which were operated in the midway area during the 50’s and early 60’s. When Mr. George Roose and Mr. Emile A. Legros assumed management of the park in 1959, improvements began almost immediately.
The C.P. & L.E. Railroad was the brain child of Mr. Roose. Recently acquired locomotives, Maud L. and Albert would open the new era. Finally, on May 25th, 1963, as a direct result of the work and determination of then CEO George Roose, the railroad opened for its first season! Albert completed the first day by hauling thousands of happy tourists. (Albert was retired in 1991 after 28 years of service at the park due to a cracked frame.) Union Depot on the Funway is the first station on the line. It serves as the main station for the Railroad, and is located in the center of the park next to the engine house and yard. The station was to be a reproduction of those of the post-Civil War era of railroading, complete with red brick platform, antique lights, and an old fashioned ticket office. When originally opened, tickets were sold in the front windows. Everything was to be exactly as it had been in the heyday of steam railroading.
The C.P. & L.E. Railroad has a rich locomotive history. Maude L. was the first engine purchased in 1961. She was traded to Disneyland in 1999. Leased in 1963, and purchased in 1964, Albert was the first working locomotive on the C.P. & L.E. Railroad, acclaimed by many to be the most beautiful 3 foot gauge engine in the country. Locomotive #22 was purchased in 1963, renamed Myron H. in 1981, in honor of Mike “Myron” Hetrick, a former railroad superintendent at the park. It was completely overhauled in 1990. 1963 saw the purchase of Jennie K., followed by Victoria L. in 1964. Locomotive #5 was purchased in 1968, and renamed Jack Foster in 1974, after Cedar Point’s first railroad superintendent, then in 1992, was completely rebuilt and renamed Judy K. after the wife of former CEO Richard “Dick” Kinzel who retired in 2012. The Ward Kimball was the last locomotive to be purchased to date, acquired in 1999, it has been renamed the G.A. Boeckling in honor of George Arthur Buckling (February 2, 1862 - July 24, 1931), a German businessman who served as the president of Cedar Point Pleasure Company, which later became Cedar Fair Entertainment Company. He is often credited for bringing Cedar Point out of the hole, at the turn of the 20th century, and making it a nationally recognized amusement park and resort destination. Cedar Point currently has five operating locomotives in their fleet.
The C.P. & L.E. Engine House and yard have changed many times over the years. The Engine House originally built in 1964, started as a two stall open end shelter for Maud L. and Albert. With Mr. Roose adding locomotives to the roster, additional sidings were added to the yard and the Engine House was enclosed and doubled in length in 1965.
The train would prove to be an especially important part of Cedar Point with the opening of Frontiertown in 1970 and the addition of a new railroad station located in the rear of the park. At that time, the railroad represented only one of two ways to actually reach the new area. That year, the C.P. & L.E. Railroad delivered a record-setting 4.5 million rides. Frontier Trail was built the following year, providing a walking link between Frontiertown and the rest of the park. Construction of the new walkway led to several adjustments of the railroad’s tracks.
Today, Cedar Point is extremely proud to say, “We are one of only 3 theme parks in the country to operate a coal-fired steam locomotive fleet.” The Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad is a 3 ft. narrow gauge railway that just celebrated its 50th Anniversary this past summer! (A narrow gauge railroad is a railway that has a track gauge narrower than the 4 ft. 8 ½ in. of the common standard gauge railways.) From tracks being moved to acquiring and rebuilding new locomotives, the Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad has watched as other attractions have come and gone.
The C.P. & L.E. Railroad is not only a part of my family’s summer vacation history; it is one of my earliest and fondest memories of the park. Opened in 1963, when I was 4 years old, it has become a traditional favorite of both young and old alike, encompassing a 1.7 mile round trip ride lasting approximately 15 minutes with a very short wait time for boarding.
Historically, many narrow gauge railways were built as part of specific industrial enterprises and were primarily industrial railways rather than general carriers. Some common uses for these industrial narrow gauge railways were mining, logging, construction, tunneling, quarrying, and conveying agricultural products. Extensive narrow gauge networks were constructed in many parts of the world for these purposes. Narrow gauge railway systems also served the front-line trenches of both sides in World War I.
While many things have changed over the years, some things remain the same; the look, smell, feel, and sound of history, for instance. Unlike modern machines, the steam locomotive ¾ which underwent few fundamental changes in 125 years of development ¾ openly displays many of its parts, which in turn adds to its visual appeal. Who can deny the beauty of the C.P. & L.E. locomotives decorated in flashy blues, bright reds, buffed wood and polished brass?
Since entire books have been devoted to the subject of how a steam locomotive works, written by individuals far more knowledgeable than myself, I will not attempt to go into great detail here. (You’re welcome!) Basically, two essential ingredients necessary to make a steam engine work are “fire” and “water.” (Fire +Water = Steam). The C.P. & L.E. Railroad burns coal to create the fire. Coal and water are carried in the tender, a separate car, semi-permanently coupled to the locomotive. The fire is created in the firebox using coal; this in turn produces heat which transfers to the water to produce steam.
There are two basic areas of activity on a steam locomotive: the boiler where steam is made, and the engine (cylinders, rods, tubes and driving wheels) where steam is used. The essential action of any steam engine is that of steam under pressure entering a cylinder-piston assembly and pushing against the piston, causing it to move which results in the locomotive wheels turning.
When the locomotive is first starting to move, the piston that drives the wheels is moving very slowly, but then as the locomotive starts rolling the piston gains speed. Steam is exhausted out into the air under a great deal of pressure, making the familiar “choo…..choo….choo…choo..choo.choo-choo-choo-choo” sound heard as it starts moving.
Operating a steam railroad is no easy task. If you don’t want to take my word for it, ask Superintendent Randy Catri, who has been a part of the C.P. & L.E. Railroad for 40 years! A lot of time and preparation is involved in getting a steam locomotive ready for use on a daily basis. While most simply accept the fact that rides will be operating when the park opens, few realize the time and effort that went into making that possible. There are many unsung heroes working at Cedar Point.
For the employees working on the C.P. & L.E. Railroad, the workday starts hours before the gates to the park open. It is a very physical, hot and dirty job that carries a lot of responsibility… which they love! The locomotive(s) need to be prepared each and every day. Cedar Point operates two locomotives when needed during busy periods. Much of this preparation work is carried out by the Engineer and the Fireman, who work closely as a team throughout the day.
Every morning, the fireman tops off the coal pile in the tender by filling 5 gallon buckets with coal, carrying each bucket from pile to tender, lifting and dumping each bucket into the tender. The fireman is also expected to keep the locomotive and cab area clean and polished. It is his responsibility to wash the engine, polish the brass and trim, and properly lubricate moving parts daily. Oh yeah, the locomotive is HOT while this work is being done!
Throughout the day the fireman is responsible for keeping a clean, properly trimmed hot fire in the firebox, filling the tender with water, maintaining proper water levels, blowing down the boiler, maintaining proper steam pressure, and lubricating parts as needed. He also has to help split wood, poke tubes, wash boilers, work on tracks, and perform various other tasks as needed.
Early morning engineer duties include cleaning out the previous day’s fire from the firebox, emptying the ash pan and lighting a new fire in order to raise the boiler pressure up to proper operating level. It normally takes at least an hour to reach operating temperature during which time the engineer will check for leaks, try the injectors, blow down the water glass, and so on. The engineer is responsible for ensuring that the engine is fit for operation before and during any movement of the locomotive.
The engineer also helps the fireman perform all the various duties necessary for safe operations. Both the engineer and the fireman must also keep an eye on the track ahead of them as well as the train behind them on their respective sides.
What’s that? You thought they just sat in the cab and waved?
I encourage you to stop and think about how and why the C.P. & L.E. Railroad still exists today. These vintage machines are still earning their keep amongst the sights and sounds of modern day amusements. Perhaps it's just a way for some to get back and forth, or a means by which to rest tired legs; but it's a living, breathing thing of beauty for most and has served over 116 million guests, over its 50 year history. I, for one, hope the tradition continues and that Cedar Point keeps this historical landmark running far into the future…toot toot!
By Douglas J. Ross