FINDLAY - Northwest Ohio Railroad Preservation Inc. plans to host its seventh annual Flag City Train Show on Sunday, but it could be the last year the railroad history group will be at its home base just off I-75.
Since 2003, the nonprofit group has operated a museum and $1 rides on a quarter-scale steam train on five acres along County Road 99 on Findlay's north side.
But with the death last year of the group's founder and president, Dennis Russell, rent on the property owned by his mother, Ann, has gone up, and the group said it must find a new location.
President Bob Wagner said the group was notified this year that its monthly rent would increase from $500 - an amount intended to cover insurance and taxes on the property - to $2,000.
"At $2,000 a month, that's a mortgage payment," he said. "We can buy a piece of property and never have to worry about this again."
Mr. Wagner said the group was able to negotiate a $1,000 monthly rent but has been told the building it occupies is for rent, and the group may be asked to move at any time. That would be a challenge considering its inventory.
In addition to the operating steam train and the track it runs on, the group has both a wood-sided and steel caboose, switch engines, a box car, and a nearly restored 1881 railroad depot that once sat in the southeastern Wood County hamlet of Hatton.
"We purchased a semi trailer to start packing up what we don't need," Mr. Wagner said. "Our biggest thing is, we don't know when we might have to move. I've got 200 tons of things to move with train cars and a depot. I can't put them in a pickup truck."
The group is working with a local Realtor to find a new site and is trying to raise funds.
Mike Schroeder, the group's secretary, said he has been contacting local businesses to solicit donations. The group also is urging supporters to buy $20 annual memberships.
Mr. Schroeder said the group hopes to be at its current site for the rest of its season, which includes its popular "pumpkin train" at Halloween and its "North Pole Express" at Christmas.
"We know for certain that people - train enthusiasts or people who just want something a little bit different or something fun to do for an afternoon - will visit Railroad Preservation or do one of the special rides," said Angela Crist, executive director of the Findlay-Hancock County Convention and Visitors Bureau. "They've told us people come there and say, 'We're here in Findlay. What else can we do?' So they act as an entree to others in our community and we welcome that."
This year, the visitors bureau presented its annual "Our Spirit Shows Hospitality Award" to the railroad preservation group and renamed the award in memory of Dennis Russell.
His widow, Mary Russell, said she wants to see the museum continue though she concedes her attachment is more emotional. Her husband was passionate about trains and local railroad history.
Mr. Wagner said the group is grateful for the years it has been able to occupy the site, which often attracted motorists who got off I-75 at the exit for gas or food and stopped in for a train ride.
"It's a wonderful location. It's worth every penny," Mr. Wagner said. "We don't blame them."
The Flag City Train Show will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the museum, 11600 County Road 99. Admission is $3 for adults, free for children 12 and under with a paid adult.
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