Former NASA engineer turns to railroad as dedicated volunteer mechanic

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — If you’ve caught a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (CVSR), you know it’s the volunteers that keep things on track. Like the thousands of volunteers within the CVSR network, Chip Redding has a one-track mind fueled by his passion for train and giving back.

Despite being retired, Redding, a former NASA engineer, refuses to be derailed from staying productive. He spends the majority of his time volunteering at the railroad station.

“I’m busier now than I was working…II actually retired on January 3 in 2020. January 4 I was working at the science center as a volunteer,” he said. “I come three days a week typically, sometimes a little more…Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are my days to come to the train.”

Redding is one of the mechanics on board ensuring the historic trains continue to run properly.

“I do a lot of the machining,” he said. “They’ll take something off of the train that’s been broken or worn out…[and] I’ll pull out some metal and start whittling it down in the machine over there and I’ll make a new part for them… I’m pretty good at it I think.”

While his volunteer resume expands beyond the tracks, Redding says the rails hold a special place in his heart.

“My father worked for the railroad when I was young. He worked for New York Central. He worked his way up from brakemen to an engineer to a yardmaster.”

It’s why years back, Redding decided to pay it forward.

“The wife and I had taken a few rides on the train…and I was on their mailing list. About a year and a half ago there was a [mailer] that said they were having an open house for volunteers,” he recalled. “I came down and at the time they had a train car like 10 feet in the air and they had the whole wheel system pulled out. They were dismantling the brakes and I thought I want to do that. That just looks like so much fun, you know? It’s just right up my alley.”

Since then the railroad has become a second home.

If you ask Redding, retirement isn’t the end of the line. Instead, it’s a time to embrace new responsibility. He says that’s when true happiness and purpose align.

“I think back to the years when I was young and poor. You know, I was so lucky to be able to have the opportunities I did and I want to make sure somebody else gets some of that before I’m gone,” Redding said. “My goal in life is to be productive and the happiness in life comes along secondary.”

Redding told News 5 that he wants to continue working with the Great Lakes Science Center as well and create a CAD design class for students and anyone interested.