Ohio Central System

The Ohio Central System (reporting marks OHCR), now a part of the Genesee & Wyoming family of shortlines, once based out of Coshocton, Ohio was actually a combination of small shortline systems under one banner, deliberately set up in this manner to allow the communities which each serves to feel more like they have a railroad to call their own. The railroad dated back to 1988 when former owner Jerry Jacobson acquired a single segment of railroad in central Ohio and grew into one of the largest Class II, regionals in the country.  The OC, operated almost exclusively in Ohio System (they also have a presence in western Pennsylvania) was broken down into three divisions, which include the Southern Lines, Youngstown Division and Pittsburgh Division.

Ohio Central 4-6-2 #1293 steams through Jewett, Ohio with a chartered excursion on October 7, 2006. This locomotive was built for the Canadian Pacific by the Canadian Locomotive Company in 1948. It saw just ten years of service before its retirement in 1959. It was subsequently sold to Steamtown USA in 1964 and acquired by Jerry Jacobson in 1996. Today, it resides at the Age of Steam Roundhouse in Sugarcreek, Ohio. Wade Massie photo.

Within these three divisions were no less than ten individual shortlines. While these small railroads operated mostly as paper companies many carried its very own livery giving them a local feel to the communities they serve.  The Ohio Central's most famous corridor is the ex-Pennsylvania Railroad's "Panhandle" main line across central Ohio.  This once-important PRR route was largely double-tracked connecting New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Indianapolis, and St. Louis.  Under Conrail, large segments west of Pittsburgh were pulled up.  In 2008 Mr. Jacobson decided to sell off his major asset to the shortline conglomerate Genesee & Wyoming, in the process becoming a multimillionaire.   While the OC is no longer independently operated, the former owner gave the railroad historical movement one of its greatest assets when he completed his multi-million dollar "Age Of Steam Roundhouse" complex in 2012.  

Ohio Central RS18 #1800 (built as International Nickel Company of Canada/INCO #208-2 in 1958 by the Montreal Locomotive Works) is on one end of the "Akron Chapter Special" at Panhandle, Ohio on October 7, 2006. Wade Massie photo.

It is a meticulous replica of an original 18-stall roundhouse and for now will house his vast collection of steam locomotives.  Upon selling his railroad to the G&W, Mr. Jacobson set about constructing his new roundhouse in 2010 which featured an impressive 18 stalls and a 115-foot turntable.  The fleet continues to grow and currently includes 18 locomotives, a few of which remain operational.  His most recent acquisition came in December of 2015 when Woodward Iron Company 2-10-0 #41 was sent to Sugar Creek.  The Decapod was originally built in 1928 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works for the Alabama, Tennessee & Northern Railroad and sold to Woodward in 1948.  

Clad in the OC's maroon, yellow, and grey three Geeps led by GP40 #3217 roll through Jewett, Ohio with their freight on October 17, 1995. Wade Massie photo.

Two other acquisitions occurred during late 2015 including McCloud River Railroad 2-6-2 #9 built in 1901 by Baldwin and remains operational, as well as U.S. Army 2-8-0 #612, a 1943 product of Baldwin.  In addition to the operational steamers others are under restoration.  Who knows, given enough time Jerry may have all of his locomotives under steam one day!  Perhaps one day we the public will be lucky enough to tour this magnificent facility.  However, for the time being the property remains closed and is used as full-service maintenance facility rebuilding steam locomotives, diesels, and other railroad equipment.  Below is a list of the railroad’s former divisions and short lines operating within them:

Southern Lines

The Ohio Central Railroad (OHCR)

The Ohio Southern Railroad (OSRR)

The Columbus & Ohio River Railroad (CUOH)

Ohio Central 4-6-2 #1293 leads a chartered special through Jewett, Ohio under a rusting ex-Pennsylvania Railroad signal tower on October 7, 2006. The structure paints a sad picture of the line's former glory. This was the PRR's "Panhandle Route" to St. Louis, once double-tracked and featured dozens of trains everyday. It was downgraded and abandoned in segments by successor Conrail during the 1980's. Wade Massie photo.

Youngstown Division

The Mahoning Valley Railway (MVRY)

The Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroad (OHPA)

The Warren and Trumbull Railroad (WTRM)

The Youngstown and Austintown Railroad (YARR)

The Youngstown Belt Railroad Company (YB)

Pittsburgh Division

The Pittsburgh and Ohio Central Railroad (POHC)

The Aliquippa and Ohio River Railroad (AOR)

After a photo run-by Ohio Central 4-6-2 #1293 steams westbound along the former PRR "Panhandle" main line at Cadiz Junction, Ohio on October 7, 2006. Wade Massie photo.

While the freight trains paid the bills perhaps what the OC was best known and recognized for among railfans and the public was its large and continually growing steam fleet. The railroad just recently acquired former Nickel Plate Berkshire #763 (sister to famous #765) from the Virginia Museum of Transportation and plans are to still in place to one day return it to operation, which will certainly be a sight to see!  Aside from the big Berk, the OC’s collection of steam locomotives included 2-8-0 #33, 4-8-4 #6325, 4-6-2 #1293, 4-6-0 #1551, 2-8-0 #13, 0-4-0 #3, 4-6-2 #1278, and 2-6-0 #96.

The same train as pictured above, GP40 #3217 is traveling through Scio, Ohio along the Pennsylvania Railroad's former Panhandle line on October 17, 1995. Wade Massie photo.

After the G&W takeover of the railroad it was announced that founder Jerry Jacobson "will retain rights to operate his steam locomotives and passenger cars on the property. Sources say he will build a roundhouse near his home in Sugar Creek, Ohio to stable the steam locomotives" according to Trains Magazine.  As mentioned above, that of course has now become a reality.  To visit Jerry's "Age Of Steam Roundhouse" website please click here.   While the Ohio Central has become yet another fallen flag the G&W has pledged to continue the high quality of service the railroad was known for. So, if you are near Ohio’s Amish country or anywhere else in northeastern Ohio or western Pennsylvania you should certainly look up one of the OC's former lines, it was certainly a very interesting railroad.  Also, if you are photographer now is the time to get your shots of locomotives in OC paint before they disappear into G&W's orange, yellow and black. 

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Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

Researching Rights-Of-Way

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