Historic steam locomotive no. 765 is a high-stepping, fourteen-wheeled, magnificent machine that stands 15 feet tall, weighs 404 tons, goes over 60 miles an hour and it’s restored to the way it looked and sounded when it was built by the Lima Locomotive Works in 1944.
Celebrated for pulling passenger excursions throughout the country as a goodwill ambassador, the 765 is the pride of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society and one of only a handful of steam locomotives that still operate in the United States.
This is the 765’s story.
The railroads built America. They won wars, built cities, and carried citizens from coast to coast.
Steam locomotives were utilized for 150 years. They were built to be stronger and faster, and to better perform their duties, but they were replaced by more efficient, modern machines.
Why are they important now? Why do they matter?
These were precision machines forged and crafted from solid steel. They meant something to those who worked in their shadow. Make no mistake, however, these iron horses, so often romanticized, take hard, unwieldy work to corral and maintain. They lived and breathed, had voices and moods, and hummed with an audible heartbeat; they were the most human of all our inventions.
The 765 is one of a famous class of steam locomotives called the Berkshire; one known for its “superpower” technology and aesthetic charm.
The men and women of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society saved the 765 from becoming a rusting monument in a city park and restored it to operating condition in 1979.
For fourteen years thereafter, the 765 would run special excursion trains around the country to the delight of 100,000 passengers. From 1993 to 2005, the 765 was completely rebuilt, and is now more than ready to reach another hundred thousand people.
Named for the mountainous terrain in which it was proven, the 2-8-4 Berkshire-type locomotive, with two pony wheels, eight driving wheels, and four trailing wheels, became the first embodiment of the ‘Super-power’ locomotive design that would change the course of locomotive development in the United States.
Designed by Lima Locomotive Works engineer William E. Woodard, the Berkshire was an expansion of the 2-8-2 Mikado-type locomotive design, which gained increased horsepower and heating surface with the inclusion of a larger firebox. That, in turn, necessitatated the addition of a trailing truck and two wheels to support it.
During and after World War I, the ‘Mike’ became a temporary solution for the need for speed and pulling power as earlier steam locomotive designs proved effective at moving heavy freight tonnage, but their tractive effort suffered as a result of the cumbersome weight and wheel arrangement.
After experimentation with the firebox size on the Mikado design, Woodard designated that an entirely new wheel arrangement was necessary to support the increasing need for horsepower and enlarged firebox. Thus was born the 2-8-4 and the Super-power concept of “horsepower at speed” was incarnated.
The prototype, called the A-1, was broken in on the Boston & Albany Railroad’s Berkshire Hills, given extra tonnage and pitted against a Mikado for testing. The A-1 impressed the railroad so much that it ordered forty-five Berkshires for its own.
Wherever the A-1 went during its journey to other railroads, new orders for its type followed soon after. Among the railroads to employ the new design were the Nickel Plate Road, Pere Marquette, New York Central, Erie Railroad, Illinois Central, Boston & Maine, Louisville & Nashville, and the Chesapeake and Ohio, which named the locomotives “Kanawhas” for the Kanawha river which bordered the lines of the C&O. While Lima pioneered and crafted the design, the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) also constructed several classes in successive bids to various railroads. The last steam locomotives built by Lima and ALCO were Berkshires.
The Nickel Plate Road was able to rout its underdog status and become an effective, high-speed freight line with the addition of 80 Berkshires to its motive power ranks. Respected by engine crews and proficient at their tasks, the Berkshires outperformed even the newest diesel locomotives and could have been the last steam locomotives in use on a mainline railroad if it had not been for a recession in the 1950s that kept them at a standstill.
Given their immense numbers up until the end of steam power in the United States, several Berkshires would be preserved for future generations as others were sold for scrap.
SOVEREIGN OF THE SUMMIT CITY
In the 1940s and ‘50s, the City of Fort Wayne, Indiana and the Nickel Plate Road sustained an interesting love-hate relationship.
The iron roadbeds of the Nickel Plate, New York Central, Wabash, and Pennsylvania railroads surrounded Fort Wayne. The Nickel Plate was nestled within the city; its West Wayne Yards were only blocks from downtown. The railroads busy route on the northern end of the city kept Fort Wayne from expanding and persisted to displease motorists, who were constantly held up by the trains.
Fort Wayne had already dealt with the problems inherent with ground level roadbed, as the Pennsylvania and Wabash to the south had elevated their tracks decades prior. To the north, a heated battle between the railroad and city ensued for years, with citizens chanting, “Elevate the Nickel Plate!”
With ground broken in 1947, the elevation of the Nickel Plate Road began in 1953 and ended in 1955 with a formal celebration that saw Nickel Plate Berkshire no. 767 parade across the elevated tracks, breaking a ribbon among station platforms crowded with spectators.
A less informal event had been held some time before, when Nickel Plate Berkshire 765 became the first actual train to traverse the new rails.
At the end of the steam era, several of the eminent Nickel Plate Berkshires locomotives were stored at the Nickel Plate’s relatively new East Wayne yards, which had replaced the cramped quarters of the more urban West Wayne. Both no. 765 and no. 767 were among the sleeping sisters in the engine house and after sufficient slumber, the 765 was fired up in 1958 to supply heat to a stranded passenger train in Fort Wayne. As other steam locomotives were scrapped, the engine would be saved at the request of the city that had once demanded the trains off the streets.
The city had asked for no. 767, but no. 765, built in 1944, proved to be in much better shape, relatively fresh from an overhaul and stored indoors. It was renumbered 767 and in 1963, the locomotive was put on display as the real 767 was scrapped. The 765 was put on display in a city park within sight of the Nickel Plate elevation.
Fort Wayne’s engine became a downtown showpiece, but after years of exposure to the elements, a group of local enthusiasts would secure the locomotive for restoration.
SAVING THE SEVEN HUNDRED
In 1972, the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society was incorporated to find a way to care for the 765, which had suffered exposure to the outdoors for ten years. It was decided that the locomotive should be moved to a location where additional historic rail exhibits and even a future museum could be established. The remainder of a Wabash connection to the Casad Military depot adjacent to Ryan Road in New Haven, Indiana was selected and the track was rebuilt.
Society members set about preparing the locomotive for movement by lubricating fittings, packing journals, and repairing the air brake system. Temporary trackage was laid down to shuttle the 765 onto former New York Central trackage and the engine was carefully pulled over rails by a front end loader. A dip in the unmaintained rails caused the pony truck to derail, sending the locomotive into emergency. The Silent Watchman, a special feature that recognized when the pony wheels derailed, still worked after sixteen years of disuse!
The locomotive was towed backwards by the Norfolk & Western, which had since absorbed the Nickel Plate in a 1964 merger. The 765 traversed the elevated trackage and reached the Society’s Ryan Road property the following day.
In no short order, Nickel Plate caboose 141, Nickel Plate Railway Post Office/Baggage Car 831 and a Hygrade Reefer, which doubled as a workshop, were appropriated. Soon, all efforts concentrated on getting the 765 operational again.
Former Nickel Plate boilermaker Joe Karal was consulted to judge the locomotive’s candidacy for overhaul and operation and determined the engine mechanically sound enough to proceed. Work was officially kicked off in 1975 as jacketing and appliances were removed. As the year progressed, boiler tubes, flues, and superheaters were removed as dozens of staybolt caps were replaced as the engine and its parts were dismantled and cleaned. Work continued on the boiler, running gear and crank pins, stoker, mechanical lubricators, cylinder cocks, and the myriad of parts and pieces all necessary to ensure proper locomotive performance. A successful hydrostatic test in May, 1978 was a shot in the arm to keep a weary crew going.
Fall of ’78 saw a stationary fire-up where the engine steamed soundly. 1979 saw tender work performed and new rod bushings, brake cylinders, piping and sundry appliances saw continued attention.
Seven days shy of the locomotive’s 35th birthday on September 1st, 1979, the 765 moved under its power for the first time in twenty-one years. The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society had become the first non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation in the world to restore and operate a mainline steam locomotive.
PRESERVING AND MAKING HISTORY
After a series of test runs on the Toledo, Peoria & Western in 1980, the 765 would begin its rise to stardom as a fan trip favorite.
Leased by the Southern Railroad for twenty-two trips in 1982, the locomotive earned its stripes on routes through mountainous terrain and rocketed across the midwest in later excursions out of Chicago, Fort Wayne, Cincinnati, and Buffalo, New York, to name a few.
The 765’s reach extended as far east as New Jersey and south to Georgia, and found a calling on the head-end of the New River Trains through West Virginia, carrying behind it the longest passenger train excursions in history. In the meantime, the 765 appeared in two feature films: 1981’s “Four Friends” and 1987’s “Matewan.”
Throughout the 1980s and early 90s, the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society successfully partnered with CSX, New Jersey Transit, and Norfolk Southern. The 765 was also seen in the company of other locomotives such as Nickel Plate Mike 587 and Norfolk & Western Northern 611 and their respective caretakers.
For fourteen years, the locomotive would proudly display the sights, sounds, and smells of a bygone era of railroading, accumulating over 52,000 miles in excursion service.
In 1993, the 765 entered the shop for a complete overhaul that has since returned the engine to the condition it was in when built by the Lima Locomotive Works 61 years before!
2005 would see the unveiling of the rebuilt 765 and in 2006, a series of break-in runs proved the locomotive to be road-worthy, fully operational, and ready for a third career.