PENN CENTRAL SANDUSKY BRANCH (CONRAIL/PENN CENTRAL/NYC-Big 4/MAD RIVER & LAKE ERIE (Cincinnati-Sandusky, OH)
We’re covering the ex-New York Central/Penn Central (& Conrail) Big 4 Line- Sandusky Branch (also called PC Sandusky Secondary), that ran from Cincinnati, through Springfield, Kenton, Patterson, Forest, Wharton, Carey, Tiffin, Green Springs, Clyde, Castalia, and Sandusky, OH. This was one of many Big 4 lines that ran in Ohio. The other lines were the Cleveland to Columbus & Cincinnati; Toledo through Bowling Green to Columbus (Toledo & Ohio Central West); and Toledo through Fostoria to Columbus (Toledo & Ohio Central East).
The Sandusky Branch ran from Sandusky, OH and south to Cincinnati, OH. There are many areas where the ex ROW can still be seen, and others where it has been built upon, plowed away, or covered in some way. Also there are areas of the line where tracks still are in tact and see service. For example in Carey, OH, a quarry uses part of the original line with CSX. In Clyde, the line is still in from the north side of NS’s (ex-W&LE/NKP) Toledo District east/west line, to the north side of a grain mill (before CR 260). Also in Springfield there are a few areas where the line is still used. We will cover this line from Sandusky and southward.
The Sandusky Branch line was originally built by the Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad (MR&LE), as an alternate route from their original Sandusky through Bellevue and Flat Rock route, which then proceeded SW through West Lodi and to Tiffin, OH. The MR&LE abandoned this section between Sandusky and Tiffin after building a newer route from Sandusky to Tiffin (through Castalia, York, Clyde, Green Springs- bypassing West Lodi). They built the alternate route for fewer miles and grades. The line from Sandusky to south of Flat Rock continued to be used later by the PRR, then N&W and today NS. The area south of Flat Rock where the two original MR&LE ROWs split (one to Marion & Columbus, OH splits SE, the original ROW to West Lodi and Tiffin split SW. Not much is there to see of the SW ROW today).
A forgotten town on the MR&LE SW split ROW? By word of mouth, supposedly there was a small town or refueling/watering station just south/SW of Flat Rock, OH, although no past maps so far show any existence of a town there. This station or town was abandoned or reduced to a few houses or a farm when the MR&LE abandoned their SW ROW.
Back to the PC/NYC Sandusky Branch line- the NYC/Big 4 took over the MR&LE Sandusky to Cinci line. NYC and PC later named the line the Sandusky Branch, Ohio Central Division, per 1968 timetables. By 1967, before the NYC and PRR merger to form PC, the NYC pulled up the tracks and ties from north of Clyde to Sandusky. PC used the line from Clyde to Kenton, OH for local trains. They also interchanged locals from PC’s Norwalk Branch that crossed the Sandusky Branch in downtown Clyde. A PC Toledo local picked up cars from the PC Sandusky Branch also. The Sandusky Branch in Clyde served a few lumber companies and grain mills.
Per a PC 4/28/68 timetable, they labeled from Clyde to Sands, OH as WB, but physically it’s SW, so we will call all directions as SB & NB. Most of the line was “dark territory”- a term used by railroads to mean the line had no working lighted signals in most areas of the line- after passenger trains were removed from the line, and most freights rerouted to other NYC/PC lines. The line did have signals, and was apparently one of the first lines in the US to have the new CTC signaling systems of the time in certain parts of the line. Except some approach signals to mark the line on both sides of any crossovers. All signals were removed decades ago where the line was taken up.
Starting at downtown Sandusky, OH, the line began at Water St., near the shore of Lake Erie. Passenger trains from the NYC would take people to and from Cedar Point to this area of town, where they boarded boats to and from Cedar Point.
Next through Castalia, OH, the line ran parallel with the ex-Lake Erie & Western (LE&W) Railroad (later became NKP LE&W District then N&W-abandonded by N&W at this point/NS- Sandusky Branch-Lima District through Fremont, Fostoria, then Arcadia and Lima, OH- their Lima Dist., then through Muncie, Portland, and Frankfort, IN- their Frankfort Dist., and onto St. Louis, MO). South of Castalia both lines split away.
York was next as we head SW on the Sandusky Branch. York was technically more south from the line, but NYC and PC called this area on the line York, between Castalia and Clyde, per their timetables.
(Photo Above: ex-ROW of the PC Sandusky Branch (ex-CR/NYC-Big 4/Mad River & Lake Erie), Facing SW, NE of Clyde, OH, 12/2019. © Copyright 2019 1-West Productions™/PJ.)
Clyde (MP 17.0) (PC & N&W Crossing) Here was an interchange and crossroads of different railroads. At Rt. 20, the Sandusky Branch crossed the Lake Shore Electric Railway that ran parallel with Rt. 20, on the south side. The crossover diamond of the Sandusky Branch and the LSE was just west of Rt. 101. *The double tracks of the PC Sandusky Branch crossed the ex-W&LE 1st District/NKP W&LE District/N&W Toledo District (now NS Toledo District) east-west line between Rt. 101 and Rt. 510, on the north side of the convient store in Clyde*. Originally in Clyde there were Approach Target signals (at least one was just west of town, later removed by PC/CR in the late 1970s/early 1980s), to mark the line before the crossover Target signal that originally was located in downtown, near Maple Street, where both the PC Norwalk and Sandusky Branches crossed. Today the city of Clyde restored the original Target signal, and moved it near the now bike/walking trail of the ex-Norwalk Branch, also downtown.
There is a viaduct that crossed over Raccoon Creek presently. As noted before, Clyde was serviced up into the PC era, which had a few lumber yards (mainly on Maple St.), grain mills, and other businesses. The line ran along the south side of Maple St. after it crossed the PC Norwalk Branch at Maple and Depot St. Also at that crossing there originally was an L-shaped depot, which serviced both Branches. It was torn down before PC came into existence. The line then crossed Woodland Ave.- a winding road. During that time Woodland Ave. ran through a middle of a farm field. Since then many houses have been built in the area, with no sign of the ROW, except a small ditch area on the NE side towards a church. Just on the west edge of town on Limerick Road at a sharp curve, the ROW originally cut through a tall but small sand hill, near the NE side of the road. Since then, it has been filled in with dirt and newly-planted trees/shrubs. On the left side of the road (SW) at the curve, the land is flat. We continue south/SW to Green Springs.
At Green Springs (MP 22.2), the Sandusky Branch crossed the Nickel Plate (NKP) Chicago line (Nickel Plate Division), later Norfolk & Western (N&W) Ft. Wayne Division-Fostoria District. There use to be an interlocking tower there. E. Durnwald was one of the many operators that worked there in the early 1970s (for N&W), who remembered seeing PC locals, and talked to the PC crews who crossed there. The original NYC/PC depot is still in town there.
Between Green Springs and Tiffin, the ROW can be seen in areas, with a few viaducts, and many areas where the ROW has disappeared, due to farmers plowing through it. One can still see however the original grooves of the ROW from aerial maps online.
Tiffin (MP 32.4) (PC and B&O Crossing)
As we arrive into Tiffin (MP 34.0), on the NE end of town between a few warehouses and a store, and a trailer park nearby, wide flat areas can be seen where the ROW was. To the west of 101, the Sandusky branch crossed (going north to south) the CR/PC/PRR Carrothers Branch (Toledo to Mansfield/then Ciro, OH), and the CSX/B&O Willard Sub. (Chicago line), the Sandusky River, and Riverside Drive.
Onward SE through town part of the ROW is a pathway and goes by the original Depot on Monroe St. that has been restored. We think the depot and property is privately owned (more info to follow on this). The path that’s part of the original ROW then parralells Benner st. for a few blocks and and at Hopewell Ave. Here the ROW turned into Fair Lane, which is the road to the back of the Fairgrounds. In the back of the Fairgrounds the ROW continues SB/SW as the lane goes more south/SE.
Below are photos of the ROW that goes SB-NB (left to right):
Then in the same area facing SB/SW:
Same ROW now looking NB-NE in the same area (Fair Lane):
From there the line continued south/SW to Carey, OH.
At Berwick (MP 42.7), the PC Ohio Central Eastern line crossed the PC Sandusky Branch. There was an operator’s tower there at one point.
Adrian (MP 45.3)
MP 48.5 (PC crossing with C&O Toledo to Columbus line and AC&Y)
At Carey (MP 49.7), CSX still uses part of the line that’s still in tact for a stone quarry. Also at Carey the original depot still stands downtown. Carey had a PC local (CCK-3) that would switch cars at Sands (south- more information below) and Tiffin. PC local CCK-1/2 switched cars at the AC&Y and C&O interchanges at Carey and the quarry.
Wharton (MP 57.3) is south of Carey, which is another small town. The original wood depot use to stand downtown, but was later turned into a garage and eventually fell over, or was torn down.
Then Forest (MP 62.2), where the line crossed the CR/PC/PRR Ft. Wayne to Pittsburgh line. South of Forest the ROW follows along side Rt. 53, and the ROW is built up higher than the surrounding land for several miles, until we get to Kenton.
Patterson (MP 63.9)
McVittys (MP 65.5)
Grants (MP 68.4)
At Kenton (MP 74.1), OH, the Sandusky Branch had a connection with PC’s (ex-NYC/TOC) Ohio Central Western Branch.
By 1972, the Sandusky Branch was abandoned about 2.5 miles south of Kenton, near Sands (where the diamond with the Erie Lackawanna-EL was), and the PC Sandusky Branch at this point was called the PC Sands Industrial Track. There also was a PC/EL tower there called Sands. Two industries were serviced at Sands by the PC local crew from the Ohio Central Western Branch Yard crew. One of the PC locals would come from Carey (PC CCK-3), and switch cars at Sands.
PC had at least one Local that ran from Kenton/Carey/Tiffin to Clyde, OH in the early 1970s. E. Durnwald (now deceased) was on the extra board for the N&W, and worked all of the N&W towers between New Haven, IN & Green Springs, OH, from 1971-75 (at Green Springs Tower in 1971 & 1972, and the tower closed in 1972 or 1973). He couldn’t remember the PC Locals’ train symbols, but he remembered other details about the PC Locals on their Sandusky Branch.
At Green Springs, OH, the N&W Ft. Wayne Div.- Fostoria District (ex-NKP-Nickel Plate Dist.) crossed the PC’s Sandusky Branch, with a tower owned and run by the N&W. It was just west of SR19, and was torn down in the 1980s. When he worked Green Springs (GR Tower), he would be called by the N&W Dispatcher by phone on M, W, F (not so much traffic during winter months), was called to go to the tower around 5 pm, wait for the PC Local to arrive NB on the PC Sandusky Branch, and give them the clear to go across the N&W to service Clyde, OH (he normally wouldn’t talk to the PC crew- they would just wait for the signal while waiting at the diamond). As he sat in the tower, he would wait to see the headlight from their train, they would come to a stop before the PC/N&W diamond, and he would then call the N&W dispatcher by radio. The N&W dispatcher would give him the clear for the PC, then he would move the PC semaphore signal (most on this line were of the wood board plank style, with a red light on each end) to clear (vertical position), and the PC Local would move NB to Clyde. The PC would usually arrive with a Baldwin type S switcher (ex-NYC, either with NYC or PC markings, most likely an S-12), cab forward, with about 12 or more boxcars, and a PC transfer caboose on the rear.
The PC Local would switch out cars at Clyde, and interchange a few from the other PC Local from the PC Toledo Division-Norwalk Branch line in Clyde. Then the PC Local would come back SB to GR Tower SB from Clyde (loco cab forward in most cases), with about a dozen boxcars, approach the crossover again at GR and stop. E.D. would give PC the clear (after getting the clear from the N&W dispatcher by radio), then the PC Local would head south to Tiffin/Carey/Kenton, OH. Top speed on the PC Sandusky Branch during that time was about 10 mph, due to deferred maintenance (from as early as the 1950s/60s NYC days).
Also as noted above, PC had a Carey stationed Local called CCK-3, that switched cars at Sands and Tiffin. PC CCK-1/2 switched cars at the AC&Y and C&O interchanges at Carey and the quarry. At least another Carey-Kenton PC Local is known of (CCK-3/4) as well.
Mike C. (originally of Galetown, OH) told us a story about around 1971-75, while in highschool, he and a buddy of his would hitch a ride on the PC Local to Clyde from the Galetown area (CR 195 crossing between Green Springs and Clyde). Once the Local was done working in Clyde after a few hours or so, they would hitch a ride back to the same area. Sometimes the PC crew would let them board the caboose (most likely a PC transfer caboose). At that time the Local was only moving around 20-25 MPH, due to speed restrictions from bad track.
This article is dedicated to E. Durnwald, a dedicated railroad worker, railroad historian, railfan, and family man, who worked for the N&W from the early 1970s, then with NS in the early 1980s, and then retired from NS around 2000. We met him in the late 1980s, and railfanned with him a few times until the very early ’90s. We caught back up with him in the late ’90s, and we would railfan many times at many locations, until he passed during 11/2021. Besides a fellow railfan and historian, he was also a very good person and good friend, and is greatly missed.
(We will continue to add to this article with more information and photos.)
© Copyright 2019, 2020, 2022, 2023 1-West Productions™/P.Jordan. References: E. Durnwald (ex-N&W/NS Tower Operator/Clerk), A Sampling of Penn Central by Jerry Taylor- IN Univ. 1973, 2000).