Founder's son takes the throttle at Cuyahoga Valley board

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Siegfried and Peter Buerling, a father and son team, have been involved with Ohio's Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad since the start.
Courtesy of Peter Buerling
PENINSULA, Ohio — Family traditions always mean something special, particularly in railroad preservation. It’s really something special when a son can continue the legacy of his father. Consequently, when what almost amounts to a family business is passed from one generation to another, its usually cause to take notice, but it’s not every day that the family business is one of the most popular tourist railroads in the country. But such was the case recently with the retirement of Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad Founder and Chairman Siegfried Buerling, and the appointment of his son, Peter, as the new chairman of the board.

This is a family tradition that is certainly going strong, as the non-profit Northeast Ohio tourist road is set to start its 48th year of operation in 2020. Siegfried was the Director of Properties for the Western Reserve Historical Society, which owns and operates the Hale Farm. Peter is the Director of Records Information and Compliance at FirstEnergy in Akron.

Peter has been involved with the railroad from the beginning, starting out driving hay wagons as a teenager in the early days of CVSR trips to Hale Farm and Village, as well as working concessions, and helping on equipment restoration projects during the summer. Later on, he became involved in the railroad’s bookkeeping, and, after taking a few years away, came back and served on the Board of Directors with his Father. Now, 47 years after driving those hay wagons, he’s in charge of the whole operation.

Peter says that, while taking over for his father is an honor, at the same time, its also slightly terrifying. “It’s daunting to carry on his legacy”, he says, noting the challenges of oversight of such an operation that had been founded and run by his father for so many years. He says he’s always thinking towards the future of the operation, making sure the right individuals are in the right place to help the railroad continue to succeed, and looking at operational sustainability.
The CVSR today has changed significantly from when Siegfried founded it in 1972. “It’s a very different railroad”, Peter says. In the early days, there might be 200 passengers a weekend. Today, the railroad typically handles around 200,000 passengers per year, with ridership nearly doubling every year. Events like the yearly “Steam in the Valley” event featuring Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 from the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society have certainly contributed to that, as well as newer features, such as dinner trains and first-class cars, like the former California Zephyr cars the railroad acquired in 2018.

Siegfried is a spry 87 today, and he is still proud to speak about the railroad he helped start, and he can regale you with hours of stories about the early years and his time running the operation, speaking in his thick German accent. Siegfried immigrated to Canada from Germany in 1957, and later to the United States in 1959. He tells one story of how he first had the idea of having passenger trains bring people to the Hale Farm and Village via what was then the Cleveland – Akron route of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, which also followed the path of the historic Ohio & Erie Canal. He had noticed that there was not much traffic was running on the line, and he decided to take his idea to the local B&O officials. “They practically threw me out of the office!” he says. But he didn’t give up, of course, within a few years, they would have the railroad after all, and would be sharing the scenic beauty of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park with generations of railfans and tourists from around the globe. “The railroad has been one of the most fantastic things in my life,” Siegfried says.

While Peter certainly has his own style and vision for the CVSR, he says that it’s nice having his father around to go to for advice, if he needs it. But, at the same time, while Siegfried is retired, like any father, he is certainly not shy about giving his opinion on things if he feels like it. And he usually doesn’t shy away.
This father/son duo has brought the enjoyment of heritage and tourist railroading to thousands of people in Northeast Ohio and far beyond for nearly 50 years, and they don’t look to be stopping anytime soon. They’re always restoring and purchasing equipment to fit the needs of the operation, and always looking at new ideas. With Peter Buerling now at the throttle of the operation his father founded, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad looks to be steaming forward with a bright future.

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