Oct. 7 — PLYMOUTH — You never know how “fate” can bring life’s events together.
When Tom and Kathy Root were flipping through the latest edition of Ohio State Alumni magazine, they did a double take.
The magazine’s Fall 2022 issue features stories and photos to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Ohio Stadium, the iconic football home of the 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 wagons loaded with dry cement for the stadium project.
The locomotive bore the distinctive “PLYMOUTH” in cast iron on the side, indicating its manufacture by the Fate-Root-Heath Company.
The magazine’s photo caption says the wagons were made “80 miles away in Plymouth, Ohio to haul materials including 75,000 barrels of cement.”
Tom Root’s grandfather, Percy Hubert Root, ran Fate-Root-Heath at the time with his brother, John Root, along with Charlie Heath and JD Fate.
In addition to his grandfather and great uncles having ties to stadium construction, the first football game at Ohio Stadium took place on October 7, 1922, exactly 100 years ago.
The Buckeyes played Ohio Wesleyan University that day – and also played OWU in their first-ever football game on May 3, 1890.
Tom and Kathy each hold a bachelor’s degree from Ohio Wesleyan and have earned graduate degrees from Ohio State.
“I felt somewhat grateful, but humbled that my grandfather and great-uncles designed, built and marketed locomotives, tractors and brick-making machines when they were in their late thirties. “said Tom Root.
Her father, Thomas F. Root, was born on April 3, 1923, about six months after the “Horseshoe” first opened. He worked at FRH for 30 years before the company was sold.
“I’m grateful to have known them, even in their later years,” Tom said of his close locomotive builders. “I’m a little impressed with their vision, their diligence and their skills.”
Along with the discovery that Fate-Root-Heath helped build Ohio Stadium – a bit of unknown Root family history – the photo sparked memories of Plymouth’s long industrial history.
“Most of the time I’m nostalgic,” Tom said. “That’s probably true for all of us as we get older, but I have so many things I’d love to ask them – long after my opportunity to ask has passed because they’re dead.”
The first Plymouth locomotive was built in 1912 by the JD 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 uncooperative team of mules used to move pallets of bricks.
The result was an 18 horsepower, 2-cylinder, friction-drive locomotive with an air-cooled engine. The invention became the main product line when the JD 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 met the needs of early 20th century manufacturing and construction with incredible ingenuity,” said Susie, who is a Plymouth area trustee. Historical Society and Museum, where many company documents are stored.
“The locomotive, as humble as it may seem, is an example of that ingenuity and that’s one of the reasons its story is important,” she said. “The business provided a livelihood for over a hundred families in Plymouth, as did small town industries across the country. The demise of manufacturing and the resulting decadence suffered by small towns of America is, indeed, a sad page in the history of our nation’s history.”
The Fate-Root-Heath Company built locomotives of all sizes to customer specifications until the late 1960s.
Plymouth locomotives were sold to major companies including Bethlehem Steel, US Steel, Westinghouse, Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co., among many others across the country.
Railroad companies used Plymouths as yard engines to move cars between tracks; utilities used them to transport coal to power plants to generate electricity; and mining companies used smaller, lower versions in tunnels to haul coal and ore.
Many Plymouth-built engines were sold to Panama, Mexico and Nicaragua, as well as Southeast Asia, Europe and South America.
“Today, you could probably still find a working Plymouth locomotive on at least four of the seven continents,” Susie said. “The locomotive pictured in OSU magazine is one of the smallest ‘yard engines’ produced by FRH. Our smallest was a three ton machine. The largest we have ever produced weighed 120 tons.”
Tom Root described growing up in Plymouth, where FRH was known to everyone in town as “The Shop”.
“It was just part of the fabric of the city,” he said. “We were all counting on the 7 a.m. whistle to mark the start of the day and the 3:30 p.m. whistle to mark the end. Most of my friends had fathers who worked at the store.
“The only thing that differentiated my life from theirs was that, very occasionally, I could ride in the cab of a locomotive as it was being tested on the side tracks outside the main assembly building.”
Connections are hard to ignore.
Tom 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, graduated from Ohio Wesleyan in 1975 and graduated from OSU a year later in 1976. Tom graduated from OWU in 1974 and ‘OSU in 1977.
On October 7, 1922, the Buckeyes opened the brand new stadium with a 5-0 win over Ohio Wesleyan in front of approximately 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 game of 1890 to Ohio State, 20-14 in a muddy Sunday game at the Delaware campus.
The Buckeyes haven’t lost to an upstate opponent in the modern era.
“Our mother was very fond of her alma mater and frequently took us to Delaware when we were children to visit the campus,” said Susie, an alumnus of Penn State University in 1972.
“Our dad was always very proud to be an OSU alumnus and I vividly remember my first trip to the Horseshoe with him.
“We went to the (band) Skull Session at St. John Arena and I was mesmerized by the chimes at the start of ‘Carmen Ohio’…he taught me the lyrics so I could sing along with the band for the game. “
Additionally, another family connection was established 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 stage for the ceremony, representing Team OWU as an alumna of varsity athletics, along with Archie Griffin and then-coach Jim Tressel for the Buckeyes.
All these years later, Tom said he still gets “a thrill of excitement” when he and Kathy visit Cedar Point, where you can see a Plymouth locomotive disguised as a small steam engine.
“Kathy and I were driving through Delaware several years ago when we found three Plymouth locomotives parked with vintage passenger cars near a renovated train station,” he said. “We spent half an hour examining and photographing them.”
With ties to both schools and now a new piece of history, Tom joked that perhaps the ultimate prize awaits.
“With the locomotive’s connection to building the ‘Shoe, my hopes have been rekindled that Ohio State will send us a subscription package,” he said.
The Plymouth Historical Society and Museum have a long history of working to preserve the legacy of Plymouth Locomotive in various projects and events, Susie noted. But today, the story of the family and the company has even more meaning.
“The Horseshoe is a beloved location when it comes to football stadiums,” she said. “Its classic architecture makes it one of the most imposing this side of the country, so when I learned that the Plymouth locomotive had played a role in its construction, I felt considerable pride.
“The older I get, the more I recognize and appreciate the vital role that small towns like Plymouth, and their industrial histories, have played in the growth and development of this country.”