Cathedral of Steam

An Age of Steam Dream Turned Reality

The Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum is the culmination of one Jerry Joe Jacobson’s undying love of steam locomotives, the old, smoky machines of a bygone era. Mr. Jacobson caught steam in his blood at a very young age, growing up in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio during the last few years of steam operations on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in that area. He would always ride his bicycle down to the local B&O railyard to see the great, black giants chug in and out, with freight cars loaded with many goods to be delivered to Cleveland and other destinations. On one particular hike through the train yard, a friendly engineer invited a young Mr. Jacobson up into the cab of their steam locomotive, and the future railroader and Museum founder held onto that memory for the rest of his life.

Mr. Jacobson went on to enter the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and was trained as a nurse anesthetist, administering anesthesia to patience for various medical procedures. He continued that practice after his military career, saving every penny he had until he could start purchasing his own railroad equipment and trackage to build his dream railroad. Mr. Jacobson’s Ohio Central Railroad started with a cast-off Wheeling & Lake Erie line, running between Zanesville and Brewster, OH, and it later grew into a larger, successful shortline system that spanned over 500 miles throughout the eastern portion of Ohio and stretched into western Pennsylvania. While the, usually, diesel-powered freight trains were what brought in the money, his passion remained with steam. Starting in 1989, summertime steam excursions began running on the Ohio Central, running from downtown Sugarcreek, OH to Baltic and return. Mr. Jacobson’s steam fleet grew and grew as his railroad brought in more revenue, amassing an already impressive collection of both operational and non-operational steam locomotives before he ultimately canceled all regular excursion operations after 2004. He later went on to sell the Ohio Central to the Genesee & Wyoming Railroad Company in 2008, maintaining ownership of only his collection of historic steam locomotives, several older diesel locomotives, and a small fleet of historic rolling stock. In conjunction with the sale of the Ohio Central to G&W, Mr. Jacobson was making plans to construct a facility to house his entire collection, a structure whose kind had not been constructed new in the U.S. for decades.

A roundhouse is a railroad building that is constructed around a central turntable, and such facilities were utilized on every major and minor railroad that employed even a moderately sized fleet of steam locomotives. They were built specifically to accommodate the maintenance of steam locomotives and were used from the mid-1800s until the end of the steam era. No such facility had been constructed in the United States since the 1950s, and, at that point, some roundhouses were already being demolished as the more cost-effective and fuel-efficient diesel locomotives took over. Mr. Jacobson had always dreamed of having such a facility to house his collection but did not have the time to devote resources to such an endeavor while he was running the Ohio Central. He had a small locomotive shop built at Morgan Run, just east of Coshocton, OH, where his heritage fleet was restored and serviced. Still, there was not much room to hide his ever-expanding collection of steam locomotives from the forces of nature. With the sale of the Ohio Central finalized and Genesee & Wyoming assuming ownership of the Morgan Run shop, Mr. Jacobson could devote all his newfound time and resources to his new big project, what would later be called the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum.

After purchasing a large, vacant cornfield on Smokey Lane Road (a rather appropriate road name) in 2008, Mr. Jacobson began constructing his brick-and-mortar “Cathedral of Steam.” The track, locomotive shop, and roundhouse were completed by 2010, allowing the transport of the entire collection of historic railroad equipment to the new, 18-stall roundhouse and grounds. More construction continued, but Mr. Jacobson finally had a place where he could safely store his collection and display it to visitors. In the early days, tours were composed of just friends and family. Now, the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum, fully open to the public since 2019, offers regular tours from April through November on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The tours run approximately 90 minutes through the entire Roundhouse, showcasing the steam locomotives, the restoration shop, and the Museum’s 115ft. operational turntable.

If you want to see this amazing collection of railroad history, please visit our website at www.ageofsteamroundhouse.org to purchase tickets for a tour!

By Daniel Condo