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Historic 765 has money-making power

By Headwaters Junction, News, Press Coverage

The Journal Gazette’s columnist Frank Gray writes in this September 7th piece:

“I wondered, though, how did ticket sales go for the October trips for the city? Usually, tickets for the train’s excursions sell out in a couple of days.

Well, in Fort Wayne, tickets went on sale Sunday and sold out in an hour and a half.

Four hundred people are on a waiting list if more cars are added to the train. Passengers include people from as far away as Florida, Texas and New Jersey. Right now, there’s some talk of running excursions to Chicago and other cities next year.

One inconvenient aspect, though, is that there is no suitable boarding spot in Fort Wayne. For the October excursions, for example, passengers will have to board at the Do it Best headquarters between Fort Wayne and New Haven.

There is a push to establish a home for the train near downtown Fort Wayne, possibly using some of the Legacy money. The train would have access to all possible routes.

The train, after all, is permitted to use all 22,000 miles of Norfolk-Southern track.

The problem is that creating a new base for the train would be expensive, upward of $15 million.

Fort Wayne is always looking for new ideas that will draw people into the city and get them to stay in the hotels and eat in the restaurants and see the sights.

This train is unique, and it’s proved its ability to draw crowds.

“We have an amazing zoo,” Lynch said. The train, he said, is like having the last tyrannosaurus rex and no zoo to put it in.

Young volunteers adopt steam locomotive

By News, Projects, video

The railroad historical society’s youngest volunteers have chosen one of the oldest steam locomotives in the state as their project. Troy Kleman, Bryson Sleppy, and Jerett Godeke talk us through the early stages of cosmetic repair on one of two remaining Wabash Railroad steam locomotives in the world.

Formerly Wabash no. 534 and later Lake Erie & Fort Wayne no. 1, the switch engine spent much of its life in Fort Wayne working the yards and steel mills near Fairfield and Taylor Streets before being put on display in nearby Sweeney Park in 1957. It was donated to the railroad historical society in 1984 and is in the early stages of restoration assessment.

Cosmetic work like wire brushing and needle scaling rust away will aid the volunteers in determining the type of work the locomotive will need. Projects like this enable younger volunteers to take ownership of a project and gain experience in working around railroad equipment.

Follow the Flag: An Update on Project 534

By Projects

A young mother and her son sit at a Taylor Street railroad crossing, a little upset about having to wait at the crossing. The boy however, is enjoying the delay from the trip to the dentist’s office. Suddenly, both mother and son are interrupted by a familiar sound. Out of the mill comes a little, barking steam locomotive, heavy train in tow. The boy can hardly contain his excitement at the site of the little steam engine. As the train passes, the smiling engineer gives the family a wave and a short greeting from the whistle.

The year is 1957, and steam across the nation is a rarity, save for a few railroads like the Nickel Plate and the Norfolk & Western Railway. A few smaller companies also maintain steam because they are unable to afford the new diesel locomotives. The little steam locomotive in Fort Wayne on Taylor Street is one of those small lines still operating steam in regular service in 1957. However, that was not to last. 1957 would be the last year the little 0-6-0 switcher would see steam.

Fast-forward to present day, 2013, New Haven, Indiana and the little engine finds itself the last of her kind, but safe from the torch. Wabash B7 class 0-6-0 switcher no. 534 is currently undergoing stabilization and restoration assessment by some of the youngest members of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society.

So far progress has been slow but productive. If you were to compare a photo from 2009 and 2013, you will find the engine looking much cleaner and a bit shinny in some places. Much of the firebox has been painted as well as the fireman’s side of the boiler. Between June and November much has been done on the engine. The first three weeks were dedicated to cleaning the engine and becoming familiar with the project. The smoke-box was full of rusty crumbs from the smoke-box door’s insulation. Rodents and other pests had to be evicted from the engine in order for the crew to proceed with the restoration.

Once 534 had been cleaned up a bit to allow some painting to begin, paint found its way onto the rusting metal at a fairly quick pace. The results of our efforts made itself clear when the rain began falling mid season. Instead of soaking into the metal, the water simply slid off the sides of the boiler and back down onto the ground, or found its way back onto still unpainted areas of the boiler.

When the weather did not permit painting, the crew managed to find small things to do around the locomotive. The rods and other moving joints were cleaned and oiled, parts inventoried, and the frame inspected. These brief respites from painting provided plenty of educational experiences for the crew. Each inspection revealed a new area of 534 needing attention.

One of the biggest issues found during the many inspections was the damage caused by some unfortunate crane handling at some point in the engine’s history. Nearly every leaf spring has a crack in them, and some are broken entirely. One of the rods on the engineer’s side of the engine is bent upward. The running board is rusted clear through in some areas; it’s a wonder that you can still walk on it! One day, while oiling around, I got to further inspect 0-6-0 #534. Quite a lot of interesting mechanical details! Each part tells its own story in the overall story on the life of Wabash #534, “Nancy”.

At some point in time Nancy’s frame had cracked, either from a collision or a lot of stress, and was repaired. This affected other areas of the locomotive, and you can see a lot of scrapes, dents, and little markings from shop employees long since passed. Mother Nature has also left her mark on Nancy. Years of exposure to rain and snow mixed with the acidic ash, which had not been cleaned from the ash pan, caused erosion of the ash pan itself and ate away at some of the pipes. The weather has also seized hundreds of nuts and bolts, which will require a lot of work to repair, and some will likely have to be torched and replaced. Much of the brake rigging is still in place and seems to have the ability to work with a bit of cleaning and restoration of the braking system. As for the Valve gear, some of the oiling points are missing their caps and I hope the oil poured into them will seep its way through the valve gear to keep it from seizing.

All in all it is very cool to have the ability to get up close and personal with the B7 #534! Hopefully we can give her a serious clean up and return her to museum quality!!  The good news is that every one of the problems that have shown up is all repairable or replaceable. This is why we began the restoration.

Wabash no. 534’s restoration is meant to serve as an educational locomotive for the younger members of the society not yet aged enough to legally work on Nickel Plate Road no. 765. The young crew can learn about locomotive maintenance by getting up close and personal with the engine. Parts must be cleaned and inventoried, blueprints must be properly read for proper replacement parts, and safety is practiced on a regular basis.

The most interesting fact about “Nancy” is that she was the very last Wabash steam locomotive to see steam, having dropped her fire the very day the engine was donated to the city of Fort Wayne, Indiana! Wabash 2-6-0 no. 573, the second and oldest surviving Wabash steam locomotive, retired around 1956, a full year before 534. Both locomotives survived the scrapper’s torch through second hand use, with 573 running on a branch that could not support the weight of the new diesel locomotives; and 534 survived through the sale to Wabash’s subsidiary Lake Erie & Fort Wayne railroad. Interesting enough, 534 was sold to the LE&FtW for $1,500, in 1954!

If you would like to help, feel free to stop by the shop and lend a hand! There are stories you will learn that will make the little switcher take on a personality of her own, and leave you hungry for more! Every stroke of the brush, or turn of the wrench, will leave your story with the engine and future generations of the crew and the public. It is not hard to be drawn into 534’s story!


“A Legacy for Steam Power”

By Headwaters Junction, News, Press Coverage, Projects



No. 765 is a rolling Hollywood production, creating, as Walt Disney called it, “a happening” in every town it travels through. This is no ordinary history lesson. It’s an icon of Midwest industry and innovation. It is Fort Wayne incarnate.

Few cities can claim they have their own train, let alone one with a proven, 30-year following. No. 765 experienced 50,000 visitors from all 50 states and five countries in 16 days alone in 2011. The engine traveled more than 3,000 miles in 2012, where up to 3,000 people daily enjoyed the sights and sounds of our rocket ship on wheels.

But how can the success of this people-magnet help Fort Wayne?

Enter Headwaters Junction, an idea that has been endorsed and supported by a number of neighborhood and civic organizations for several years, thanks in no small part to the power of the train.

Recognized by the Legacy Fort Wayne initiative as a plan with “community support and catalytic potential,” Headwaters Junction is an effort to make mixed-use development along our riverfront unique, entertaining, educational and vibrant with the train.


Saturday’s News Sentinel features an editorial highlighting Headwaters Junction. Click here to read it.

Legacy Fort Wayne Calls Railroad, Riverfront Idea “Bold, Transformative”

By Headwaters Junction, News, Press Coverage, Projects, video

FORT WAYNE, INDIANA – Legacy Fort Wayne, a program of community investment started by Mayor Tom Henry, released its official recommendation for the initial use of up to $20 million in Legacy funds, naming the Headwaters Junction proposal as “big, bold, and transformative” and an idea that “should not be overlooked when developing a vision for our riverfront.” Community officials submitted their recommendations to city council, which approved funding for a riverfront wide feasibility study in December.

Headwaters Junction is a mixed use gateway and downtown attraction concept combining river, rail, and trail development on what is known locally as the North River property and the surrounding areas. Key to the enterprise is city steam locomotive no. 765, at one time a city monument on display in Lawton Park that was restored to operation in 1979 after being preserved by the City of Fort Wayne in 1963.

Headwaters Junction proposes including the train, which experiences anywhere from 900-3,000 people a day when it operates, as part of an attraction with annual programming and events that include dinner and tourist trains operating between area attractions and on regional excursions. In addition, the proposal suggests construction of a multi-use interpretive center that includes park and green space, mixed use components, and a for-profit short line railroad that serves area businesses. The Junction would provide the the anchor to commercial, educational, and recreational actives near downtown, tying into river and trail development, and create the “vibrant, regional attraction” recommended by 2007’s North River Now and 2005’s BluePrint Plus community plans.

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Plan would give steam locomotive home downtown

By Headwaters Junction, News, Press Coverage

As reported in the Journal Gazette:

Headwaters Junction, [is] an educational and entertainment venue that would provide a link to local attractions like the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, isn’t new. It was first proposed the idea more than two years ago, before the historic Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad freight depot on Clinton Street was demolished, but hasn’t been able to gather enough monetary support for the plan.

What’s changed is the opportunity for funding through the Legacy Fund, money the city made on the lease and sale of its old electric utility City Power & Light.

About $47 million will be immediately available while an additional $28 million will trickle in over the next 12 years.

The proposal carries a price tag of about $20.5 million, based on estimates from other cities that have tackled similar endeavors. He said if completed in its entirety as it’s proposed, Headwaters Junction would require funding from various sources, but the Legacy Fund provided the vehicle for the idea to take off.

A nod from the task force determining how the funds should be spent could provide a boost to the plan in convincing the mayor, his administration and the community that Headwaters Junction is a viable option for the north river property near the St. Marys River just north of downtown.

Headwaters Junction is mentioned in the Legacy Task Force’s riverfront development master plan and implementation, one of four spending categories for the fund. Nine projects were proposed and approved by City Council last month, including a feasibility study to examine riverfront development.

Task force members wrote that incorporating Headwaters Junction into a mixed-use development “should not be overlooked. The consulting firm (performing a feasibility study) should give Headwaters Junction its due diligence when developing a vision for our riverfront and North River.”

John Urbahns, community development director, said the team determined that the plan for Headwaters Junction provided a unique opportunity and should be given more consideration. The $500,000 riverfront study will investigate the best use for property around the city’s rivers, including the north river property.

At the heart of the plan is to return Berkshire steam locomotive No. 765 to downtown Fort Wayne where it had been on display as a monument to the 1955 Elevate the Nickel Plate project that opened a two-track overpass above city streets. Because of deterioration to the steam locomotive, the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society removed the locomotive in 1974 and has since restored it.