BY JANET SLATER
Special to Loveland Local News
LOVELAND, Ohio — On November 7, 1974, Don Staley’s train pulled into Loveland for the last time.
It carried only one boxcar, a load of lumber headed to Nisbet’s store. It was the last train to run on what is now the Little Miami Scenic Trail. There was no fanfare; Staley, a conductor on the line for 44 years, simply walked away, his job complete.
When he started on the railroad in 1957, sixteen trains a day ran along his line between Cincinnati and Columbus. Two carried passengers; the rest carried freight. There were Fords and Chevrolets and parts for both, and steel from Valley Steel in Clarksville and Armco in Middletown – accessed by the spur line at Middletown Junction where the Lebanon spur trail now crosses the Little Miami River.
From Loveland came lumber and coal – and, about once a month, a boxcar full of animal skins. Trains stopped at Kings Mills, where there was a small shack with an agent, to pick up loads of gunpowder produced in the mills on the opposite side of the river.
Gunpowder could be dangerous cargo, but in 1970 it was cargo of a seemingly innocent sort that caused the big Kings Mills train derailment.
Staley’s train, heading north, pulled off on the siding at Morrow to make way for a large train of at least 100 cars heading south. One of the passing cars was piled high with thick dowels, headed to Louisville to become baseball bats. The wood stuck out beyond the side of the car, and Staley says his train narrowly escaped damage from the passing load.
When Staley’s train was ready to head back south toward Cincinnati, they received permission to follow the Louisville-bound train. But soon they got a “stop” signal just north of Grandin Road.
Staley climbed down from the caboose to view the problem. Ahead was the train that had passed them earlier – all over the tracks. Twenty-seven cars had derailed, perhaps caused by the overloaded car of future baseball bats coming around a curve. Dowels were scattered all over the tracks, and cars lay on their side, wrecked. Although no one was injured in the accident, it took a couple of weeks to complete the cleanup.
Staley, now 82, still celebrates the railroad. He has built a remarkable museum in his own backyard outside of Loveland, including a full-size track, signals, and motor cars. Each month a group of railroad-loving friends gathers there to tinker and talk. After all, Staley says what he liked best about his career, even more than the trains, was the people he worked with. When some of them predicted that one day the railroad would be gone and a trail put in its place, he was more than skeptical.
“Oh, you’re nuts,” Staley said.
Today as you enjoy the trail built, literally, on the foundation of the railroad that came before, maybe you’ll remember the trains and their crews who also left their legacy on our trail.
Reprinted from Trail Mail, newsletter of the Friends of the Little Maimi State Park.