Many of the stories made and told in Crawford County have ties to its railroad history. One historic railroad, situated in the “valley that changed the world,” remains committed to creating more stories for people to tell in these modern times.
The Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad (OCTRR) gives Crawford County visitors the chance to make railroad memories of their own complete with the clickety-clack of the vintage 1930 Pullman train cars, sweeping vistas and even the nation’s only postal rail car. The train departs from a refurbished vintage station at 409 S. Perry St., Titusville and embarks on memorable train excursions throughout the Oil Region.
OCTRR’s General Manager, Cheri Porter, began her connection to the railroad as a high school student working in concessions. Like many young people, life took her away from her Crawford County hometown, but eventually, she came back to her roots. Later, on a whim, she applied to her old summer stomping grounds as the station manager in 2017. After moving up the ranks to her current position, she gets to help visitors from all over the world rediscover the adventure and nostalgia of riding the rails.
At the OCTRR, passengers can ride through the scenic Oil Region, see where Edwin Drake discovered oil in 1859 and get a front-row seat to the beginning of the petroleum industry. This experience is unique because it frames a pivotal part of America’s industrial past against the natural beauty of the region.
“It is special because of the train itself, and it allows people to ride through the valley,” Cheri said. “If you look at old pictures from the oil boom and you realize everything was completely clear cut, and now it is such lush forest and the creek is so healthy. Now you see the complete opposite and how it has re-birthed itself.”
It was that history that dedicated residents were looking to save when they formed the Oil Creek Railway Historical Society in 1983. After purchasing 13.5 miles of old track that the current owner, ConRail, could no longer use, they worked tirelessly to establish an experience that allowed visitors to immerse themselves in this chapter of history. In 1986, the first excursion took place with leased cars. Later, the group refurbished the stations at Drake Well, Rynd Farm, Perry Street and the Petroleum Center and was able to purchase its own rail cars.
“We are not only preserving history of the oil region, but rail history as well,” Cheri said.
In that first year of operation, 33,950 people rode the train. In 2018, the railroad welcomed its 750,000th customer, an admirable accomplishment after three decades of hard work.
Today, visitors can embark on 3-hour-excursions from June through October. The OCTRR also has special events such as the Peter Cottontail ride, the Santa Train, the Murder Mystery trip, a World War II-themed ride and wine tasting excursions. This Memorial Day weekend, all three of the engines will be decked out in new matching paint jobs.
Outdoorsy types also have the option to purchase a one-way ticket and hike, bike, or kayak back to the station, giving them an opportunity to enjoy the peaceful sights and sounds of northwestern Pennsylvania’s outdoors.
To add to the adventure, the Caboose Motel gives overnight guests the chance to sleep in a converted caboose car. Another special attraction is the only railway post office car still in operation in the United States. Riders can send mail to friends and loved oneswith the official United States Post Office and OCTRR handstamp.
According to Cheri, the railway post office car, built in 1927 by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, has been a visitor favorite for years.
Cheri is thrilled to be a part of the railroad’s story, as well as play a role in their visitors’ stories.
“It is such a unique experience. You can’t just get in your car and drive any place to get on a train and go,” Cheri said. “The value it brings to our little community – it is an important thing to be a part of.”