Skip to main content

1,600 Board the Santa Train

By News

By Patrick Svitek of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

NEW HAVEN – Momentarily sitting alone inside a vintage train Saturday morning, Santa Claus found himself in a rare position: fighting for children’s attention.

“They’re more concerned about the train than Santa,” he said as some parents pried their children away from the lookout compartment so they could quickly share their wish lists. “Santa’s just the icing on the cake. It’s really something.”

Although both attractions have been part of the name of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society’s Santa Train, this year’s run highlighted a renewed focus on Santa.

Because of the event’s growing popularity, the society added another caboose to the annual Christmas-themed train ride, said Tom Nitza, railroad historical society training manager.

More than 1,600 riders boarded the diesel, electric, switch-engine train through the end of Saturday – the third and last date for this year’s Santa Train program, according to a preliminary tally by Kelly Lynch, the society’s communications manager. That final count is nearly double the event’s three-day attendance when it first started about 13 years ago, Nitza added.

By noon Saturday, a line of nearly 50 ticket holders waiting for the next train stretched toward the back of the society’s restoration facility in New Haven, almost bumping into a closed-off work area.

Fort Wayne resident Henry Rivera had no qualms about the increasing wait after stepping off the Santa Train with his wife and children.

“First of all, (we did it) because he loves trains,” Rivera said, motioning toward his 3-year-old son. “And that’s the first thing we know that has trains close to home.”

Saturday marked the first Santa Train rides for Fort Wayne resident Dan Farrimond and his 2-year-old grandson, who he described as “in love with the trains.”

Farrimond said he was especially pleased with how affordable the entire experience was – $4 per rider – when compared with other city draws like the zoo or, during less chilly days, public swimming pools. He also hailed what he viewed as a dying breed of a Christmas attraction in the Midwest.

“Especially when looking online, there aren’t that many,” Farrimond said. “It’s a novelty. For them to have something like this in Fort Wayne, I’m very grateful.”

“It’s a lot different,” Santa said. “The train is fascinating. It’s something none of these kids have ever done.”

Read the entire article online here.

Steam Driven Giant a Blast from the Past

By News, Press Coverage

Weekend open house celebrates Engine No. 765 and Fort Wayne rail history
By Kevin Kilbane of The News-Sentinel

The thing is a beast.

Fifteen feet tall, more than 400 tons of steel, wheels nearly 6 feet in diameter, and belching smoke and hissing steam while capable of running more than 60 mph.

Nickel Plate Road steam locomotive Engine No. 765 is a monster, but one you can see up close during the Engine 765 Day Weekend Celebration open house 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday through Sunday at the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, 15808 Edgerton Road, east of New Haven.

“It’s just something out of a movie for a lot of people,” said Kelly Lynch, the rail society’s communications director.

Admission is free. Rides in a caboose pulled by a historic diesel locomotive are $4 per person.

A Rail Center

Engine No. 765 is an amazing connection to a rich era of Fort Wayne’s history, Lynch said.

“What this locomotive represents is what Fort Wayne did for over a century — we built locomotives, passenger cars and freight cars here,” Lynch said.
The rail society keeps it busy during the summer, again pulling excursion and sightseeing trips, he said.

On most of those trips, the engine hauls about 3,000 people a day, Lynch said. They carried a combined total of about 40,000 people during a several-day excursion outing this past July in Rock Island, Ill.

Hands-on Experience

At the Engine No. 765 Day Celebration, visitors will be able to climb up to see the cab where the engineeer and fireman sit to drive the engine, Lynch said. They also may get to blow the engine’s whistle and shovel coal.

“What we have is more of a restoration shop now than a museum,” Lynch said.

But they hope to increase opportunities for people to see and enjoy Engine No. 765 and the society’s other pieces of rail history.

“The key to making people care about this stuff is to operate it,” he said.

Read the entire article online here.

Glenn Brendel 1940-2011

By News

Glenn E. Brendel, Director Emeritus and founding member of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, died unexpectedly at his home in New Haven, Ind., on Tuesday, February 22nd. He was 71.

Growing up in a railroad family, Brendel’s affinity for the industry developed early on as a boy who would visit with tower operators and railroad employees of the Baltimore & Ohio and Wabash Railroad in his hometown of Spencerville, Ind., as well as with locomotive engine crews on the Nickel Plate Road in Fort Wayne.

Brendel was a photographer for the Air National Guard and in the early 1970s, he and other like-minded railroad preservationists approached the City of Fort Wayne with  a plan to save and possibly restore 1944-built Nickel Plate Road steam locomotive no. 765 which had been installed in Lawton Park as a monument to commemorate the city’s “Elevate the Nickel Plate” project.

In 1972, with Wayne York, Walter Sassmanshausen, and John Eichman, Brendel incorporated the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society. Brendel was president for the first three years.

After removing the locomotive from display in 1974, Brendel lead the all-volunteer, non-profit effort to restore the locomotive to operating condition. Brendel’s vision paid off in 1979, when no. 765 moved under its own power for the first time since 1958, making the society one of the first, all volunteer organizations to accomplish such a task.

Following the ambitious rebuild, no. 765 would become one of the country’s premiere attractions and roving ambassadors for the City of Fort Wayne. In 1982, Brendel negotiated the lease of the 765 to the Southern Railway for a lengthy excursion schedule, a watershed event for the society.

Between 1979 and 1993, the locomotive would serve over a quarter of a million passengers and operate over 52,000 miles in 16 states. During this time Brendel became one of the founding members of the Railroad Passenger Car Alliance, a trade association of historic passenger car owners and operators for equipment used in excursion service.

In 1993, worn from many years in public exhibition service, the 765’s future seemed unclear. Brendel lead the effort to rehabilitate the locomotive to “as-built” condition as project manager, securing a Transportation Enhancement grant to underwrite 80% of the rebuild. Five years and 15,000 volunteer hours later, the 765 returned to operation in 2005 and operated its first passenger trips in 16 years in 2009. The 765 is now one of five mainline steam locomotives in operation in the United States and the largest east of the Mississippi.

His singular vision, drive, and positive outlook on life have allowed two generations of men and women to not only experience the uncommon sights and sounds of history but to learn firsthand about a uniquely American era, filled with ingenuity and excitement. He maintained an encyclopedic knowledge of railroad practices, an incredible resource in the preservation industry. In his notes after the 765’s award-winning rebuild, he wrote: “The 765 project has been a long and arduous task. I am fortunate to have made many new acquaintances and friends in Society and around the country during the four-plus years of the restoration. It has been a wonderful experience.”

Brendel, who had served in a variety of capacities as director, locomotive crew, and member in his 38 years of service with the society, was honored with the title of Director Emeritus after stepping down as president in 2010.

His passion, knowledge, experience, and statesmanship will be greatly missed.

Society Receives Locomotive from Norfolk Southern

By News

The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society has received the incredible donation of vintage diesel locomotive no. 57. Constructed in 1957 for the Nickel Plate Road as no. 358, the SD9 type locomotive was built to replace the railroad’s venerable Nickel Plate Berkshire type steam locomotives, including the society’s own steam engine, no. 765.

In its 50 years of service, no. 57 survived a 1964 merger with Norfolk & Western, which later became Norfolk Southern in 1990. A powerful hauler capable of 1,750 horsepower, the unit was finally retired in 2007.

Initial plans call for the diesel to be returned to its original as-built Nickel Plate black and imitation gold paint scheme and number. The society hopes to eventually return the locomotive to operating condition and is conducting a mechanical inspection to determine the cost of its restoration, though a lot of significant work will be necessary.

Restoration to operation means potential tandem service between the 765 and 358/57 in excursion and public exhibition service and the society is accepting donations to cosmetically rehabilitate and mechanically rebuild the locomotive. No. 358/57 joins the ranks of additional Nickel Plate Road equipment owned and operated by the society, including the 765 and two historic cabooses.

This donation enables the society to visibly demonstrate the important transition from steam-era locomotive production and operation to the modern diesel era as it occurred in the mid to late 1950s.

The society extends its heartfelt thanks to Norfolk Southern for the opportunity to rehabilitate a vintage locomotive from its own corporate heritage and for their continued recognition and support of the society’s operation.

A Few Thousand Horsepower is Good for the Heart

By News

Originally printed in the Winter 2010 issue of our newsletter, Short Lines. Become a member here to receive these and other stories.

By Kelly Lynch, Communications Director

Opportunities for public outreach are the cornerstones of a steam preservation program and nowhere is that more pronounced than when the 765 is doing exactly as intended: bringing excitement, enlightenment, and wonder to the public.

While many of us are absorbed in our respective duties as locomotive crew, car hosts, or gift shop sales, it can be easy to forget that for many, a visceral, meaningful connection is made whenever the 765 turns a wheel.

As we work our way into a new century, it’s clear that the ability to inspire a connection in the public is strained by time and shifting demographics. This puts new emphasis on every personal encounter that passengers or supporters may have with the organization and the locomotive. Each experience is another opportunity to gain a new supporter, inspire a young fan, and cement the importance of our 400-ton time machine.

The 765’s role as an educational tool is clear, but we would be remiss to forget its power as a people-mover in the emotional sense.

Following TrainFestival, the crew of the 765 was reminded of this in a letter received from a cab rider who, in conjunction with his job to film part of the locomotive’s excursion to Alma, Michigan had with him the 12 year-old son of his client to take photographs of the ride. He sent us the following:

“Just wanted to again offer my profuse thanks for the cab ride in Owosso the other day. I cannot begin to tell you the profound impact that cab experience had on my client’s 12 year-old son. He’s a great kid and a really well-read railroad fan, but he’s intensely shy, has few friends and is going through a lot of those awkward stages that kids encounter as they enter seventh grade. His dad told me that the very prospect of getting a cab ride in a main line steam locomotive made him sleepless for almost two weeks prior to the trip, and I was slightly hesitant to say “yeah, we’ll get you in the cab” since I figured his age might be a problem.

So, when all was cleared to ride the 765 with you, he already appeared to have grown another foot. I sensed self-confidence I had never seen before.

Shortly before we climbed in the cab with you, Mason asked me if I thought the engineer would let him blow the “horn” – he has a slight speech impediment, seems acutely aware of it and says “horn” to avoid the embarrassment of using any word like whistle that makes his “w’s” sound like wubbleyou’s.

“That whistle’s a big deal to most engineers. Getting to blow the whistle, that’s something between you and the engineer,” I said, as if issuing a challenge for Mason to come out of his shell.

So, when we pulled into Alma, you might not have noticed, but he stammered twice before finally getting the nerve to ask you about “blowing the horn.” Your positive response to his request, and admonition to “do it the right way” sounded like something straight from a John Wayne movie, and I shot a few still photos for him to keep as souvenirs. I also noticed that his two-longs-a-short-and-a-long [the standard grade crossing signal] appeared well-rehearsed.

His dad and I noticed a huge difference in his demeanor for the rest of the day. When we arrived at our hotel Saturday night, he immediately phoned his mother and grandmother, quite emotionally, telling them that the ride was “the coolest thing” he’d ever done.

He also told both mom and grandmother that the men on the engine treated him like “one of the guys” – letting him ride in the pilot engineer’s seat, the brakeman’s seat behind the fireman, and in the gangway. Mason’s Dad and I eavesdropped, then left the room, and his Dad told me this was a “huge” deal to see and hear his son’s excitement.

I think it’s important for you, Steve and the other fellows in the cab to know that your simple acts of kindness to a 12 year-old appeared to me to be life-changing. He appeared to be charged with a new sense of self-confidence, and as we left the airport last night I told him that I expect to see an exceptional “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” essay in 7th grade English class this fall. His dad will keep me posted, I’m sure.

After TrainFestival, the 765’s last public trip was the October 3rd doubleheader with Pere Marquette no. 1225.

On this trip, cab ride raffle tickets were sold for both locomotives. SRI had chosen to hold the photo runbys just before the sun disappeared behind what had previously been a perpetually rainy and overcast sky.

A woman, Elaine, came aboard to enjoy the ride, was seated in the road foreman’s seat, and while she didn’t say much, took in the cooperation of the crew and the steam action with interest, commenting later that she never thought it would have taken so much work to operate a locomotive.

Unknown to the locomotive crew at the time, a special set of circumstances had played a role in hosting an additional cab rider.

During the trip, Bill Otter learned that Elaine, who was traveling with her husband, was seriously ill and had only a few months more to live. After learning of her interest to ride in the cab Directors Bill, Mike Guptail, Wayne York and Steve Winicker decided that there would be more than one cab-ride winner that day. (The additional winner was a railroad fan from England, no less!)

Before the runbys, crew member Andrew Enyart came aboard discretely requesting that the crew sign a 765 shirt. Once back on the SRI tool car, Andy had members of the 1225 crew sign the shirt as well.

When presented with the signed shirt, she and her husband rendered an emotional thank you and re-boarded the train to Alma.

Those of us on the engine didn’t know it at the time, but Elaine had chosen this trip with her husband above taking a larger vacation to other attractions like the Grand Canyon.

Regardless, guest engineer and RailAmerica Vice-President of Rules and Safety Preston Claytor and crew members Jeff Rayner and Mark St. Aubin treated Elaine like royalty.

A few hundred horsepower is good for the heart, and not just our own but others as well. We’ll remember Elaine and our young cab rider’s personal journeys with the 765 for many years.