Railfan Adventures: The Maumee & Western

Maumee & Western: A retrospective on railfanning a failing shortline –

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The Maumee & Western Railroad (MAW) may have been the perfect example of a poorly run railroad that continued to operate despite its owner.  The MAW operated on a stretch of the former Wabash mainline between Woodburn, Indiana and Liberty Center, Ohio.  The line had previously been operated by Indiana Hi-Rail but by the end of the Maumee & Western most of the line was out of use or used for car storage.

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The little railroad ran short trains mostly between Defiance and Napoleon Ohio at track speeds of 5MPH and was widely known for its frequent, if normally minor, derailments.  Power was provided by second hand locomotives, primarily rebuilt EMD GP-10s and GP-7us.  Last year, after years of flailing about, the MAW folded and the line was taken over by Pioneer Railcorp which is based out of Michigan.  Pioneer has stated that the line, which was originally built through what was once the Black Swamp, would need significant repair and upgrade and they have apparently committed to making that happen.

My interest in this line began in the late 1990s with a visit to Defiance to see the famous Indiana Hi-Rail Alco Alligators (RSD-15).  At that time the property was in quite a state but it seemed like an interesting local road (about 45 min away at the time) that provided some contrast to the local giant Norfolk and Southern.

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Sadly, I only got out to Defiance once to visit the High-Rail before it disappeared into Fallen Flag status.  Still the line was soon being operated by the Maumee & Western and, as I ventured to Defiance at least a couple times a year, I always kept an eye out for MAW trains moving about.  Years passed and I eventually began making a family which kept me out of the railfanning game for a while.  Once my oldest daughter had reached an age that she began taking an interest in actual trains, I set up a daddy-daughter date to check out the MAW.

It was 0800 on 13 June 2011 when we pulled up at the Defiance yard of the Maumee & Western.  We were greeted by an even more run down property, no rail activity and GP-7u CNUR #5

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Finding nothing in particular to look at, we continued east to Napoleon in an attempt to catch the slow moving train which we believed to be pulled by GP-10 MAW #16.  We arrived in Napoleon empty handed and after exploring the area in search of switching activity we decided to call it a day by returning home via Woodburn, IN where we caught GP-7u CNUR #7 dead to the world.  Disappointed, we returned home without seeing any action on the MAW.

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Fast forward to 04 June 2012 and the opportunity presented its self for my daughter and I to take another shot at the MAW.  Again we arrived first thing in the morning (by MAW reckoning) and again we found no activity in the Defiance yard.  We headed east towards Napoleon via back roads, in search of the train, but only found box cars here and there along the right of way.  Some were at Jewell, some at Okolona, but none were moving east or west behind a locomotive (the MAW didn’t have much in the way of sidings so most cars were blocking the main).  Again we arrived at Napoleon empty handed and disappointed.

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We took the opportunity to poke around some maintenance of way (MOW) equipment parked near the Napoleon VFW hall and then decided to call it quits and head home via Highway 24.  On our way back we spotted MAW #16 parked just west of the Flory Rd. crossing.  A quick left hand turn and a jaunt back east and we found her, dead to the world, no cars or employees in sight… just an old run down locomotive parked on old run down track.

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We looked around a bit and the story became clear without anyone telling it… the train had derailed again, hence the box cars spread throughout the line, and #16 had been brought to the nearest far-side crossing so a car could pick up the crew and take them home.  The track around the locomotive looked deplorable even though it had recently been “fixed” and I was honestly surprised that the locomotive had made it as far away from Defiance as it did before the derailment occured, to think it was normally a 5 day a week run.  Our railfanning trip that day came to an end and we once again returned home without seeing anything happen on the MAW.  We never got to see the Maumee & Western actually move a train, by 2013 MAW had ceased to exist and Pioneer Railcorp had begun to repair the track and bring in reliable motive power.

The owner of the MAW simply did not want to invest the money needed to properly fix the roadbed, or track, and wasn’t interested in seeing anyone else try their hand at operating the line.  It simply slipped further and further away, every bit of maintenance the MAW made was just too little too late.

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Although it would have been nice to chase one the 5MPH MAW east-bounds I don’t regret taking the time to see what I could of the now dead shortline.  I had a lot of fun with my daughter during those trips and we anticipate a visit to the new Napoleon, Defiance & Western which now operates over what used to be the MAW.  Perhaps the ND&W can get the track up to snuff and start turning enough revenue to make a go of long term rehab of the line.  In the meantime, I look forward to future visits to Defiance with my children and encouraging their growing interest in all things rail road related.  May the MAW rust in peace.

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