Santa Train sells out as event makes new tracks

By | Headwaters Junction, News

FORT WAYNE, INDIANA. – For the third year in a row, the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society’s Santa Trains have sold out in under 24 hours. The popular event, which offers a 20-minute train ride with Santa Claus, has been expanded in 2016 to include extra days and has turned the society’s restoration facility into Santa’s Workshop.

“Each year the popularity of this event increases and our facility has been upgraded to not only accommodate more operating days but to improve the experience for visitors,” said Bill Otter, president of the FWRHS. “The reception has been exactly what we hoped for. We wanted people to say ‘wow’ when they walked in the door.”

Home of restored Nickel Plate Road steam locomotive no. 765, the society’s facility on Edgerton Road received a concrete floor in early 2016 and equipment on display has been outfitted with Christmas lights, fog machines, music and sound effects for the occasion. While all trips for December are sold out, visitors are welcome during operating hours on December 10th, 11th, 17th and 18th.

Visitors are able to explore the 765, take their photo with the famous engine, visit a children’s activity area and watch model trains on display before climbing aboard Santa’s caboose. The trips are operated by one of the organization’s vintage diesel locomotives.

“Since we began this event over 15 years ago, visitors would often have to wait for 2 hours or more which was unacceptable. With the improvements we’ve made over the years, the experience has become an annual tradition for so many families,” explained Kelly Lynch, Vice President.

Following on the heels of the organization’s record-setting attendance at its Open House in August, the Santa Train will host nearly 5,000 visitors throughout December.

The Santa Train is one of several operations included as part of Headwaters Junction, an attraction that will comprise Phase 1b of downtown riverfront development. The project will include a railyard park, roundhouse and tourist railroad enabling greater capacity for similar events, regularly historic railroad attractions and programming and events throughout the year.

Recent studies underwritten by Steel Dynamics, the Fort Wayne Community Foundation, the Schust Foundation and the railroad historical society have shown that Headwaters Junction could draw over 140,000 visitors to downtown and contribute $60 million in economic impact and that expanded facility could easily bring 20,000 people downtown during the holiday season. 20,000 more visitors were added to the initial projections after a connection to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo was included as part of the project’s initial phases.

Renderings can be viewed online at headwatersjunction.com. Additional news regarding leadership, grants and equipment acquisitions for the project will be forthcoming in 2017.

The 2017 excursion season for the 765 will be announced in the spring.


The 765 decked out in Christmas decor.

Journal Gazette: Headwaters Junction is “iconic, family friendly”

By | Headwaters Junction, News, Press Coverage

Following the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society’s busiest Open House in history, The Journal Gazette published a powerful endorsement of Headwaters Junction:
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Headwaters Junction offers downtown identity

Plenty of good ideas have surfaced as residents have brainstormed over Legacy Fund spending or offered suggestions for Regional Cities projects. But many of the ideas borrow from other communities – a water park or a San Antonio-style river walk, for example. But something unique – something intriguing – was missing.

Until now. The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society’s proposal for a new riverfront destination, Headwaters Junction, might be just the project to ramp up strong revitalization efforts already in the works and also become the kind of attraction visitors will point to with envy when they return to their own communities.

The railroad enthusiasts released concept drawings by Design Collaborative last week. They show a vintage-style roundhouse between Harrison and Wells streets, just north of the proposed riverfront park on the north side of the St. Marys River. A rail yard park and train turntable would service an excursion railroad line to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. The roundhouse also would feature a 1940s-inspired restaurant and observation deck overlooking the rail yard and downtown Fort Wayne.

The historical society has programming ideas: regular excursions (Think “Thomas the Tank Engine”), holiday events (Think “Polar Express”), railroad camp, interactive displays, revolving exhibits and more.

A preliminary study suggests Headwaters Junction could draw more than 120,000 visitors each year. Imagine the potential of marketing the city for conferences and regional travel if Visit Fort Wayne had a one-of-a-kind attraction to promote, particularly one linking downtown to the zoo – Fort Wayne’s primary visitor draw.

Bold ideas often come with big price tags, of course. The project cost is estimated at as much as $18 million – a daunting fundraising task for a nonprofit organization and one that must be considered in the context of other efforts already under way.

But Headwaters Junction can make a strong case for support. The Railroad Historical Society’s excursions on historic steam locomotive 765 sell out quickly, and the very sight and sound of the locomotive draws crowds from afar. Trains have broad appeal.

In Headwaters Junction, northeast Indiana might finally have an attraction as iconic as San Antonio’s River Walk and as family friendly as a water park. Best of all, it could have an attraction unique to the region and true to northeast Indiana’s rich history.


Railroad attraction moves forward, society rechristens locomotive to honor city history

By | Events, Headwaters Junction, News

NEW HAVEN, INDIANA – The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society (FWRHS) made several important announcements today, revealing a major cosmetic change to historic steam locomotive no. 765 and releasing new renderings and information on its riverfront attraction project, Headwaters Junction.

“The 765 was preserved by the City of Fort Wayne to recognize how a successful railroad elevation project in the 1950s inspired a half-century’s worth of progress. Today the engine has become an international attraction and can be the centerpiece in a new era of development,” explained Kelly Lynch, Vice President.

With its planned annual programming and events  and the popularity of railroad attractions like no. 765, the project was endorsed by Legacy Fort Wayne in 2012 and recommended by SWA Group as a catalyst for the riverfront development in 2014.

Local developer Don Steininger and the railroad society have created an advisory board of community leaders and a separate non-profit organization to pursue the project. Earlier in 2016, a preliminary study demonstrated that as a stand-alone attraction, it could easily draw 120,000 additional visitors to downtown.

“Our board is excited at the possibilities that Headwaters Junction represents for future riverfront development. We are aggressively pursuing ways to make this a reality, ” said Steininger.

Newly released renderings by Design Collaborative illustrate a mixed-use interpretive facility with event space, a 1940s-inspired restaurant, Cass Street station, rail yard park, turntable and a tourist railroad line connecting the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo to downtown. The roundhouse would be located between Harrison and Wells Street.

Planned events and programming at Headwaters Junction include regular and special holiday tourist train rides, a Rail Camp for children and young adults combined with other educational programming, visits from Thomas the Tank Engine and the Polar Express, interactive displays, exhibits and visiting historic equipment and much more throughout the year.

“Right now we’ll 4,500 people in sixteen hours during our events in December, to say nothing of the thousands more that the 765 draws when it operates. We could multiply our attendance numbers by being able to host regular events, train rides and programs right along the heart of downtown,” said Lynch.


The project has been organized into three phases:
• construct a 15-24-inch gauge railroad to the zoo ($3-5 million)
• acquire land and right-of-way, construct railroad, install turntable ($3-4 million)
• construct roundhouse and interpretive facility ($8-9 million)

Headwaters Junction’s advisory board is currently preparing grant requests and additional study work for this fall. Plans, rendering and additional information can be accessed online at headwatersjunction.com.

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On Friday, the railroad historical society also announced a major cosmetic change to the 765. In a move to honor its unique history and the reason for its preservation, the 1944-built locomotive will be temporarily renumbered “767” – the same number it wore while on display in Lawton Park from 1963 to 1974. “767” was chosen to reflect the locomotive originally used to open the railroad elevation at the conclusion of the Elevate the Nickel Plate Campaign. Prior to donation, the Nickel Plate Road discretely changed the number on the engine because the original 767 had fallen into significant disrepair.

The renumbering, which is planned to remain for the rest of 2016, compliments other alterations made to reflect the locomotive’s appearance before it was retired in 1958. Most noticeable is the addition of an extra headlight known as a Mars Light. Developed by the Mars Signal Light Company, the Nickel Plate Road added these to many locomotive in 1951 as a way to warn motorists and pedestrians of the oncoming train.

In 2013, the FWRHS was aided by a former Nickel Plate electrician from Frankfort, Indiana to repair the Mars Light, which had been removed in 1975 and used only sparingly since. Many railroad fans and historians recall the distinctive look of the Mars Light and have requested its reappearance for years.

For more information on the 767, we’ve posted the engine’s colorful history here.

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The 765/767 will operate passenger excursion trains through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in September. In December, the railroad historical society will host its annual Santa Train events. Ticket sales begin in November.

For more more information, visit fortwaynerailroad.org. You can volunteer or become a member here or donate to support the organization here.

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