Today, the Auburn Valley Railroad (AVRR) operates from spring to late fall at such events as Train Day in May; monthly Steamin’ Days that combine rides in historic automobiles with the trains; the organization’s annual benefit event, the Auburn Heights Invitational; as well as special charters and school programs. With oversight from the Board of Director and Friends of Auburn Heights Preserve staff, the majority of AVRR operations and activities are managed by a dedicated team of volunteers.

2016 Train Day promotional poster

Promotional poster for the 2016 Train Day at Auburn Heights.

Key roles on the railroad include engineers in charge of operating the locomotives, conductors who manage passengers and ensure the safe operation of the locomotives, and a station master who serves as the master of ceremonies each time the locomotives are run. Each key role has its own training program.

Conductor on a train during a Steamin' Day

AVRR volunteer Jerry Novak as conductor during a Steamin’ Day event

Volunteers spend up to two hours firing up the organization’s steam locomotives for a day’s activities. Volunteers start the fire with paper and kindling and then transition to pea coal. Once a hot fire is burning, it is a waiting game until the engine builds up enough steam pressure. 

Firing up of a steam locomotive

AVRR volunteers Mike Leister and Bill Schwoebel fire up one of the steam locomotives in preparation for a Steamin’ Day event, 2013.

Track maintenance is an ongoing activity on the railroad, and all volunteers are encouraged to help. Routine tasks include replacing worn ties, checking the gauge of the track and making sure it is leveled appropriately. The curves must be elevated on the outside rail to compensate for the centrifugal force of a moving locomotive or train. If necessary, volunteers will fire up an engine to check the track. 

Power washing the trestle

AVRR volunteer Anne Cleary power washes the trestle in preparation for the upcoming event season, March 2016.

Volunteers firing up #401 engine

AVRR volunteers Dave Leon, Linda Herman, and Mike Ciosek fire up the #401 steam locomotive at a weekend track work day, March 2016.

Improvements are made to the railroad layout when deemed necessary. In spring 2015, AVRR volunteers completed a major retaining wall project that extended the existing retaining wall south along the mill race bank toward the rear of the museum building and north toward the pond. Volunteers had to remove track so the contractor could pour the concrete wall and then build new sections of track, and install and level the new track before the start of the event season.

Retaining wall project, 2015

Construction workers measure the length of the retaining wall, April 2015.

Retaining wall project, 2015

Newly completed retaining wall heading towards the far end of the museum building, April 2015.

Retaining wall project, 2015

Delivery of ballast (crushed stone) on which the track will be laid following completion of the retaining wall section that stretches to the pond, April 2015.