A Look Back At The Original
The photos on this page are courtesy of Howard W. Ameling. Contact Howard if your interested in purchasing copies of these or many of his other fine W&LE photos.
The Wheeling & Lake Erie's history began with the organization of the Carroll County Rail Road on March 9,1850. This ten mile horse-car line eventually grew into a five hundred mile railroad that formed a cross in northern Ohio. From the original Carroll County, the line extended west to Canton by 1880. Then it was built north to reach Cleveland in 1881, the same year the Nickel Plate was built. The Connotton Valley, as it was now known, then turned south, where it reached Coshocton in 1883. It later reached Zanesville as a standard gauge railroad, now called the Cleveland, Canton & Southern Railroad. The C.C.&S. became part of the Wheeling on August 5, 1899.
The original Wheeling & Lake Erie was incorporated on April 6, 1871 to build a railroad between the Ohio River and Lake Erie. Toledo was selected as the northern terminus with a branch to Huron. This mainline was completed in 1889. The W&LE never did reach Wheeling, West Virginia on its own rails, as the mainline ended at Martins Ferry, Ohio, but did reach Wheeling via the Wheeling Bridge & Terminal Co., and completed a branch to Steubenville in 1891.
The Wheeling of 1899 also took control of the Cleveland Belt & Terminal Railroad Company and the Zanesville Belt & Terminal Railway Co., two belt and industrial switching lines in their respective cities.
In 1901, the Adena Railroad bought the Bellaire & Valley junction railway, a proposed twenty mile line extending from Adena south to Neff, Ohio. The W&LE, through the Adena, completed this line and placed it in operation on February 1,1903. This line was operated by the Wheeling and the Nickel Plate with equipment of the parent company.
The Wheeling later entered into a contract to build a line from Wellington north to the city of Lorain. This line was completed in 1907, and was also operated as part of the Wheeling system even though it rostered only a single steam locomotive. The Lorain & West Virginia was far more successful than the long abandoned Lorain, Ashland & Southern which it paralleled for its entire route. Perhaps, the Wheeling built the L&WV only to compete with the L.A.&S. but it turned out to be a valuable link to Lorain and its steel products.
In 1910, the Wheeling & Lake Erie opened one of the finest locomotive facilities in the country, the Brewster Shops. Over the years, the Wheeling built and rolled boilers and erected fifty of their own steam engines, a feat never tried by many larger and more famous railroads. In the diesel era the Brewster Shops became the main heavy diesel repair shop for the Nickel Plate.
The Wheeling & Lake Erie entered into a contract with the Big Four Railroad in 1913 which gave the Wheeling trackage rights from Wellington to Cleveland. This gave the W&LE a much shorter route for Cleveland-Toledo traffic than before and the Wheeling soon was moving its share of freight between these cities. This contract lasted through the Nickel Plate years.
The Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway was leased by the Nickel Plate on December 1, 1949 for 99 years. The Wheeling brought to the Nickel Plate a gateway to the mid-Atlantic states, access to many coal fields the Wheeling traversed, and the Nickel Plate's first lake port.
The Wheeling & Lake Erie was strictly an Ohio railroad, never reaching beyond its state lines. The Wheeling has the largest percentage of articulated (2-6-6-2) locomotives east of the Mississippi River, over 20 percent of its roster. In Depression years, they built their own switchers while other railroads were going broke. The Wheeling brought Berkshires patterned after the Nickel Plate's 700's, but with a few appliances favored by the W&LE. The Wheeling later purchased used 4-8-2's that were castoffs from other larger railroads and made good use of their remaining service.
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