Massillon Native Turns Train Hobby Into Career

Date Posted: 

Monday, February 26, 2018

THE REPOSITORY - Though 26-year-old Daniel Condo can’t pinpoint the exact moment he became fixated on trains, he knows it has been his lifelong dream to find a career in the railroad industry.

Growing up here, Condo fondly remembers getting model trains for Christmas from his parents and brother. Combined with his brother’s trains, the Condo family has nearly 20 model trains.

Condo enrolled at Davis & Elkins College in the Railway Heritage Tourism Management program with hopes of working at a railroad museum or on an excursion train — a train chartered for a special event such as a scenic route or the Polar Express.

Now, he is on his way to learning those skills first-hand. Condo accepted a paid internship with the Nevada Northern Railway National Historic Landmark where he will learn about the operations and management of an excursion train. For 12 weeks this summer, Condo will live in an authentic bunkhouse and work daily shifts on the train, in the shops or at the museum.

A lifelong passion

As a child, Condo outgrew playing with other toys such as trucks, Hot Wheels and construction vehicles. However, over the years, his love for trains remained.

“For the most part, those fascinations have kind of come and gone,” Condo said. “Trains have been the one fascination that has stuck with me for as long as I’ve been alive, really.”

Denise Condo, his mother, said both her sons started out with Thomas the Tank Engine trains as toddlers and graduated to Lionel trains.

The family has centered their vacations around trains, including touring historical trains and museums across the country. The family also traveled to Scotland where they road a train that took the same course the Hogwarts Express was filmed on in the Harry Potter series.

“I’ve learned to embrace it and love it just as much as the kids do now,” Denise Condo said. “Its been a journey and continues to be a journey.”

As part of the internship, Daniel Condo will learn how to operate 19th Century equipment in modern times. Mark S. Bassett, president of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum, said operating a steam engine is hard manual labor. The train is powered by coal and uses up to 2,000 pounds per trip — all of which has to be shoveled by hand.

“If (Condo) wants to continue in the field, this will get him on-the-ground, hands-on experience in all of the different aspects of heritage railroad,” Bassett said. “This is challenging, and no two days are ever alike. Operating steam locomotives is incredibly dynamic. There are a lot of things going on at one time.”

At the end of May, Condo will embark on a new journey in Ely, Nevada where he’ll learn about maintaining the steam engine and working in the shop, Bassett said.

Finding a career path

When Condo graduated from Washington High School in 2010, he set out to get a degree in two-dimensional art at Bowling Green State University. Though he completed the degree in 2014, he felt art wasn’t the correct career path for him and he started in search of another.

To be an artist, Condo felt he either had to push himself to be a self-sustaining entrepreneur or he needed to move to a big city to work for a movie company. Many of his pieces are realistic drawings of historic trains.

“I really didn’t have the drive to do that with my artwork because I would just sit at my desk staring at paper most of the day,” Condo said. “It’s something that I enjoy when the passion hits me, but as far as doing it as a career, it wasn’t exactly a good fit.”

It was then Condo started researching for a career on the rails.

Condo initially wanted a career in the historic railway field but was unable to find a program that fit that idea. The majority of programs available involved becoming a train engineer for a commercial company. After discovering the Railway Heritage Tourism Management minor at Davis & Elkins College, he decided to attend the college with a major in business management.

It’s been his dream to work in an environment where he can look out the window and see a train at any time.

“What started as a childhood fascination has not left,” Denise Condo said of her son. “We’re excited for him because he knows that’s what he loves. I tell him the sky is the limit.”