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Published: Monday, 9/1/2003

Mixed signals may sidetrack rail museums


Plans for a trolley museum in Genoa may have been derailed while organizers and village officials try to sort out just who gets what pieces of equipment.

It appears that the owner of the equipment destined for the venture had promised the same items to a museum in northeast Ohio.

The news is leaving some Genoa officials scratching their heads; others, annoyed.

“I will not stand by and let someone come in and hoodwink the village,” said Mayor Joe Verkin, who has had concerns about the project from the beginning.

But Ellen Bergman, who is helping spearhead the project, said she remains hopeful that Genoa officials, Clay Township trustees, project planners, and the owner of the equipment can still reach a resolution.

The historic trolley equipment is housed in the struggling Waterfront Electric Railway Museum in Grand Rapids, Ohio.

Walt Stoner, president of the Northwest Ohio Railway Museum in Chippewa Lake, south of Cleveland, said he and Charlie Sheets, president of the Waterfront Electric Railway Museum, had reached an agreement so that the Grand Rapids museum would send much of its equipment to his museum, known by the acronym NORM.

“My next step is that we talk to an attorney,” Mr. Stoner said.

Neither organization is open to the public full-time, but the two men had believed that if they combined resources, NORM could open soon, he said.

Mr. Stoner said he'd announced the plans in May to his association in a joint letter he and Mr. Sheets wrote, noting that NORM is building a $120,000 barn to accommodate the equipment.

Then, last month, someone handed him a copy of a Blade article detailing the Genoa project, which entails moving the Waterfront Museum's equipment to an old train depot that would be renovated in the village's east side park.

“I thought, `It sounds like someone's reading right out of our agreement,'” Mr. Stoner said of the list of equipment, which includes several cars, cable, and signal equipment.

The article said Mr. Sheets was looking to move the museum to Genoa because of its historical significance. The museum has suffered in recent years because it has been cut off from the rest of downtown Grand Rapids.

Mr. Sheets acknowledged he has been in talks with organizers for the Genoa project and with Mr. Stoner.

He said he simply has changed his mind on some of the equipment, wanting it to remain closer to home, at the Genoa site. Further, the Chippewa Lake museum already has obtained much of the equipment from the Grand Rapids site.

“It's a two-hour-and-15-minute drive” to Chippewa Lake, he said. “And there's enough stuff to go around.”

In Chippewa Lake, Mr. Stoner said receiving no more of the Grand Rapids equipment would not change plans to open part time next summer.

“It would have been nice to have,” he said, “but it's not going to kill us.”

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