All aboard on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad which runs through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

In August for every adult coach ticket, one child rides for free on the National Park Scenic Excursions, which runs five days a week. Riders can get on and off all day, according to Katie Brewer, public relations manager for CVSR.

Some faces on the train may be familiar. Local residents who volunteer for the railroad finished training in June and July and have new positions aboard the train. They are among 1,570 volunteers who help keep the trains and programs running smoothly.

Joe Mate, 54, of Stow and Dan Prhne, 31, of Sagamore Hills were promoted to conductor, and Greg Polles, 68, of Tallmadge and Bob Richardson, 61, of Cuyahoga Falls were promoted to brakeman/conductor assistant. CVSR has 17 conductors, with one in training and 18 brakemen/conductor assistants.

A new engineer, Mark Rivera, 31, of Mantua is at the controls of the locomotive and is part of the staff. He is among 14 engineers, with one in training.

Although volunteers can work at a variety of jobs, the four related to the operation of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad include trainman, brakeman/assistant conductor, conductor and engineer.

The trainmen is the most visible to passengers. They punch tickets, count passengers, help passengers on and off the train and point out an interesting feature or the history of the places seen on a train trip.

The brakeman/assistant conductor checks the brakes on all the cars, switches cars and provides an extra set of eyes for the engineer. The assistant conductor also handles paperwork and helps the conductor.

Polles said he was looking to volunteer after he retired. He had worked as a consultant and received the contract for mapping the park.

"I knew it was a great place to volunteer," Polles said.

Like others, he began working as a trainman but said there are a variety of jobs for volunteers.

"We'll train you if you're willing to learn," Polles said. "There's something for everyone to volunteer."

Richardson said he grew up playing with model trains and began by working on the bike car to replace college students who only worked during the summer months.

The volunteer schedule worked with his part time job. A couple of years ago, the CVSR added hikers and kayaks to the bike car for $5 on a one-way trip.

Brakemen wear overalls and a safety shirt of a neon color.

"If the brakeman/conductor assistant is in the cab with the engineer, it provides a second set of eyes," Richardson said.

The brakeman/conductor assistant checks the brakes but also helps to switch engines at the Rockside or Akron stations.

The job requires a lot of off-track work such as coupling and uncoupling cars, fueling the train and flipping a switch to move a car.

Training involves classroom and hands on work with the train.

The conductor organizes the day and assigns what cars the volunteers will work in and coordinates any work on the tracks.

Prhne said the conductor is in charge of the movements and operations of the train. They will walk the entire length of the train as part of their job.

"We make sure the cars are comfortable and safe and we answer passenger questions.," Prhne said.

The most common question is "How many cars are you pulling today?" he said.

The conductor provides the history of the cars and answers questions about the engine.

It takes three to four months to train as a conductor and learn all the federal laws that govern the movement of trains, Prhne said.

"You have to pass a test to prove you know the rules and regulations," he said.

Prhne said he has volunteered for more than 8 years and grew up in Peninsula.

"I love the history and the nostalgia of the railroad," Prhne said. "Every day is different."

Mate said he always liked trains and wanted to volunteer so CVSR was a natural fit. Last year the railroad needed conductors and he trained to move up from brakeman/conductor assistant to conductor.

"If people like trains, the park or people, this is the place to be," Mate said.

The engineer operates the train. He hits the gas and the brakes to provide a smooth ride.

Rivera worked as a locomotive engineer for CSX Transportation for nine years before moving to Ohio. He initially looked for a volunteer position but CVSR was looking for a road foreman and hired him as part of its staff. He supervises the locomotive engineers and the locomotives.

"I answer the technical questions and pass on my knowledge," Rivera said.

The combination of gas and brakes provides the smooth ride for passengers.

The diesel engine was built by the American Locomotive Company and has 12 cylinders and 1,800 horsepower. On southern scenic trips, two engines are used to meet schedule demands with a combined 3,600 horsepower.

"I love this job. I'm happy to come back," Rivera said. "My favorite part is running the train. I could run a locomotive for the rest of my life."

Rivera was sitting in the engineer's seat as the train was fueled Aug. 5.

"This is where all the action happens," Rivera said. "Without the locomotive, the train just sits."

Although there are a variety of train trips, two of the favorite are Steam in the Valley and the Polar Express.

Prhne said he enjoys the Steam in the Valley when the 400 ton Nickel Plate Road steam locomotive No. 765 travels the tracks. This year the trips will be on Sept. 21, 22, 28, 29 and a new special evening trip Sept. 27 at 7:30 p.m.

"You get to see a living piece of history come to life," Prhne said. "People come from all around the world to see it."

Volunteers for the Polar Express come from as far away as Florida and it can be a family experience on both sides of the train windows. The Polar Express rides begin Nov. 8 and run through Dec. 21 except for Nov. 11 and Nov. 28, which are holidays.

"I'm in Peninsula which is the North Pole," Richardson said. "Every night is different and magical. We're on the ground and we see the kid's faces in the windows of the train. You see magic on their faces."

Loading the passengers can be fun as well, he said. They're dressed in their pajamas and we say, "Well, are you coming?" just like in the movie and they get excited.

Volunteers have a monthly meeting and can participate in special events or educational training but a special perk of being on the train occurs at night.

"We go into the dome car, turn off the lights, and watch the stars go by," Richardson said.

For more information or to volunteer, go to or

Reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at 330-541-9434 or