Plymouth Locomotive played a part in Ohio Stadium construction

Oct. 7—PLYMOUTH — One never knows how "Fate" can bring life events together.

When Tom and Kathy Root were flipping through the latest edition of the Ohio State Alumni Magazine, they did a double-take.

The 2022 Fall issue of the magazine features stories and photos to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Ohio Stadium, the iconic home of the football Buckeyes.

A nine-page spread details the planning, design and construction of the stadium in 1921-22. While the story was fascinating, a photo on page 29 surprised the Norwalk couple.

In the middle of the page was an image of a Plymouth locomotive pulling rail cars loaded with dry cement for the stadium project.

The locomotive bore the distinctive "PLYMOUTH" in cast iron on its side, indicating its manufacture by Fate-Root-Heath Company.

The magazine's photo caption states the train cars were manufactured "80 miles away in Plymouth, Ohio, to transport materials, which included 75,000 barrels of cement."

Tom Root's grandfather, Percy Hubert Root, was running Fate-Root-Heath at the time with his brother, John Root, along with Charlie Heath and J.D. Fate.

In addition to his grandfather and great uncles having ties to the stadium's construction, the first football game at Ohio Stadium was played Oct. 7, 1922 — exactly 100 years ago.

The Buckeyes faced Ohio Wesleyan University that day — and also played OWU in their first-ever football game on May 3, 1890.

Tom and Kathy each hold bachelor's degrees from Ohio Wesleyan and earned graduate degrees from Ohio State.

"I felt a little bit grateful, but humbled that my grandfather and great-uncles were designing, building and marketing locomotives, tractors and brick-making machines when they were in their late 30s," Tom Root said.

His father, Thomas F. Root, was born on April 3, 1923, about six months after the "Horseshoe" opened its gates for the first time. He worked at F-R-H for 30 years prior to the company being sold.

"I am grateful to have known them, even in their late years," Tom said of his locomotive-building relatives. "I'm a little awed by their vision, industriousness and skill."

Along with the discovery that Fate-Root-Heath helped build Ohio Stadium — a bit of history unknown to the Root family — the photo elicited memories of the long industrial history in Plymouth.

"Mostly I am wistful," Tom said. "This is probably true of all of us as we age, but I have so much that I would like to ask them — long after my opportunity to ask has passed as they have died."

Company history

The first Plymouth locomotive was built in 1912 by the J.D. Fate Company — the predecessor of Fate-Root-Heath.

According to Susan Root Moore, Tom's older sister, the owner of the Bigelow Clay Company in nearby New London needed a mechanical device to replace the team of uncooperative mules used to move pallets of brick.

The result was a friction-drive, 18-horsepower, 2-cylinder locomotive with an air-cooled engine. The invention became the major product line when the J.D. Fate Company merged with the Root-Heath Manufacturing Company in 1919.

"The men who founded the Fate-Root-Heath Company, including our grandfather, were industrialists and innovators who responded to the needs of early 20th-century manufacturing and construction with incredible ingenuity," said Susie, who is a trustee of the Plymouth Area Historical Society and Museum, where many of the company records are stored.

"The locomotive, as humble as it seems, is an example of that ingenuity and that is one reason its history is important," she said. "The company provided a livelihood for more than a hundred families in Plymouth, as did industries in small towns all over the country. The demise of manufacturing and the resulting decay suffered by small towns in America is, indeed, a sad page in our nation's history."

The Fate-Root-Heath Company built locomotives of all sizes to their clients' specifications through the end of the 1960s.

Plymouth locomotives were sold to large corporations, including Bethlehem Steel, U.S. Steel, Westinghouse, Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co., among many others across the nation.

Railroad companies used Plymouths as yard engines to move cars among tracks; utilities used them to move coal to plants to generate electricity; and mining companies used smaller, lower silhouette versions in tunnels to haul out coal and ore.

Many of the Plymouth-built engines were sold to Panama, Mexico and Nicaragua, as well as Southeast Asia, Europe and South America.

"Today, one could probably still find a working Plymouth locomotive on at least four of the seven continents," Susie said. "The locomotive pictured in the OSU magazine is one of the smaller 'yard engines' produced by F-R-H. Our smallest was a three-ton machine. The largest we ever produced weighed 120 tons."

Tom Root described growing up in Plymouth, where F-R-H was known to everyone in town as "the Shop."

"It was just part of the fabric of the town," he said. "We all relied on the whistle sounding at 7 a.m. to mark the start of the day and the 3:30 p.m. whistle to mark the end. Most of my friends had fathers working at the Shop.

"About the only thing that differentiated my life from theirs was that very occasionally, I would get to ride in the cab of a locomotive as it was being tested on the side tracks outside of the main assembly building."

Feeling nostalgic

The connections are hard to ignore.

Tom's and Susie's father, Thomas F. Root, graduated from Ohio State in 1947 with a degree in industrial engineering. Their mother, Joanne Lawrence Root, graduated from Ohio Wesleyan with a degree in English in 1946.

Kathy Root, a 1971 Norwalk graduate, earned her degree from Ohio Wesleyan in 1975 and her graduate degree from OSU a year later in 1976. Tom graduated from OWU in 1974 and from OSU in 1977.

On Oct. 7, 1922, the Buckeyes opened the brand-new stadium with a 5-0 win over Ohio Wesleyan in front of about 25,000 fans.

Ohio Wesleyan has faced Ohio State a total of 29 times —more than any other Ohio college in history — winning two and tying once. The Bishops lost that first 1890 matchup to Ohio State, 20-14 in a muddy, Sunday game on the Delaware campus.

The Buckeyes haven't lost to an in-state opponent in the modern era.

"Our mother dearly loved her alma mater and took us to Delaware frequently when we were kids to visit the campus," said Susie, a 1972 Penn State University alumna.

"Our dad was always very proud of being an OSU alum and I can distinctly remember my first trip to the Horseshoe with him.

"We went to the (marching band) Skull Session at St. John Arena and I was fascinated with the chimes at the beginning of 'Carmen Ohio' ... he taught me the words so I could sing with the band at the game."

In addition, another family connection was made when an Ohio Historical Marker was placed on the OWU campus on May 3, 2008, to commemorate Ohio State's first-ever football game.

Kathy was on the dais for the ceremony, representing Team OWU as a varsity athletics alumna, along with Archie Griffin and then-coach Jim Tressel for the Buckeyes.

All these years later, Tom said he still gets "a frisson of excitement" when he and Kathy visit Cedar Point, where one can see a Plymouth locomotive dressed up as a small steam engine.

"Kathy and I were driving through Delaware several years ago when we found three Plymouth locomotives parked along with vintage passenger cars by a refurbished train station," he said. "We spent a half hour examining and photographing them."

With ties to both schools and now a newfound piece of history, Tom joked that perhaps the ultimate prize awaits.

"With the locomotive link to the construction of the 'Shoe, my hopes have been rekindled that Ohio State will send us a set of season tickets," he said.

Plymouth's historical society and museum has long worked at preserving Plymouth Locomotive's legacy in various projects and events, Susie noted. But now, even more meaning is attached to the family and company history.

"The Horseshoe is a beloved venue as far as football stadiums go," she said. "Its classic architecture makes it one of the most imposing anywhere on this side of the country. So when I learned that the Plymouth locomotive played a part in its construction, I did feel a considerable amount of pride.

"The older I get, the more I recognize and appreciate the vital role that small towns like Plymouth, and their industrial histories, played in the growth and development of this country."