They don't look like much yet.

But just wait a few more months when the latest restored gems on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad hit the rails for the first time.

In the case of old rail cars, workers have to strip them down to the bare metal shell before they can be rebuilt and restored to their former glory.

Work is well underway in the railroad's Fitzwater Train Yard in Valley View with an anticipated September completion of three rail cars that will each serve a different set of passengers. The cars will be unveiled at the railroad's annual fundraiser.

 

Kid-friendly

The most radical transformation will be the so-called Car No. 162 that was built in 1949 by the Budd Co. for the Pennsylvania Railroad as a 21-roomette sleeping car.

It was rebuilt in 1963 to be a 76-seat coach, and then in 1991 by Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) Train Service to accommodate 80 seats.

The scenic railroad acquired it from Akron Metro RTA and used it as a parts car. Work began last year for its transformation into an Edu-trainment Car.

Think of it as a children's museum and play place on wheels with interactive railroad-related exhibits, programming and activities geared to kids.

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad President and CEO Joseph W. Mazur said they consulted with the children's museums in Akron and Cleveland before embarking on the ambitious transformation.

The sights from the railroad are spectacular as its trains snake their way through the heart of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, but Mazur readily admits it can be a challenging, hours-long excursion for young passengers.

The special car will provide a cool and fun place in the summer for families to enjoy and escape to with young children in tow.

"The kids will be happy and the parents will be happy, too," he said.

The work is all part of an ambitious $5 million Powering Ahead campaign that includes the renovation and preservation of the railroad's fleet and the recent acquisition of four sleek silver California Zephyr cars. Details of the campaign can be found at cvsr.org.

Coach Car No. 6217, built by the Budd Co. in 1947 for the Seaboard Coast Line, is being converted into an executive coach car.

Most of the seats are being removed and those few that remain will be a bit more comfy with more leg room.

Mazur said tables are being added to serve drinks, snacks or hors d'oeuvres along with new carpeting, curtains, restroom upgrades and electrical improvements.

The changes, he said, will provide more versatility for the railroad for special excursions or rental by families, businesses or organizations.

Taking this idea of providing sought-after space for private parties a step further, work is also underway to convert Rail Diesel Car-1 M-3 into a self-contained executive car for board meetings or private parties.

Built in 1950 for the New York Susquehanna and Western Railway, it is not only a passenger rail car but it is equipped with its own motor to run independently without an attached train engine.

Mazur said it has been mothballed for several years and was last used as a private charter car and for runs into Canton before that service was discontinued.

It is being renovated to have a lounge area, a bar, table seating for board meetings and its own restroom.

The railroad is approached from time to time by corporations or individuals seeking to rent out the railroad for exclusive runs, but, Mazur said, it can be cost prohibitive to rent both an engine and a car or two.

Since this particular rail car has its own engine built in, he said, this can run independently and far cheaper with less staff and provide a pretty "cool" setting for a meeting or even a lunch or dinner.

"People nowadays are looking for unique experiences," Mazur said. 

The railroad has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a simple ride through the countryside with perhaps a stop at Hale Farm & Village where one of its founders was director.

Siegfried Buerling said everyone thought it couldn't be done in the 1960s and early 1970s when he suggested they start passenger rail service through the Cuyahoga Valley.

"There were very tough years in the early days," he said. "Everyone thought I was crazy."

But it has since grown into a railroad with dozens of rail cars and tens of thousands of passengers with daily excursions though the national park.

"I never envisioned we would be doing something like this," Buerling said. "This is a dream come true."

 

Craig Webb can be reached at cwebb@thebeaconjournal.com.