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The Memory Machine

By News

Originally printed in the Winter 2012 issue of our newsletter, Short Lines. Become a member here to receive these and other stories.

By Kelly Lynch, Communications Director

As the 765 moved by night, by day, at reduced speed due to heat or at track speed on the highball, it stopped every town in its tracks. The slower summer speeds were hell on engine crew, but a blessing for the people who were given the extra moment to ponder the unusual sound in the distance, stare through their kitchen windows, leave their front doors, and exit offices and storefronts to take in the sight of our machine.

No amount of strategically planned press releases or news reports could have bought us the constant, magnetized presence of the thousands of people who accompanied us out west and on the return home. It’s a good thing it was summer, because school attendance would have been curiously low for those whistle stop cities we passed through.

I lost count of the streets called “Railroad” as we passed through the dozens of line-side towns, where there were no two smiles alike in the crowds armed with cell phones and cameras and brandishing their pearly whites and waves. We were to blame for productivity losses all over the midwest, especially within those factories and small businesses whose back doors would find themselves open as employees wandered out to enjoy the show.

On every trip I find myself envying those people who are perhaps seeing the 765 for the first time. What’s that like, I wonder, to know nothing of this Tyrannosaurs Rex that’s now marching down Main Street and to be so in awe of the thing you’re damn near scared of it. What’s it like, anyway? And I always find myself wishing people could get a longer look or that we had an infinite number of leaflets to drop, so they could know everything there was to know about why we were there.

One woman, describing her adventure in finding us on the trip home wrote, “It’s like tracking down Santa Claus.” Another person wrote, “I bet you guys were the most photographed thing in the country.”

At a brief stop for the Canadian Pacific in Gilman, we had pizza delivered to the train. Before departure in Peoria, a friend of ours at RailAmerica bought us enough breakfast burritos to last us until Kansas City.

At servicing stops, hard grease and oiling were completed like it was an art. By the end of the whole ordeal using the alemite gun, normally a handful in the heat and grease, was like unholstering a feather pen.

The total crew on the train numbered six, with one trick resting, one operating, and one taking in the show. The passenger train, outfitted by its incredible owners MidAmerica Railcar Leasing, had everything from air conditioning to showers, and on the trip home, even a bunk car.

More than once on that trip you could enjoy a shower, a shave, and a meal behind a Nickel Plate Road steam engine. A fellow crew member joining us for the return trip back couldn’t believe he was falling asleep to a steam locomotive a few cars ahead of him. Neither could I.

Profound memories of the “I can die happy now” kind happened out of nowhere, like waving to my dad, the man who got me into this mess to begin with, from the fireman’s seat as we roared by him or the long night run that began with my girlfriend executing a one-in-a-million toss of a Coca-Cola can into my hand as I reached out of the cab at speed in a completely unplanned marriage of love and choreography.

I didn’t think they made memories like these anymore.

There is little need to mention the long days, extreme temperatures, missed income, sore limbs, sunburn, erratic sleep schedules, or questionable hotel lodging while on the road. Sometimes that whistle does grate and the concern about lifting safeties or maintaining water can get your skin leaking, but this is the memory machine and complaints don’t very well amount to much in comparison.

Aboard the tool car on the 765’s day long, lightning fast trip to Bureau, Illinois and back in July, there wasn’t room to stand in the vestibules, but we crowded them anyway.

The constant, shotgun conversation from the locomotive running the fastest it had since 1993 was throwing people into trances. Instead of saying “I think I can,” it was proclaiming  “Of course I can.” Something funny happens to our volunteers when they exchange looks on these trips; they all know exactly what the other is thinking without saying a word.

Every one of our volunteers, with their ears and eyes glued to the countryside, was responsible for the sight and sound up ahead, the very same fury that transfixed us all.

With every throttle notch and stoker adjustment, it was like we were all seeing her again for the first time.

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.