Whitewater Valley Railroad: A Community Institution

You’ll see its billboards throughout southeastern Indiana and southwest Ohio.

You’ll hear its radio commercials, if you listen closely enough, on Cincinnati’s 700 WLW, “The Big One.”

And, when you stop in – like this weekend, for example – you’ll see the joy it brings hundreds upon hundreds of people, many from outside the area, who partake in it.

That “it” is the Whitewater Valley Railroad, quite possibly the crown jewel of all of Connersville, which draws thousands of tourists to the city and area each year, especially with weekends like this one and its annual “Day Out with Thomas” event, or its annual “Polar Express” excursions or the various other themed trips one can take on the restored railroad.

Officially begun in 1973 by a group of businessmen from both Franklin and Fayette counties, the railroad over its 44 years has brought immeasurable value to the community and fulfilled the passion of many who remember the hey-day of rail transportation. It currently runs back and forth between Grand Central Station in Connersville – built in 2000 – and Metamora, following the old path of the Whitewater Canal.

“It was the idea of four or five businessmen that thought it would be a good idea to get started,” Butch Bunzendahl, a founding member of the WVRR, told the News-Examiner in 2013 during the railroad’s 40th anniversary. “There was a lot of legwork to get done with New York Central owning the track. The original ambition was to operate all the way to Brookville and it did. The scenic part I thought was from Metamora to Brookville because of the way it follows the river but unfortunately with the washout, they weren’t able to continue that.”

One of those whose passion was fulfilled through the railroad was Charles Bublitz, Jr., of Metamora, who was one of the many members and volunteers of the WVRR that, for so many years, have made the operation go and become the biggest tourist attraction – outside of Brookville Lake – in the Whitewater Valley.

Bublitz Jr. loved the railroad, and WVRR, so much that he even gave his life to it – his life insurance policy, more specifically – to help an endowment at the Fayette County Foundation for the WVRR.

The endowment was established in December 2002, with an original gift of $25,000, and when Bublitz Jr. passed away in June 2006 at the age of 91, his life insurance policy was gifted to the FCF and the WVRR to help grow the endowment, per FCF Executive Director Anna Dungan.

“(It’s) primary purpose is to be used for long-term renovations, capital improvements, and/or historic preservation,” Dungan said of the WVRR endowment. “Gifts given to the endowment are part of an annual matching program, dollar for dollar.”

This year, the WVRR received a grant of $2,470.76 from the endowment to go toward its efforts, with WVRR President John Hillman – also an original member of the WVRR going back to 1973 – accepting the grant funds.

Such funds will continue to aid the life of the WVRR down the road, thanks in part to the life of one of its very own members.