The Age of Steam Roundhouse

By October 21, 2020Features

By Aaron Isaacs, HRA editor

In 2008 Jerry Jacobson retired and sold his Ohio Central Railroad to Genesee & Wyoming. He acquired a 34-acre site in Sugarcreek, Ohio and began the construction of a new 18-stall roundhouse for his personal collection of steam locomotives and other rolling stock. The project included two miles of storage tracks, a backshop building, depot, store house, coal loader, wood water tank and ash pit. In the chronically underfunded world of railway preservation, nothing like it had been seen before.

The complex was completed in 2011. A staff of full-time mechanics was assembled and restorations began. Initially the general public was not admitted. That has changed since Jacobson’s death in 2017.  The goal has been to transition into a full-fledged museum of technology. The roundhouse has been opened for guided tours, that have continued during the Covid pandemic. There were over 10,000 visitors in 2019. Some 24 volunteers are now working alongside the 11 staff members, both as tour and shop workers. An intern program is being established.

Recently the Roundhouse put out an online survey asking its supporters whether it should offer memberships.  It seemed like a good time to inquire about the current state of the Roundhouse, so I called its executive director Noel Poirier.

Poirier was hired in 2018. A museum professional, he last worked at the National Watch & Clock Museum, previously oversaw museums for the city of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and before that worked at Colonial Williamsburg. His particular specialty is the preservation of historic technical skills, which he says is an important part of Age of Steam’s mission. Visitors should “see the work”.

McCloud River #19 inside the backshop.

Unlike so many museums which are struggling to stay afloat financially, Age of Steam is well funded by the Jerry & Laura Jacobson Foundation which was established specifically to operate the museum. Although there are other sources of revenue, notably tours and rolling stock leases, the foundation support is intended to ensure the roundhouse’s long-term operation.

According to the website, the collection currently includes 23 steam locomotives, 22 diesels, 14 passenger cars, 22 freight cars, and 5 cabooses and maintenance of way pieces.

The mission includes the restoration of rolling stock to operation. During his Ohio Central days, Jacobson already had a stable of operating steam locomotives:

Canadian Pacific 4-6-2 #1293 (Canadian 1948)
Grand Trunk Western 4-8-4 #6325 (Also 1942)
Canadian National 4-6-0 #1551 (Montreal 1912)
Lake Superior & Ishpeming 2-8-0 #33 (Baldwin 1916)
Southern Wood Preserving 0-4-0T #3 (Also 1926)
Buffalo Creek & Gauley 2-8-0 #13 (Also Brooks 1920)

He operated occasional excursions across the railroad and regular ones out of Sugarcreek, Ohio.

The museum has since restored Morehead & North Fork 0-6-0 #12 (Also Pittsburgh 1905). McCloud River 2-8-2 #19 (Baldwin 1915) is under restoration. Cosmetic restorations include:

Alabama Tennessee & Northern 2-10-0 #401 (Baldwin 1928)
Carnegie Steel 0-4-0T #14 (Porter 1897)
Columbus & Southern fireless 0-4-0 #2 (Heisler 1930)
Southern Wood Preserving 0-4-0T (Also 1926)
U. S. Army 2-8-0 #2630 (Baldwin 1943)
U. S. Navy 0-6-0T #4 (Porter 1919)
Montour SW9 #82 (EMD 1951)
Burlington heavyweight coach #6144 (Pullman 1922)
Burlington heavyweight coach #6148 (Pullman 1922)
Pullman heavyweight sleeper “White Castle” (Pullman 1920)

Army 2-8-0 #2630 is one of the recent cosmetic restorations.

Two locomotives on opposite ends of the size spectrum have recently been acquired, Bessemer & Lake Erie 2-10-4 #643 (Baldwin 1943) and Reading camelback 0-4-0 #1187 (Baldwin 1903). A steel refrigerator car has just been acquired from the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum.

The staff has also been restoring freight cars, a relatively quick way to transform eyesores into attractive exhibits. Completed to date have been:

U. S. Army heavyweight flat car #38358 (Magor 1953)
U. S. Army flat car #39502 (Magor 1953)
Libbys insulated boxcar URTX #25671 (GATX 1931)
Baltimore & Ohio gondola #451091 (Bethlehem Steel 1959)
Pittsburgh & Lake Erie covered hopper #1447 (P&LE Shops 1957)
Rock Island 2-axle Adapto flat car #95650 (AC&F 1956)
Montour hopper #847 (Pullman-Standard 1960)
Western Maryland caboose #1880 (WM Shops 1940)
Wheeling & Lake Erie caboose #0222 (W&LE Shop 1949)

Coaches have been leased out to the nearby Dennison Railroad Museum. Recently a few pieces have been sold in a beginning effort to refine the collection. Quite a few pieces are still exposed to the weather. The long term goal is to put them under roof by erecting one or more new buildings, but detailed planning has not yet begun.





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