One Last Visit to the Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad

Over the past few weeks I’ve guided you on a tour over the tracks of the Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad, which is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. Our little ride has come to an end – for now, at least – as this is our final post on the Cedar Point and Lake Erie. Though we’ve travelled the rails, and met the interesting people that make the railroad run, we haven’t covered some of the railroad’s earliest history.

Cedar Point & Lake Erie Cedar Point & Lake Erie
Historical Photos of the Cedar Point & Lake Erie from cplerr.com.

The Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad was inspired by Disneyland’s railroad, and was the brainchild of George Roose, president of Cedar Point in the late 1950s. The amusement park’s board wasn’t quite convinced on the idea of a railroad at the park, and after several rejections, Roose put up his own money to see the project come to fruition. The announcement of the project came in late 1962, and construction on the narrow gauge tracks began in early 1963. The CP&LE’s primary locomotive was Maud L. – a 1902 engine that spent the first years of her life hauling sugar cane for the Laurel Valley Plantation in Louisiana. Roose was so determined to have a railroad at the park that he purchased Maud L. in 1961, some time before the board had even agreed to the project.

Maud L. was expected to carry six coaches, with an hourly capacity of about 1200 people. The railroad’s original route was about 1.6 miles long, extending from the “funway” to the northern portion of the Cedar Point peninsula – mostly woods at the time. A station was built, intended to be a reproduction of those common during the Civil War era. Finally opening to much fanfare in May of 1963, the railroad’s opening ceremony was attended by various representatives of the park and beyond – including deputies from the New York Central, Pennsylvania, and Nickel Plate railroads.

The Cedar Point and Lake Erie quickly became a staple attraction of the park, and carried a record four and a half million passengers in 1970. Though most visitors to Cedar Point will name roller coasters as the park’s primary attractions, the railroad remains one of Cedar Point’s oldest and most-loved attractions.

Cedar Point & Lake Erie Cedar Point & Lake Erie
Historical Photos of the Cedar Point & Lake Erie from cplerr.com.

Cedar Point itself is an interesting place – though it almost seems to live in two different worlds. Where on one side it is primarily known for record-breaking roller coasters that push the boundaries of both construction and technology, a portion of its identity is devoted to history. The Frontier Trail, established in 1971, is filled with various historically-themed shops and crafts, from an old grist mill to a blacksmith and a glass blower. Though the trail was constructed several years after the railroad, the two certainly fit together. Theme is a big part of parks these days, but history was more than just a simple theme here – the locomotives acquired for the railroad were former sugar plantation work horses, and the grist mill was not a recreation, but an authentic 1800’s mill that was moved from North Carolina and reconstructed at the park.

Cedar Point's locomotives
Cedar Point’s historical locomotives, illustrated by Randy Sappo.

If any attraction were to bridge the gap between the two identities of Cedar Point, it would likely be the railroad. Railroads have always been the kindred spirits of the roller coaster, their histories joined. They share the same fundamental concept of a car running on tracks, and in the earliest days were both powered by gravity. Though their evolution differed greatly from that point on, there are many spots where the two are reminiscent of one another. In the 1870’s a former coal railroad that had outlived its usefulness was converted to a “scenic railroad” – but with its varying speeds to elicit thrills from passengers, the concept was closer to today’s roller coaster. In fact, several of the roller coasters of the late 1800’s went by the moniker of “scenic railway.” Decades later came the “classic” side friction roller coasters built in the early 1900’s – in order to prevent trains from going off the track they had brakemen, a job mostly associated with railroads.

Today each have their own respective futuristic technologies – from super-fast mag lev trains to hydraulically launched coasters that can shoot riders to speeds over one hundred miles an hour in a matter of seconds. Though many amusement parks have both roller coasters and trains, Cedar Point seems to be one of the most appropriate for the two to live in perfect harmony. So let’s take one more look at the fifty-year-old Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad, surrounded by its roller coaster kin.

 
  
 
  
   
 
  
 
   
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
  

   
  
  

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Working on the Railroad – the Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad

Hopefully the previously posted video of the Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad has gotten you in the mood to learn a little bit more about this interesting little narrow gauge, steam railroad, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The appropriately named railroad is a part of Cedar Point amusement park, the second-oldest continuously operated amusement park in the United States. Despite being around since 1870, the park has few truly long operating rides. Part of that is likely due to the geography of the park. Unlike America’s oldest amusement park, Lake Compounce, land is a finite resource for Cedar Point. The luxury of acquiring more land and expanding outward (and even moving town roads!) is not an option for Cedar Point – located on a thin peninsula jutting out into Lake Erie. As such, land is at a premium – many of the park’s recent noteworthy attractions have required the demolition of a previous attraction. Despite all that, the Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad has survived half a century, and is one of the park’s staples.

Early view of Cedar Point
Early 1900s view of the Lake Erie peninsula where you’ll find Cedar Point, America’s second-oldest amusement park. Today this peninsula is covered with 16 roller coasters.

Decades before the railroad
From the 1910s and beyond… decades of Cedar Point brochures before the railroad. All items from the collection of Jason Hammond.

Cedar Point Brochures
At left: 1965 Cedar Point park brochure from the collection of Jason Hammond. At right: Early 1960’s Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad brochure

Over the railroad’s fifty year lifespan, it has hardly been static; as the park has changed, the railroad has as well. 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. Since the railroad’s inaugural season the park’s eponymous Cedar trees have slowly disappeared, with other attractions appearing in their stead.

Construction of the CP&LE Construction of the CP&LE Construction of the CP&LE Construction of the CP&LE Adjusting the route of the tracks in the late 1960s Construction photos from the Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad from cplerr.com.

Some of the park’s early endeavors to grow its boundaries was Frontier Town, originally accessible only by the railroad. The popular Shoot the Rapids ride (not to be confused with the current ride with the same name), built in 1967 in Frontier Town, led to heavy use of the railroad. It was not until 1971 when some of Cedar Point’s biggest changes came to fruition when the Frontier Trail was built, finally providing a walking link between Frontier Town and the rest of the park. Construction of the Frontier Trail led to several adjustments of the railroad’s tracks, and the addition of a new railroad station.

Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad

As one of Cedar Point’s most long lived attractions, I felt that creating a map of the railroad displaying both geography and time would be a really fun endeavor. I got a chance to highlight the park’s roller coasters, which besides being Cedar Point’s claim to fame, share the fundamental track-running concept with railroads. Although at first glance it might be a jumble of colors, the map above depicts Cedar Point’s most noteworthy attractions, both past and present, along with some of the railroad’s changes. It is interesting to note that one of the park’s most coveted ride locations is in the far back, first home to the original Shoot the Rapids ride, which was later replaced by White Water Landing, which itself was subsequently replaced by the roller coaster Maverick.

Union station The lynching scene
Changes on the CP&LE: at left is the Funway Station when it went by the name of Union Station. At right: A scene that wouldn’t quite fly today – a cattle rustler is lynched along the railroad’s route. Photos from cplerr.com.

Our focus today, however, is not necessarily the Cedar Point and Lake Erie railroad itself, but the people that make it run. I spent three days this summer photographing the Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad, and perhaps one could say relentlessly stalking the train crews with my camera lens. Without a doubt the folks working at the CP&LE are some of the most wonderful and hard-working people you’ll find at Cedar Point, period. Running a steam railroad is not clean, and it sure isn’t easy. While one might romance the idea of working on the trains of yesteryear, most likely forget the grunt-work that happens every day to get that beast of a machine running – from cleaning the locomotive to shoveling coal, or even working around a hot fire on a scorching summer day (or in a torrential downpour).

While the park usually opens at 10 AM for the general public during the summer, work for the rail crew begins at 7 AM or earlier. The locomotives (two are usually operated on busy days like the weekends, and one during the week) need to be readied, which includes starting the fire and letting it burn for at least an hour to achieve the necessary pressure to operate. Keeping this railroad running is superintendant Randy Catri, who has been a fixture on the CP&LE for nearly 40 years. Catri is a kind fellow that took time out of his busy schedule to give me a nice tour of the locomotive shops, and talk about the CP&LE. Although Randy strikes me as modest, the crew that work under him use words like “one of steam railroading’s most unsung heroes” and “the best boss I’ve ever had” – undoubtedly he is an important part of the railroad’s fifty years.

Today’s set of photos show the Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad from the perspective of the hardworking crew that make it run daily. Next week we’ll take a look at the railroad as a whole, and delve a little bit more into its 50 year history!

 
  
 
   
   
   
 
   
  
 
  
   
  

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Cedar Point & Lake Erie Railroad 50th Anniversary “Timelapse”

Ever since I purchased a GoPro camera, my absolute dream was to fasten it to the front of a moving train and make a totally awesome video. On Sunday, that dream was finally fulfilled on the Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad. Not only is the CP&LE RR awesome for using authentic coal-fired steam locomotives, they’re celebrating their 50th anniversary this season! We’re commemorating that milestone by taking you on a fast-forwarded ride around the park from a camera mounted on the front of “Judy K.” – one of the park’s steam locomotives.

Long before the park opens to the public, the crew of the Cedar Point and Lake Erie railroad are hard at work getting the locomotives running for the day. A real rarity among amusement park railroads, the CP&LE RR uses real coal-fired steam locomotives, which takes a whole lot of “elbow-grease” and experience to run. Crewed by some wonderful, and exceptionally hard-working people under the watchful eye of 40-year veteran superintendent Randy Catri, the CP&LE RR has long been a staple attraction of Cedar Point. Though it may not be one of the park’s most talked-about rides – like the behemoth Top Thrill Dragster, or the new Gate Keeper – not many of the park’s attractions can boast a 50 year history and having served over 116 million in those years.



The Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad in action.

I met up with the crew early on the morning of August 18th, and captured “Judy K.” leaving the railyard, coupling with passenger cars outside Funway Station, and performing a first test loop around the park. Thanks to our camera, mounted on the front of the locomotive, you get an up-close and personal tour of the coolest amusement park railroad on the planet (and authentic coal-fired steam is interesting ANYWHERE!). As an added bonus there’s also a short crew view, where we see coal being added to the fire, and another loop around the park viewing the train from the side.

Consider this a quick preview of the CP&LE RR, as we’ll be celebrating the 50th with a whole lot more photos and fun in the upcoming weeks!

Note: This is a repost of an original post from several weeks ago. At the request of Cedar Point, that original video (and the post that featured it) was taken down. We reshot the video, along with some additional angles, so it is actually better than it was before!

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