Ohio man's steam railroad years in the making
It's easy to see that Dick McCloy has always loved trains.
Hidden among the trees of Coshocton County lies the Mill Creek Central Railroad, a private 7.5-inch gauge live steam railroad that McCloy built in the 1990s. The railroad sits on 34 acres of land and consists of 5 miles of hand-laid railroad tracks.
"I've always loved trains ever since I was little," McCloy said.
His love of trains led him to the live steam hobby, where people across the country build functioning railroad cars, steam engines, tracks and more that run as a normal railroad would.
McCloy said the railroad is a dream 60 years in the making. He first bought the land in the early 1990s and spent several years just maintaining the land. In 1997, he started chugging, and by 1999, he was laying down track.
The railroad became operational in 2001, and the first meet was held in June.
"A lot of friends helped do this," said Kathy Bryan, who helps McCoy with the maintenance and operation of the railroad. "It took a lot of people to do this and bulldozers and dump trucks."
McCloy said he decided to locate the track in Coshocton because there is a good following of steam railroad enthusiasts in the area.
The privately owned track was opened to the public for the Fall Farm Tour in 2009 and has been used by the Cub Scouts in the past, but it isn't open to the general public, as are some club tracks throughout the state.
The track is used mostly for live steam meets, which involved people interested in the hobby bringing their trains with them for a two- or three-day event in which they all run their trains on McCloy's track. The meets begin in April and continue until about late October.
One ride of the entire track can last almost two hours, McCloy and Bryan. That is a difference from some of the other tracks throughout the country where, McCloy said, a full ride might last only 10 minutes.
McCloy's railroad is special not only in size but also in the height of the trip. McCloy said that, while many railroads are flat, Mill Creek Central is about 70 feet from the lowest part of the railroad to the highest. Throughout the track, passengers travel on bridges over creeks, through tunnels, through the woods and even on a trestle.
McCloy said there are 12 tracks in Ohio, some private and some public. Across the country, there are more than 60 tracks. McCloy said he has been to tracks in California, Texas, Florida and more, which helped him learn what he should and shouldn't do when he was designing his track.
The railroad can run in all months, McCloy said, and typically, the offseason from meets is used for maintenance. Maintenance includes tuning up steam engines, fixing train cars and signs, and making any other repairs needed.
On a daily basis during meet season, McCloy and Bryan wake up and immediately start fixing things and doing any landscaping needed to keep things in good shape. Daily work can include fixing any electrical signals that might be working improperly along the railway or completing any train car or steam engine repairs.
McCloy doesn't charge people for meets and doesn't use the railroad to make money. People will leave donations for them to help with some of the costs of keeping the place going, he said, but he didn't get into this for financial reasons.
"It's for our own enjoyment," McCloy said.
For Bryan, much like McCloy, the track is about her love of trains that began in her childhood.
"I've always loved trains ever since I was a little girl," Bryan said, adding that, growing up, she used to play on the railroad tracks.
McCloy said the best part of the experience is getting to know the people at the meets. People from all over come to the track. McCloy said they often have people coming from Pennsylvania and Michigan.
"In many ways, the social interaction is the best part for me — getting to meet and talk to all sorts of people," McCloy said.
Even with all of the hard work, Bryan and McCloy said the railroad is worth it to them. For both, it is a lifelong dream that has become a reality.
"It means everything," Bryan said. "It's a lot of work and a dream come true."