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Matching fundraiser launched to complete vintage diesel locomotive restoration

By News

NEW HAVEN, INDIANA – Following five years of restoration work, the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society’s volunteers have successfully restarted the prime mover engine of historic Nickel Plate Road diesel locomotive no. 358 and have launched a matching fundraiser to raise $20,000 in order to complete the effort.

Donations will be matched from now until August 21st. As an added incentive, one donor of $358 or more will win a day-long cab ride on Nickel Plate Road no. 765 during an all-day steam excursion on October 1st. Two donors of $35.00 or more will be entered to win tickets on board the same excursion.

Donations can be made online at fwrhs.org/donate or by mail at
Project 358
PO Box 11017
Fort Wayne, Indiana, 46855

DONATE TO 358

“This vintage Electro-Motive diesel is poised to start a new life as a railroad tourist attraction, and over 8,000 volunteer hours have been contributed to breathing life into the machine,” stated W.D. Miller, Manager of Project 358. “This restoration has been supported by so many people from across the country, and we’re hopeful that railroad and historic diesel fans will help us reach this important milestone.”

Plans call for the 358 to be restored to its original, as-built 1957 appearance with the Nickel Plate’s characteristic black and imitation gold striping. The locomotive will eventually enter rail tourism service as part of the Indiana Rail Experience and become an educational resource in excursion and exhibition service with Nickel Plate Road steam locomotive no. 765.

“Railroad technology is always advancing, and we really have a unique opportunity to tell the story of how the railroads evolved from steam locomotives to modern internal combustion engines and the cultural and technological changes that occurred because of it,” explained Miller. “This project has already afforded several of our members the opportunity to develop critical mechanical skills and experience, and in the future, will give our guests hands-on experiences that bring them closer to this great history and important industry.”

Project 358 has been previously supported with grants and donations from Steel Dynamics, Inc., the Nickel Plate Historical & Technical Society, Inc., Norfolk Southern, and Progress Rail, Inc.

Indiana Rail Experience Arrives in Region

By News

Courtesy of WPTA 21:

A preview of sorts Thursday afternoon, for a new, multi-year attraction in Angola. The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society (FWRHS) took community leaders, donors, and members of the media on the organization’s first Indiana Rail Experience. It’s a new partnership between the FWRHS and the Indiana Northeastern Railroad Company. “The stars really did align for us, to be able to offer something really exciting and new — right in our backyard,” vice president Kelly Lynch told ABC21. “Having an attraction like this is like having lightning in a bottle, and now we have a place to put the bottle.”

It’s an exciting development, for the non-profit, which celebrates its 50th year in 2022. Now, more than ever, passenger train trips and theme events will be offered, taking people from Indiana to Ohio and Michigan over 100-miles of railroad line. “Everything we do here is kind of a best kept secret,” Lynch added, “and the more people we can share this secret with, the better.” He’s of course talking about the iconic machinery that powers each trip: Nickel Plate Road no. 765. The 1940s-era steam locomotive was removed as a stagnant display in Lawton Park, and restored to working condition in 1979.

Wayne York has been there since it all began. “We’ve just far exceeded any hopes we ever had of what we could do with this locomotive,” he shared. “And it’s also the bigger picture of trying to preserve railroad history from the golden age, which was about 1925 to about 1960. And all the equipment on this train, dates from that period, as well as the locomotive — that’s the railroad heritage we’re trying to preserve and introduce to new generations.”

Cars range from practical to luxury and comfort. Some have dozens of seats, others small cabins which include controlled lights, a fan, and bathroom. The higher class cars even include queen sized beds with dressers. And in between, several options tables and kitchens for dining and snacks. An open car will soon be renovated to include a bar, while guests look out over the passing landscape.

Though coal and steam power the trip, hundreds of volunteers fuel the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society’s trips. Stewards, conductors, and engineers enthusiastic each and every time they ride the no. 765. “It takes a village to run a steam train — so every time we have a weekend work session, or we’re getting ready to take the train on the road, people come from everywhere,” Lynch said. “And it’s not just from Allen County or DeKalb county or Northeast Indiana. We have people from Michigan, from Ohio, from West Virginia, and Illinois.”

Steuben County Economic Development Director Isaac Lee, who boarded the trip with his children, sees big potential with the Indiana Rail Experience coming to Angola. “The work that I do, and that we do collectively to build our community, is about keeping our kids here with us, having them grow with us, be successful with us. It’s about generational growth,” he explained. “It’s not just looking at experiences that help my wife and I — it’s about the kids too.”

“This type of attraction has a magnet affect of bringing populations that either live here, or would like to tour through our area,” Lee continued. “You don’t get many experiences to work with trains. So, that experience coming north from Fort Wayne to Angola? We’re pretty excited about it.”

Much of the public, may already know and be following upcoming trips. The Indiana Ice Cream Train, and the Wine, Whiskey, & Spirits Train trips planned for July 8-9 are already sold out. And tickets are filling up so fast for other events, we’re told organizers are working on scheduling more events later this summer. You can look out for available opportunities for the Indiana Rail Experience here. “Being able to share that feeling of awe and wonder and joy with thousands of people every year?” Lynch told us. “That’s what’s really addicting.”

Fort Wayne railroad organization acquires two historic Pennsylvania Railroad passenger cars

By News

NEW HAVEN, INDIANA – The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society has acquired two vintage Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) passenger cars from the Washington, DC Chapter, of the National Railway Historical Society (DCNRHS) to support the Indiana Rail Experience, an expansion of its popular events and programs in Northeast Indiana. Tickets to ride aboard these cars are on sale now at indianarailexperience.org.

Constructed in 1949 by the Budd Company in Philadelphia, the Collinsville Inn and Franklin Inn were originally built as sleeping cars for the PRR’s famous passenger trains, several of which operated through Fort Wayne, Indiana.

“It is very exciting to celebrate our 50th Anniversary with the purchase of these cars and we can’t wait to welcome guests aboard them later this summer,” explained Wayne York, senior excursion manager for Fort Wayne. “DCNRHS has been a long and respected partner to our organization, and we are thankful for their stewardship in preserving these cars.”

In 1963, the PRR converted the cars into traditional passenger coaches to transport visitors to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Later, they were assigned to commuter train service in Michigan, New York, and Maryland before they were donated to DCNRHS in 2008. Thanks in part to a 2012 Trains Magazine grant to “introduce new generations of rail enthusiasts to the history and excitement of mainline rail travel,” the cars were restored to their 1960s appearance and certified for use on Amtrak.

“Changes in the private car environment meant these two beautiful, historic cars were no longer a great fit for our business model,” said DCNRHS Chief Mechanical Officer Jim Lilly, who oversaw the rescue, restoration, and operation of the equipment. “We are pleased to have the coaches go to an organization we have worked with for many years. We are confident that they will be cared for and continue to serve as icons of railroad history, giving another generation a chance to ride. It’s rather fitting that they go to Fort Wayne, as these were built for the Pennsylvania Railroad which was once a major industry in the region.”

Since 2015, the cars have been used in special charters and excursions, including steam-powered trips operated by Fort Wayne. This year, they will enter service as part of the Indiana Rail Experience, which will offer a variety of train rides and programs for all ages in Angola, Indiana. Offering comfortable, climate-controlled interiors with rotating chairs, the set also includes ADA-compatible seating and a restroom.

The purchase was aided by First Merchants Bank with assistance from a private donor. Transportation, logistics, shipping, and assistance were provided by FMW Solutions, Inc. Norfolk Southern Corp, and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

DCNRHS is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, District of Columbia Not-For-Profit all volunteer organization founded in 1944 and dedicated to “expanding the public appreciation of railroads and their history through preservation and education.” DCNRHS serves a variety of audiences with free monthly railroad-related public programs on historical and contemporary topics, railroad trips and tours, the Martin F. O’Rourke Railroad Library, annual scholarships to high school students for railroad learning, and other railroad history endeavors. A major focus of DCNRHS has been the restoration and operation of historic rail equipment which began with the acquisition of the classic heavyweight Pullman sleeper-lounge, Dover Harbor in 1979 and continues today. For more information on DCNRHS, please see dcnrhs.org.

An all-volunteer, award-winning, and safety-driven non-profit organization, the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, Inc. has operated Nickel Plate Road no. 765 for over 100,000 miles in public exhibition and passenger train excursion service and routinely welcomes visitors from all 50 states and half a dozen countries. As a part of its role in the rail tourism industry, Fort Wayne continues to restore and exhibit other historic steam and diesel locomotives, freight cars, and passenger cars from the Golden Age of Railroading, all of which are used to celebrate and preserve the area’s cultural and industrial heritage. Fort Wayne’s operations are funded by ticket sales, memberships, donations, grants, and sponsorships.

Nickel Plate Road 765’s First Steam Excursions

By News, video

As we celebrate our 50th anniversary in 2022, let’s look back at our very first steam excursion 42 years ago this month!

This silent, 8mm footage was recently acquired and scanned in high definition, though the photographer is unknown. It features the 765 operating west on the Norfolk & Western out of Fort Wayne through Huntington, Wabash, Peru, and Logansport, with additional footage at Monticello and Reynolds, Indiana, and Washington Hill.

After its initial restoration in 1979, Nickel Plate Road steam locomotive no. 765 ran from Fort Wayne to Bellevue, Ohio where it spent the winter. The following spring, test runs for the locomotive were scheduled on the Toledo Peoria & Western, where the locomotive operated in freight and pusher service for several days. The locomotive’s first fan trip was held on May 10th and May 11th between East Peoria and Keokuk, Iowa, and East Peoria to Effner, Illinois. Below is an excerpt from 765: A 21st Century Survivor on the 765’s first test runs:

Early in our steam career, we were invited by Bob Macmillan, then the President of the Toledo, Peoria and Western Railroad, to bring the 765 to Peoria for some test running and a few excursion trips. We figured the 765 was ready for some hard work. After all, we had run the locomotive from Fort Wayne to Sandusky and back hadn’t we? If we only knew how much we had to learn!

We spent a few days switching in the East Peoria Yard and then we were called to work the pusher job on Washington Hill. All things considered, the first few days went pretty well. At last, we were called to pull a TP&W freight train to Effner, Illinois. The railroad romanticists called it the “Night Train to Effner.” In retrospect, it turned out to be the “Nightmare to Effner.”

In performing the repairs on the 765, all the superheater units were removed and each was subjected to a hydrostatic pressure test. Many of those units had a lot of leaks and were repaired. But there isn’t anything like dragging a few thousand tons of freight to find out what is fixed and what isn’t.

After hammering east toward Effner for 50 or 60 miles, the locomotive was starting to steam poorly. The over-the-road vibration combined with the steam velocity through the superheaters caused the units to begin to leak. Leaking superheated steam expands so rapidly that the vacuum is destroyed in the smokebox and without vacuum, you lose the draft. No draft means no fire. The poor draft in concert with the southern Illinois dirt that someone identified as coal caused the coal consumption to rise dramatically.

The long and short of it is we ran out of coal just short of Watseka, Illinois. Fortunately, the “Tip-up” (the nickname the TP&W guys used) was in the midst of a tie replacement program. We temporarily made the 765 a wood burner for the next 6 miles. “Don’t burn any new ones!” Mr. Macmillan yelled from the crew car.

By this time the railroad president probably had begun to wonder why he ever invited us there in the first place. We struggled into Watseka and laid up for the night, with the coal space swept clean and the water level in the tender at about 6 inches.

Our crew, which numbered over ten, woke up an unhappy motel owner in the wee hours of the morning. We all registered in the last room in town. A dozen dirty and weary guys crowded into one room! It must have looked like a college fraternity trying to jam the whole house into a VW.

Coaling took place the next morning and we finally reached Effner, the end of TP&W trackage, later that morning. To his everlasting credit, Mr. Mac didn’t push us off his railroad and leave us at Effner forever.

If we had any success at all in our first 14 years of steam operation, much credit must be given to Mr. Robert Macmillan, the gentleman from Peoria.

As 1980 wore on, the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society had time to reflect on its accomplishments. At the time, founders Glenn Brendel and Wayne York wrote, “Admiring the 765 out on the road, or admiring her at rest, the 1975-1979 restoration may seem quite remote. But until the fire-up of September 1978, the FWRHS was faced with a seemingly impossible task. There was no assurance the 765 restorations would ever be completed. There were many dark, dark days when even after a full day’s work, no measurable progress could be detected…This was the largest steam locomotive ever restored outdoors without conventional facilities. A dubious claim of distinction. Without the help of friends and good neighbors, the project may have never been completed…the restoration of Locomotive 765 is as much a tribute to the perseverance of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historial Society as it is to the glory days of railroading.”

Thanks to Greg Scholl for the thumbnail photo.

Regional Short Line and Fort Wayne Railroad Partner for Indiana Rail Experience

By Events, Excursions, News

ANGOLA, INDIANA – The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, Inc. and the Indiana Northeastern Railroad Company have announced The Indiana Rail Experience, a historic partnership that will contribute to the tourism economy and the quality of life in Northeast Indiana. Tickets will be available at indianarailexperience.org.

Beginning in 2022, the Fort Wayne non-profit will operate a series of passenger train trips, educational programs, and special events over the Indiana Northeastern, a 100-mile railroad line that connects Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan.

Events will include a wide array of excursions with Nickel Plate Road no. 765, a 1940s-era steam locomotive, which has become an international cultural attraction since being restored to operating condition in 1979. In addition to the 765, other historic locomotives and classic railroad passenger cars will provide unique offerings for children, families, and adults between July and October. A complete schedule and tickets will be available later in May and June. To get notified, click here. For sponsorship inquiries, click here.

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“Our railroad has helped drive the economy of this region since it was started to support local farmers,” explained Gale Shultz, President of the Indiana Northeastern. “We’re hoping to not only shine a spotlight on our community with the popularity of the 765, but let the world know that the region and the railroad are open for business.”

The Indiana Northeastern is an industrious short line railroad serving Northeast Indiana, Southern Michigan, and Northwest Ohio.

“This multi-year agreement will allow us to offer experiences to our friends and neighbors like never before,” said Kelly Lynch, Vice President of the Fort Wayne Railroad. “We couldn’t be more fortunate to work with a local, family-owned organization like the Indiana Northeastern. This partnership will bring joy to thousands of residents and visitors.”

In addition, events will be hosted in cooperation with the Little River Railroad, Norfolk & Western Business Car No. 300 Preservation Society, Steuben County Tourism Bureau, and the City of Angola. Sponsors include Berne Apparel, JICI Construction, The John H. Emery Rail Heritage Trust, McRail Insurance, and Trine University.

“We are thrilled that the Indiana Northeastern is boosting our recreation industry. Not only does this give our population more to do in the summer months, but the potential to expand these events into the off-season will be significant for our area,” said June Julien, Executive Director of Steuben County Tourism Bureau.

Formally incorporated 30 years ago in 1992, the Indiana Northeastern has revitalized the former Wabash and New York Central Railroad lines which had all but been abandoned by the 1990s. The short-line railroad success story now sees over 5,000 freight carloads a year, serves 25 industrial and agricultural industries in three states and supports over 500 jobs. The Indiana Northeastern maintains offices and a locomotive repair facility in South Milford and Hudson, Indiana, respectively.

With roots deep in state history and cultural heritage tourism, rail tourism in Indiana continues to be a burgeoning industry. The recently inaugurated Nickel Plate Express in Noblesville hosted 25,000 riders, and the events of the French Lick Scenic Railway in southern Indiana welcomed over 70,000 riders last year.

“In 2020, Indiana had an estimated 67 million visitors,” said Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch. “Development is key to the Leisure and Travel-related industry and its growth, and this development in Northeast Indiana will be a great addition to visitor attraction and to the quality of life.”

“Our events routinely sell out and are in significant demand in Northeast Indiana. Our studies have shown that a more permanent railroad attraction in this region could welcome over 120,000 visitors on an annual basis,” added Lynch.

For 50 years, the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society has offered remarkable and inspiring experiences through the preservation, restoration, and operation of historic railroad equipment and artifacts significant to Northeast Indiana. An all-volunteer, award-winning, and safety-driven non-profit organization, it has operated Nickel Plate Road no. 765 for over 100,000 miles in public exhibition and passenger train excursion service and routinely welcomes visitors from all 50 states and half a dozen countries. As a part of its role in the rail tourism industry, Fort Wayne continues to restore and exhibit other historic steam and diesel locomotives, freight cars, and passenger cars from the Golden Age of Railroading, all of which are used to celebrate and preserve the area’s cultural and industrial heritage. Fort Wayne’s operations are funded by ticket sales, memberships, donations, grants, and sponsorships.

“For the love of trains” – Railroad group keeps steam engine running

By News
Originally published in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.

Generations of great traditions often start with “My grandpa introduced me …” or “My mother fell in love with this and passed that love to me …” or “My father began bringing me ….”

It seems that most everyone working inside the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society’s restoration workshop at 15809 Edgerton Road in New Haven has those connections.

A few were introduced when their dads started bringing them, and now, as the group celebrates its 50th year, members are bringing their sons, daughters and even granddaughters.

When Samantha Krumanaker of Huntington was a girl, she’d visit her grandfather in Cass, West Virginia, and they’d go see the Cass Scenic Railroad. Now she’s 29, an administrative assistant for the Indiana Highway Department and spends her Saturdays helping get the Nickel Plate No. 765 ready for the upcoming season.

“My grandpa really wanted to do this when he was a kid but circumstances didn’t allow that to happen so he lives vicariously through me,” she said. “He never thought he’d be able to see this stuff in real life until it just kind of happened for me.”

Her grandfather, Ernie White, enjoys each visit to the warehouse just like the little kids who jump up and down and wave every time the 765 engine goes by during an excursion. Each time the 765 engine rolls down the rails it makes crowds feel young again, and for some, bringing back childhood dreams of becoming a train engineer.

“We’re doing what nobody else is doing,” said Jon Jaros, one of the 765’s seven engineers. “We’re working on a time machine.”

There’s plenty of nostalgia involved whenever the steam locomotive goes out, and not just from those watching on the side of the tracks.

“For me, it’s being part of the history,” Operations Manager Zach Hall said. “When we leave Fort Wayne, somebody sat in this same seat and looked out over these same farm fields from 1944 to 1958. The biggest thing is preserving the history and making it to the different places that we’ve never been, going over railroads that haven’t seen passengers or steam engines in many, many years.”

Hall calls the 765 a people magnet, and it draws him to Fort Wayne from his home in Altoona, Pennsylvania, making the 61/2 hour drive 15 to 20 weekends a year to work with his friends. There are lots of similar stories inside the workshop, including how family-like bonds have been formed by the unending work, grime and camaraderie.

“I kind of just fell into the right group of people,” Krumanaker said. “I just started hanging out with them, and they invited me to come over here and I haven’t left. It felt natural, like I totally belonged here. As hard as they try to get rid of me, they can’t.”

Volunteers give up every Saturday to help out. According to Hall, the 765 requires 15 to 20 hours of maintenance for every hour it spends on the tracks, and that doesn’t include the rest of the refurbished cars such as the recently completed caboose.

“All the parts on this are heavy and dirty, and you have to work into figuring out you just have to get in there and don’t worry about getting filthy because you will,” said Mechanical Manager Steve Winicker, 72.

The New Haven native joined the organization a couple of years after it started in 1972, and now his job is to figure out what needs done on the trains and then show or tell everyone what to do. Because of federal regulations, paperwork and inspections are constants. There are tons of knowledge required from the crew, not all of it learned from manuals, and Winicker has lots of stories about how ingenuity led to solutions.

“I’ve seen things that I never thought would be the slightest possibility early on, but I’ve seen them happen,” he said. “There have been a lot of people here who kept it going for all those years, in good times and slow times and hard times.”

But right now is one of the good times.

Hall laughs and calls working on the train a hobby that has gotten way out of hand, but the specialization has also led to “day-job” careers for many of those involved.

“What’s even endearing to me is this machine and our programs and events and everything we do appeals to everybody,” organization Vice President Kelly Lynch said. “You don’t have to be a train fan or a history fan to get caught up in the magic. I’ve seen it firsthand. The railroads were the melting pot of the 20th century, and what we do now carries on that appeal.”

The society has nearly 1,000 members from across the country and even around the world, about 100 who volunteer regularly to help operate the 765 over 16 states.

The 2022 season starts in mid-May with the annual “Steam in the Valley” event to the Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio. More information is available at fortwaynerailroad.org. In addition to events in Ohio, there will soon be announcements on Indiana excursions, too.

The group’s biggest hope is to find a centralized showcase area home so more people can enjoy what they do as a regional attraction. That effort – known locally as Headwaters Junction – continues to pick up momentum despite a long gestation period, Lynch said.

“It’s been my mission for most of my adult life to ensure that this organization exists for another 50 years beyond me,” Lynch said. “So here we are in our 50th year, and it really puts things into perspective. We want to keep doing what we’re doing and bring joy and education to people for the next century.”