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Summer, Sand, and Steam...

Chapter 2

Station Stop Frontier Town
Jack Foster

SPECIAL TO: Duncan Bennett- Knoxville News-Sentinel

The romance of railroading is as powerful as the steam locomotives
that created it. Last year’ at Cedar Point Amusement Land in Sandusky,
Ohio, over three million people rode the steam powered Cedar Point &
Lake Erie Railroad--and they have Jack Foster, Knoxville native, to
thank for the experience.

Since 1964 Jack Foster has been superintendent of the CP.&L.E.
Before going to Cedar Point, he worked 42 years for the Southern Rail-
way Company, starting out as a fireman at the age of fifteen in 1922.
Later he became a chief engineer. He is presently in Knoxville with
his wife, Jenny, recuperating from an illness. They have two children,
Ruth, who works for the T.V.A., and Melvin, who is employed by the
U.S. Post Office in Knoxville.~ There are numerous grandchildren, even
a great-grandchild.

Cedar Point is one of the largest amusement park-resorts in the
world. It’s located on the tip of a seven mile peninsula which juts
out into Lake Erie near Sandusky, Ohio. It boasts a mile-long bath-
ing beach, world famous resort hotel, thousand-boat marina, RV
campground, live entertainment, and a giant ride park. The C.P.&L.E.
perhaps represents the greatest investment of time and skill of any
ride in the park.

To have a railroad at Cedar Point was the dream of George Roose,
vice chairman of the corporation that owns the Lake Erie resort. But
he wanted a steam railroad, and steam engines are hard to find; even
harder to find are men with the skills necessary to operate and
maintain them.

In the early sixties Roose combed the country, especially the
South, looking for narrow gauge steam locomotives. He found two in
Louisiana which had been used on plantations to haul sugar cane, and he
brought them to Cedar Point in time for the 1963 summer season. The
newly christened Cedar Point & Lake Erie Railroad was an immediate
~popular success--but it also succeeded in providing a summer of intense
headaches for those men detailed to operate and maintain it. So, when
Roose traveled to East Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains that fall
looking for additional engines, he was also looking for someone who
could run them.

The word from railroaders in the area was the Jack Foster was
his man, Over the years Foster had developed a reputation as the most
knowledgeable steam engine man in the region. In his years with
Southern he had seen or done all those sometimes wonderful, sometimes
dangerous and even tragic things that are celebrated in American
railroad songs, stories, and legends. Railroading, perhaps because
we associate it with westward expansion, Indians, Jesse James, and
Casey Jones, is an occupation that still haunts us in romantic
daydreams; in particular, steam railroading.

George Roose found his man. At the time Jack Foster had retired
from Southern because of a medical ailment. He initially went north
to Ohio to serve as a temporary consultant- -but he stayed on and
became superintendent. Working closely with Roose, he created a new
age of steam at Cedar Point (ironically, in 1835 just across the bay
in Sandusky the first Ohio railroad was built); and in doing so he
gave millions of Americans their first glimpse of the lost era of the
steam locomotive.

Along with his railroad experience, Jack Foster brought in his
person something of the romance of trains. A colorful, friendly man
with a natural bent for story-telling, he has passed on over the years
a good bit of the train lore of the Teneessee mountains to fellow
employees and Cedar Point visitors alike.

For its two mile round trip to Cedar Pointts Frontiertown, the
C.P.&L.E. now has six steam engines: Maud L, Albert, Jenny K,
Victoria, No. 5, No. 22 (it was built in 1922.) Many arrived at
Cedar Point in states of considerable disrepair, and it was Jack
Foster who supervised their return to a former glory. Replacement
parts were impossible to obtain, so Foster had no choice but to make
his own. He installed lathes, presses, and other machinery in the
engine house and with the right portions of instinct, experience,
and genius he succeeded in making parts from scratch- -as well as the
tools .to install them.

It is a difficult and dirty job to put in a new boiler, change
a wheel, repair a furnace, insulate a boiler. It takes considerable
skill to properly replace wiring, rivets, pins, stocks, collars,
grates, brake linings, oilers, screws, plates, generators. And each
train is a unique piece of machinery.

And as Jack Foster repaired and restored, he was also busy
training new men to care for these strange machines we now consider
works of art. Two men in particular, Mike Hetrick and Rafael Ramos,
have benefitted from Jack Foster’s experience. Now they run the
engine house. Mike had previous railroad experience--but little with
~steam--and Rafael, a native of Puerto Rico, knew nothing about trains
when he first came to work at Cedar Point. Today, these two men are
among a comparative handful in the country who know how to properly
care for a steam locomotive--thanks to Jack Foster.

Like any old-fashioned railroader, Jack Foster addresses the
Maud L, Jenny IC or Victoria as though they had souls of their own.
And like any good father to his children, he has fussed over them,
pleaded with them, thanked them, argued with them, cajoled them,
scolded theni, and of course loved them. A lifetime of companionship
can make a man and a machine very close.

Some of us remember childhood nights punctured by the sound of
a distant train whistle; we remember the way the walls seemed to
flutter as the train roared past on its way to wherever our imagina-
tion took it. At train stations we gazed up tracks to see the thick
black smoke on the horizon; and when the locomotive caine close the
churning wheels flashed like huge silver coins in the sun and the
steam poured out white and wet.

Few Americans under thirty have ever seen a steam engine, much
less ridden on one. During the summer children stand in the
C.P.&L.E. station and watch the Albert or the Jennie K come out of
the woods with whistle shrieking and coal smoke pouring from its top
hat funnel, its bright red cow-catcher shining in the sun. They know
they are about to do something special, something new and different:
they are going to ride a steam locomotive. Older Americans smell the
air and recognize something old and familiar.

Jack Foster, one of the last of a group of men who knew first
hand the age of steam railroading, understands these feelings of
both young and old. His children, Jennie K, Victoria, Maud L, and the
rest, are about to play with the imaginations and dreams of much
younger, flesh and blood, children. Around Cedar Point, Jack Foster
is indeed someone special. The Knoxville native has provided happiness
for millions.


All Aboard!

2006, John Marhesic, All Rights Reserved. version2.1
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