Railfan Adventures: The Napoleon, Defiance & Western

Napoleon Defiance & Western: The Rebirth of a Local Short Line –

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Over the course of several years I had made multiple attempts to catch the Maumee & Western in “action”. Operating on former Indiana Hi-Rail track extending, in theory, from Liberty Center, Ohio to Woodburn, Indiana, the line began life as the Wabash line from Toledo, Ohio to Fort Wayne, IN. The trips to Defiance, Ohio had morphed from rail fan time into bonding experiences between my oldest daughter and I. Thoughts of watching the trundling freights pull through little out of the way towns like Jewell and Okolona had captivated us, but the reality of derailments and poor upkeep had let us down time and time again. However, we always held out hope of an awesome rail fan trip. So, when Pioneer Railcorp purchased the former MAW and renamed it Napoleon, Defiance & Western I thought it might be time to give our “local” short line another chance. We headed for Defiance, Ohio first thing in the morning on March 31, 2014.

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We arrived in Defiance at around 8:00am and, after poking around a bit, we settled in on Harrison Ave near the ND&W yard to wait for activity. My daughter and I didn’t have to wait long as the ND&W engineer stepped out to start up GP16 #1601 at around 8:16. So far, so good.

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We weren’t being picky, just seeing a running locomotive had already exceeded our best experience with the MAW. After taking care of a few details the Pioneer crew got #1601 into motion and began switching covered hoppers at Johns Manville, a major insulation company with several plants in the area. The beauty of the Defiance operation is that it offers great urban switching, something I think most model railroaders appreciate.

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This space is tight and you can’t enter the facility to watch but there are some great views available from the Jackson Ave… lighting angles are poor in the morning

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After about another 20 minutes of switching the yard in Defiance, the crew shut off their locomotive and departed.

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I wrongly assumed they were heading east to Napoleon, Ohio so I elected to take the back roads through Jewell and Okolona just in case they had tied their train down in one of those two towns overnight. We ended up driving all the way to Napoleon and back without seeing any activity.

With our allotted rail fan time running short, we decided to head back to Fort Wayne to see anything else ND&W we could along the way, on our drive to Defiance in the morning I had spotted a locomotive near U.S. 24 in the area of Auglaize Village, we thought it might be worth checking out. A short time later we discovered a Pioneer crew dealing with a derailment near the intersection of Powers Road and 153 (which now ends in a turnaround near the tracks due to the location of the improved U.S. 24).

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We spent 10 minutes or so watching the crew work and then pressed back onto U.S. 24. On our way home we spotted a ND&W crew working Cecil, Ohio en route, I would assume, to the Lafarge facility just south of that town. Sadly, my daughter’s patience had worn out at this point and I elected not to get off the highway to investigate the train in Cecil.

Overall I was very pleased with the experience; Pioneer had a lot of activity going on for our viewing pleasure. The ND&W has returned the line between Woodburn, IN and Cecil, OH to operation (the MAW had abandoned that portion in essence, using it only for car storage). Word on the street is that Pioneer would also like to begin regular use of the track from Napoleon to Liberty Center, which had also fallen out of disuse under the MAW. In addition to expanding the physical plant in use, Pioneer has also made a commitment to improve the existing physical plant and bring service quality up to a level not seen on the line since before Indiana Hi-Rail. With all of this to recommend them, I am certain we will be making more regular trips to the ND&W. If you are in the area of north-west Ohio and north-east Indiana I recommend giving them a look. If not, then I would recommend tracking down a short line in your area and adopting a personal, or family, policy of routine rail fan trips. It’s a great way to spend a day and a great way to bond.

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