There are many people interested in former transportation companies, whether they were trucking companies, railroads, airlines or ocean lines. These companies are called “fallen flags,” and the term describes companies whose corporate names have been dissolved through merger, bankruptcy or liquidation.
Today’s FreightWaves Classics profiles another fallen flag – the Akron, Canton and Youngstown Railroad (reporting mark AC&Y). The AC&Y was a small Class I railroad that was founded in 1907. Despite its name it never built rail lines to Canton or Youngstown. Nonetheless, the AC&Y was successful as a terminal/bridge line serving numerous industries in northern Ohio.
The railroad grew significantly after World War I when it acquired the property of the Northern Ohio Railway. This also expanded its track westward about 165 miles to Delphos, Ohio. Additionally, the AC&Y was a partial owner of a local beltline railroad that served Barberton, which is less than 10 miles from Akron.
Early history of “Ohio’s Road of Service”
The railroad was organized in June 1907 to connect Akron, Youngstown and Canton. At that time, the three cities were major centers of industry – Akron became the “Rubber Capital of the World,” Youngstown was a steel-producing center, and Canton had a number of industries (brick, roller bearings, poultry, bakeries, etc.).
It took five years for construction to begin, but in 1912 track was laid from downtown Akron eastward to nearby Mogadore, where a connection with the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad was established. The route, which was only about 10 miles long, opened in 1914. The AC&Y traveled no further east than Mogadore, failing to lay track to either Canton or Youngstown…
Despite that, the AC&Y found success as a small terminal railroad that served local businesses and interchanged with the major Chicago trunk lines (the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Erie Railroad). The AC&Y also established interchange with the Northern Ohio Railway (NO).
The NO’s long and winding road
At the time of the interchange with the AC&Y, the NO was a struggling, rundown subsidiary of the New York Central Railroad. The NO had the dubious distinction of owning a more circuitous route with less favorable grades that connected cities that were also served by larger railroads.
The NO had been founded as the Cleveland, Delphos & St. Louis (CD&StL), a narrow-gauge railroad, on March 7, 1881. It was planned that the CD&StL would work in conjunction with the Toledo, Cincinnati & St. Louis Railroad (TC&StL) to open a through route from Toledo to East St. Louis, head further east to Cleveland, and haul coal and iron out of southwestern Ohio.
The TC&StL was able to build a rail line across Ohio, Indiana and Illinois; at its peak it had a network of nearly 800 miles of track. But it struggled with insolvency and was never completely finished. And the CD&StL, like many railroads that were founded in that era, had little long-term success. It was able to open only part of its route before it, too, ran out of funds.
Construction of the CD&StL began in both directions from Columbus Grove in August 1881; 17 miles of track was laid to the west to Delphos, but the needed right-of-way to the east could not be secured. The railroad bypassed Findlay, Ohio; track was laid to the south via Bluffton.
It opened to Carey, a distance of 55 miles, by the fall of 1883. A connection with the Columbus, Hocking Valley & Toledo (a predecessor of the Hocking Valley Railway, which later became the Chesapeake & Ohio) was accomplished. Because of its original charter, the CD&StL could extend no further and it went bankrupt.
It was reorganized on November 1, 1885, as the Eastern & Western Air Line Railway; however, no construction took place before the railroad’s name was changed again. It became the Cleveland & Western Railroad (C&W) on August 1, 1886.
The plan of the TC&StL’s owners – to open a major, narrow-gauge line across the Midwest – had died by that time. Meanwhile, the C&W had new owners. They planned to finish the railroad across Ohio, establish a Pittsburgh connection, and then sell the railroad to the Baltimore & Ohio.
In 1887 the C&W went through another name change, becoming the Pittsburgh, Akron & Western (PA&W). Also, it was converted to standard-gauge, a project completed on August 4, 1890. The extension to Akron was completed, as was a connection with the Pittsburgh & Western (P&W) on May 28, 1891. The P&W had been acquired by the B&O in 1884.
However, the B&O spurned the PA&W; it connected to the Akron & Chicago Junction Railroad, which had built a 73-mile line from Akron to Chicago Junction.
The PA&W connected no noteworthy cities; it had a lightly trafficked, lightly built and circuitous 162-mile route. The railroad went bankrupt and was reorganized as the Northern Ohio Railway in 1895. The NO was then leased to the Lake Erie & Western, which came under control of the New York Central in 1900.
For the next two decades, the NO remained part of the New York Central system. However, the management of the AC&Y realized what the NO might add to its small operations and sought to buy it from the New York Central. The AC&Y acquired the NO on March 1, 1920.
The NO was in need of modernization, including replacing all of its old rails with 90-pound sections and improving a number of bridges. Making these improvements allowed the AC&Y’s largest steam locomotives to run on the entire railroad’s length.
The NO acquisition helped the AC&Y become a successful railroad. In particular, Akron’s tire and rubber manufacturers used the AC&Y to ship their products to the Detroit auto industry.
The AC&Y’s final years
As noted above, the acquisition of the NO helped the AC&Y. However, like many railroads (and many other types of businesses), the Great Depression negatively impacted the amount of freight shipped on the railroad. The severe economic downturn forced the AC&Y into receivership in April 1933.
The railroad began to modernize its locomotive fleet with diesels in 1942. It first purchased American Locomotive road-switcher models. (The railroad’s last steam-powered locomotive was retired in 1955.)
The increase in traffic due to World War II provided the opportunity for the railroad to exit receivership in 1944. At that time, the AC&Y and the Northern Ohio were formally merged into the Akron, Canton and Youngstown Railroad (AC&Y) on January 14, 1944. The combined AC&Y-NO system ran 171 miles – from Delphos to Mogadore.
After World War II, most U.S. railroads saw a drop in both freight and passenger traffic that continued throughout the 1950s. That led to a number of railroads being acquired by generally stronger and/or larger competitors.
The Norfolk & Western Railroad (N&W) began negotiations with the AC&Y in 1961 to acquire the smaller railroad. After an agreement between the two railroads was completed, it had to be approved by the Interstate Commerce Commission, which regulated the nation’s railroads at that time. The acquisition was approved, and the AC&Y became a subsidiary of the N&W on October 16, 1964. The AC&Y operated separately for more than 17 years. However, on January 1, 1982, it was merged into the network following the merger of the Norfolk & Western and the Southern Railway (which created Norfolk Southern).
In December 1982 the last run of an AC&Y train occurred. The AC&Y’s corporate name was officially dissolved by Norfolk Southern. That was followed in spring 1990 by Norfolk Southern spinning off the former AC&Y to the new Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway.
Today, a section of the former AC&Y remains in operation under the Wheeling & Lake Erie, which is a Class II regional that stretches into western Pennsylvania.
Author’s note: This article would not have been possible without the resources made available by Adam Burns of American-Rails.com. Those interested in learning more about the railroads operating in North America – and those that are now “fallen flags” – should explore the American-Rails site.
In addition, the Akron Canton & Youngstown Railroad Historical Society provided background and photos for this article. The historical society is a “group of rail historians, modelers and railfans who share a common interest in the AC&Y and its predecessors.” You can learn more at the society’s Facebook site: www.facebook.com/ACYHS.