Randy Rood surveys the front of one of the cars of the Blue Bird looking for damage and to see if anything was stolen.
Thieves have swiped engine parts and sections of seats from the Bluebird passenger train, enough to derail plans for a 2011 operating season.
It’s also enough to raise suspicions of sabotage, volunteers with the Toledo, Lake Erie & Western Railway of Waterville said Tuesday.
“Someone doesn’t want us operating,” said TLE&W president Clarice Wyse of Fulton County's Lyons.
Stolen was nearly $75,000 worth of seats and equipment, including engine parts recently purchased but not yet installed.
“Someone knew what those parts were for,” Ms. Wyse said. And they knew, too, she said, that the new parts were essential to get the train running for the 2011 season.
And, it’s what was taken - and what was left behind - that puzzles volunteers.
Who would steal just the bottoms of 47 horse-hair stuffed, wicker-covered seats, each weighing about 30 pounds or so?
Seat bottoms lack much market value, Ms. Wyse said, but “the seats are worth something to us because if we don’t have the seats, our passengers don’t have a place to sit.”
Thieves stole about a third of all of the train’s seat bottoms.
Places that purchase vintage railroad items have been alerted to the theft, Ms. Wyse said, and scrap yards have been notified as well. A report was made to the Lucas County sheriff’s office on Saturday when the theft was discovered, and volunteers kept repeating Tuesday “We hope they catch whoever did this.”
It’s unlikely only one person was involved in the theft, volunteers said, considering the amount of items taken as well as the bulk and weight.
Volunteers are checking into seat replacements, but cost is a concern always with the organization that relies on ticket sales and the kindness of donors for operating dollars. Volunteers open their wallets often to make purchases to benefit the Bluebird. Ms. Wyse is checking with the railway’s insurance company to see what was covered.
Clarice Wyse looks over the seats in the Blue Bird where the bottom half of the seat has been stolen.
In addition to the theft, someone loosened gas lines on a motor car and when a volunteer went to move it the other day, it spewed gas. “It kind of looks like sabotage, too,” Ms. Wyse said. If the vandalism hadn’t been discovered, “the motor car could have gone up in flames. Someone could have been killed,” she said.
Thieves gained entrance to one passenger car by smashing a window with a large jack. That jack could have fetched some money at a scrap yard, but it was left behind.
“I just want to scream. I just want to cry,” said Ms. Wyse, and she just wants to ask why. Why would someone do this?
Plans called for the Bluebird to begin operations this summer after 3,000 railroad ties were replaced, Ms. Wyse said.
The TLE&W has 62 members, and about a dozen active volunteers, including some who will be stepping up security to protect the train.
Over the years, the Bluebird has ruffled some feathers. In Waterville residents sometimes would complain about the operations of a passenger train (noise, traffic, litter) in a residential area. A few years back, a petition drive tried to ban the Bluebird from Waterville. Today there are ongoing issues about the condition of a crossing used by the railway.
“The city has been actively working with the TLE&W and PUCO to have the crossing at Waterville-Monclova Road repaired,” said Waterville Mayor Derek Merrin.
Although the Bluebird didn’t operate last year; the TLE&W conducted motor car rallies, and is doing so this year, including a rally set for June 4 in Waterville.
When the Bluebird is up and running, passengers board the train in Waterville for a several-mile round trip trek along tracks once part of the Cloverleaf Division of the Nickel Plate Road.
The railway’s goal is to create an educational experience through the sights and sounds of yesterday and to educate passengers about the historical significance of railroads.
“The Bluebird is about history and it’s about tourism dollars in this area,” volunteer Lillian Mandler of Perrysburg said. Volunteers want to preserve a piece of the past for future generations. Efforts to refurbish the train are ongoing. “We just want to revive the Bluebird.”
Bluebird volunteer Randy Rood of Bowling Green said the recent incidents won’t scare him off. “I’m staying put. I’ll never leave this railroad. I always had dreams of working for a railroad,” Mr. Rood said.
Volunteers vow that the Bluebird will operate again one day. They refuse to let thieves steal the Bluebird’s future. “It will be back,” Mrs. Mandler said, “and it will be better than ever.”
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