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Historic railroad dining car enters service in Indiana

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ANGOLA, INDIANA – After a year-long renovation, the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society (FWRHS) is once again welcoming passengers aboard the Silver Diner, a historic railroad dining car. Originally part of the famous California Zephyr fleet which operated between Chicago, Denver, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco, the Silver Diner is the first such dining car to be owned by the organization and it is making its debut as part of the Indiana Rail Experience this year.

“Railroad dining cars have been celebrated gathering spaces on passenger trains for 100 years, and railroads often competed based on their dining car service,” explained Wayne York, founding member of the FWRHS. “For the first time in several decades, we’re steadily building a first-class passenger train to operate behind our historic steam locomotive. We’re grateful that Amtrak chose to donate this car to us where it will continue to bring delight to thousands of riders.”

Work to recondition the car included extensive cleaning, HVAC repairs, cosmetic work, new window gaskets, and curtains, among a host of other items. The Silver Diner can host up to 40 passengers and includes a kitchen and buffet counter space, and provides on-board refrigeration and catering space for excursions and events.

Built in 1948, the Silver Diner was operated for nearly 70 years by both the Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad and later Amtrak, which updated the car in the early 2000s. The car served as part of Amtrak’s Heritage Fleet until it was retired in 2017 and later donated to the FWRHS in 2019. It is one of four surviving cars from the Zephyr’s dining car fleet and volunteers contributed over 3,000 volunteer hours to its reconditioning. The renovation was directed by co-chairs Bill Otter, Rick Popp, and York, with additional assistance from AMC Rail and Current Mechanical.

The Silver Diner serves as a first-class lounge and dining car during excursions and events.

Indiana Rail Experience 2022 Events Announced

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ANGOLA, INDIANA – Starting next month, the Indiana Rail Experience will bring a number of distinct train rides, community events, and special occasions to families, railroad fans, and people of all ages in the region. 

Over four weeks between July and October, historic steam locomotive no. 765 and a vintage passenger train will operate throughout Northeast Indiana. Ticket sales begin at 6:00 PM on June 7th at indianarailexperience.org.

For group tickets and private charters for families or businesses, click here. For sponsorship inquiries, click here.

GET NOTIFIED WHEN TICKET SALES BEGIN

Indiana Ice Cream Train – July 8th, July 9th

Beat the heat, take a break from the lake, and enjoy complimentary ice cream on an hour-long train ride through the Indiana countryside. Our family-friendly passenger trains leave downtown Angola and depart four times daily. Tickets start at $15.00.

Indiana Wine & Spirit Train | July 8th, July 9th, September 23rd, September 30th

Revel in an exclusive 2.5-hour train ride aboard a first-class passenger train with the wine, whiskey, beer, cigars, hors d’oeuvres, and dessert of your choice. Guests will chase the magic hour into the evening and enjoy onboard entertainment during their trip. A selection of cigars will be available in our special open-air car. Guests may also charter an entire private car. Seats are reserved for passengers 21-years-of-age or older. Tickets start at $90.00.

Tri-State Scenic Steam Excursion | August 27th, August 28th, October 1st

This all-day, 100-mile train ride will treat railroad fans and passengers to a late summer trip from Edon, Ohio to Southeast Michigan for a three-hour layover in the historic downtown of Hillsdale. Upon arrival, guests can visit the local farmers’ market, and walking tours, and enjoy lunch on their own a variety of area restaurants. Deluxe Coach, Open Air, First Class, and Executive Class tickets are available. Select amenities include open window cars, open vestibules, onboard entertainment, and a photo runby. First Class and Executive Class tickets include complimentary appetizers and refreshments. Tickets start at $79.00.

Victory Flyer and the Angola American History Train | September 24th – 25th

Dress your vintage best and take a trip back in time to the 1940s aboard a steam-powered passenger train that departs Angola for a visit to a World War II troop camp, interact with re-enactors, and learn how the Greatest Generation and the railroads helped win the war. Before or after your trip, visit the Angola American History Days event near downtown Angola. Tickets start at $29.00. 

Nickel Plate Photo Charter | Join Our Waitlist

Nickel Plate Road steam locomotive no. 765 and historic EMD diesels will power freight and passenger cars over the Indiana Northeastern between South Milford, Indiana, Edon, Ohio, and Hillsdale, Michigan. Featuring a night photo session, period actors, and vintage vehicles, the weekend will treat photographers to dramatic scenes of railroading on former Wabash and New York Central Railroad territory. Tickets are available by invitation only. Click here to join our waitlist.

And more…

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

The 2022 season of the Indiana Rail Experience will feature vintage passenger cars from the 1920s through the 1950s, including accommodations in deluxe coach, first-class, lounge, and executive class cars. The event will also feature the debut of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society’s very own open-air car and dining/lounge car. 

The Indiana Rail Experience is a partnership between the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, Inc. and the Indiana Northeastern Railroad Company. Additional dates, times, and events may be added. Published times, dates, and details may be adjusted.

 

Collaboration Between Indiana Communities and Fort Wayne Railroad Saves Historic Artifacts

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FORT WAYNE, INDIANA – Thanks to a generous donor and the efforts of Noblesville, Indiana’s Parks and Recreation Department, and the City of Logansport, the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society has recovered over half a dozen pieces of vintage railroad equipment for preservation.

Throughout 2021 and into 2022, the Fort Wayne Railroad worked to identify and relocate surplus railroad equipment left at the former locations of the Indiana Transportation Museum in Noblesville and Logansport, respectively. Stored in deteriorating condition and a barrier to mediation efforts at each site, the Fort Wayne Railroad, volunteers, and contractors undertook a Herculean effort to dismantle several locomotives for shipping and prep remaining equipment for stabilization and transportation by truck. Additional assistance was provided by the Nickel Plate Express, US Rail Corporation, and Hoosier Heartland Trolley Company.

The saved equipment includes:

  • Two Milwaukee Road F Units, no. 72-A, and 96-C
  • One Milwaukee Road B-Unit no. 68-B
  • One Pennsylvania Railroad hopper car no. 257784
  • One Lake Erie & Western/Nickel Plate Road boxcar no. 18013
  • One Louisville & Nashville boxcar no. 12177
  • One Wabash Railroad boxcar

“We’re grateful that Noblesville and Logansport elected to partner with us to find new homes for these historic artifacts. It’s an unusual burden for a City to be faced with de-accessing railroad equipment of any size or age and an enormous challenge for a non-profit like ours to be able to intercede,” said Kelly Lynch, Vice President of the Fort Wayne Railroad. “Fortunately, a private donor stepped up to assist in saving these pieces of Indiana history. Everything relocated is destined for restoration and interpretation of some kind and will help tell the story of Hoosier railroading.”

Several mechanical components from the vintage locomotives have been made available to other rail preservation organizations, and at least one diesel locomotive is being considered for an interactive display. Plans call for a portion of the freight cars to be used in a variety of educational capacities as the Fort Wayne Railroad expands its programs and events, and continues work on establishing a regional railroad attraction in Northeast Indiana. Inquiries on locomotive parts can be made by clicking here.

The equipment is currently stored at a privately owned, rail-served facility where stabilization efforts will take place, along with:

  • Nickel Plate Road steam locomotive no. 624 and Milwaukee Road reefer no. 37076, saved for preservation and relocated in a partnership with the City of Hammond in 2017
  • Former Louisville & Nashville auxiliary water tender no. 40985 and originally the tender to Louisville & Nashville Berkshire no. 1989, and later preserved for use with Bessemer & Lake Erie steam locomotive no. 643 and relocated from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2019
  • Pennsylvania Railway Post Office Car no. 6523, purchased at auction from the Noblesville collection in 2018
  • Former Santa Fe baggage cars no. 1255 and 1257, acquired via a donation from Amtrak in 2019

Due to the active industrial nature of the storage site, the equipment is not currently available for public viewing or tours.

While this equipment is currently in storage, the Fort Wayne Railroad is hard at work to finish several important restoration projects, including our dining car Silver Diner, Nickel Plate Road diesel locomotive no. 358, or future open air car no. 3671. Click here to make a contribution.

For 50 years, the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society has dedicated itself to providing outstanding, hands-on educational and recreational experiences through the preservation, restoration, and operation of historic railroad equipment and artifacts significant to Northeast Indiana. An all-volunteer, award-winning non-profit organization, it has operated Nickel Plate Road steam locomotive no. 765 over 300,000 miles in public exhibition and passenger train excursion service and routinely welcomes passengers from all 50 states and half a dozen countries. In addition, Fort Wayne continues to restore and exhibit other historic steam and diesel locomotives, freight cars, and passenger cars from the Golden Age of Railroading. Its operations are funded entirely from memberships, donations, grants, and sponsorships. For several years, the Fort Wayne Railroad has worked to establish Headwaters Junction, a rail interpretive facility and regional destination, for its successful events and programs. For more information, visit headwatersjunction.org.

Railroad Society Announces 2021 Season

By Events, Excursions, Uncategorized

NEW HAVEN (July 15th) – The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society (FWRHS) has announced its 2021 slate of events and excursions, the return of historic steam locomotive No. 765 to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in Cleveland, Ohio, and the operation of the Autumn Colors Express in Huntington West Virginia.

“After hosting a successful but limited capacity event last October, we’re looking forward to the opportunity to educate and entertain the general public aboard our attractions once again,” said Joe Knapke, FWRHS President. “We’re grateful that our members, donors, and volunteers helped us weather 2020’s uncertainties.”

Nickel Plate Road locomotive no. 765 will be under steam at the Annual Open House in New Haven, Indiana in August, and operate over three weeks for Steam in the Valley at the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic on September 3rd, 10th-12th, 17th-19th. Tickets for Steam in the Valley go on sale July 20th at cvsr.com at 9 AM.

Exclusive Throttle Time tickets will permit railroad fans to operate the iconic steam engine on September 13th for a six-mile round trip. Throttle Time ticket sales begin July 21st at 12 PM for FWRHS members and 6 PM for the general public at fortwaynerailroad.org.

Society members will also be co-hosting the Autumn Colors Express from October 21st through 24th. These all-day first-class passenger trains will carry passengers through the heart of the New River Gorge National Park during peak fall color. Tickets for these diesel-powered excursions are available now at autumncolorexpresswv.com.

The Society’s annual events in New Haven include the Railroad Open House and train rides on August 20th – 22nd and the Pumpkin Train on October 9th and 10th. This year, the 19th Annual Santa Train will return one week earlier on November 27th and operate the next three weekends in December, giving passengers more opportunities to take a train ride with Santa Claus. Ticket sales begin November 3rd.

The FWRHS is also teaming up with the Mad River & NKP Museum in Bellevue, Ohio for Berkshires in Bellevue –  two weekends of events between September 24th and October 3rd. Bellevue and Fort Wayne were once major terminals for the Nickel Plate Road, and the 765 will operate train rides and special events at the museum to honor the community’s heritage as a railroad town.

CLICK HERE TO BE NOTIFIED WHEN TICKETS GO ON SALE

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Earlier this year, Society volunteers completed an extensive restoration of a century-old Wabash Railroad caboose, which will expand capacity for the organization’s popular train rides and offerings. In addition to the caboose, volunteers are in the final stage in the restoration of vintage Nickel Plate Road diesel locomotive no. 358. The classic diesel locomotive will be used on regional tourist railroads and in tandem exhibition and excursion with the 765.

Volunteers also continue to make meaningful progress on the rebuild of a one-of-a-kind Lake Erie & Western freight car, with a fundraising goal of $3,500 to complete the project. Donations can be made online at fortwaynerailroad.org/donate.

Steam Right On – An Inspiring Steam Revival

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In May of 1958, the steam locomotive had less than 60 days of life left on the New York, Chicago, and St. Louis Railroad.

In Conneaut, Ohio, the slow march toward obsolescence wore on inside the railroad’s shop near South Jackon Street. Sometime that month, it would complete the last overhaul of one of its storied Berkshire-type steam locomotives – an engine numbered 759.

Despite the railroad’s re-investment in the locomotive, its “superpowered” ability to hustle and bustle commerce across the Midwest, and the belief that steam could still play a limited role were it not for an economic recession, the engine would never turn another wheel for the what was more commonly known as the Nickel Plate Road.

A few weeks later in June, the outdated technology that had steadily guided the company for over 70 years would cease. The flame would extinguish entirely that winter when a stored steam engine numbered 765 was fired up for a stranded passenger train in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and as a few yard engines loped around Bellevue, Ohio to fill-in amidst their diesel-powered replacements.

In the late 1950s and early 60s, a variety of retired engines had been plucked from the scrap line, destined to become city monuments or encounter other fates – Nickel Plate Mikado-types went to Hammond and Indianapolis, Indiana, and Bloomington, Illinois; one Hudson went to St. Louis and two others to a private owner; but the Berkshires, still listed as “stored serviceable” on the company roster, languished around the system. In 1962, F. Nelson Blount purchased the 759 for his collection at Steamtown USA, a swelling museum collection of itinerant steam locomotives located in New Hampshire, and later relocated to Bellows Falls, Vermont.

NKP 2-8-4 759

Not long after, a collection of steam history enthusiasts which comprised the High Iron Company had sprung up operating steam excursions in the East. “HiCo” was determined to celebrate the centennial of the Transcontinental Railroad a short time away in 1969. They knew that pulling a massive, barnstorming, cross-country steam excursion required a superpower. They needed the 759.

The engine was leased from Steamtown, only to find itself relocated back to Conneaut. There, the Nickel Plate’s successor Norfolk & Western permitted the engine back to where it had originally left in like-new condition only ten years earlier. In just a few months, the engine was tuned up and repaired by a menagerie of teenagers, investors, former Nickel Platers, and dozens of others. By August of 1968, the 759 was alive again.

For several years, the 759 romped around the general railroad system, racking up thousands of miles between New Jersey, Kansas City, Roanoke, Horsehoe Curve, Cumberland, Jim Thorpe, and beyond, operating specials, charters, and excursions with paying passengers and diehards in attendance by the thousands.

With its signature gravelly whistle spreading its melody over different time zones, it pulled most of the eastern leg of the 1969 Golden Spike Centennial Limited and the last Norfolk & Western passenger train before Amtrak took over in 1971.

The 759 handily showcasing superpower at Horseshoe Curve during its brief, new life.

The 759 tapped into a cultural zeitgeist in more ways than one. Amid the Golden Spike trips and elsewhere, the engine traveled through a handful of towns in Indiana and Ohio, where it proved to an unorganized group of young railroad fans that a mainline, superpowered steam locomotive like no. 759 could actually be restored. It could actually be done.

In Fort Wayne that group would soon convalesce around a monument in a city park that bore a special resemblance to the 759.

Shortly after the 759 had been selected for Steamtown, five other Berkshires found their own paths to preservation. As the 759 arrived in New Hampshire, the Nickel Plate Road readied sister engine no. 765 for display in Fort Wayne’s Lawton Park in 1964. The 765 had been the last Berkshire under steam for the railroad, whereas the 759 had been the last one overhauled. The two engines had unwittingly become 400-ton bookends in the library of steam locomotive history.

Enchanted by the smell of coal smoke and the success of The High Iron Company, the merry band of advocates formed the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society in 1972 with the intention to preserve, restore and operate the 765. Before the 765 would ever turn a wheel under its own power again in 1979, the 759’s brief career was over, but the engine’s inspiration and members of its very crew would carry the Fort Wayne organization toward realizing their dream. To help, the Society acquired a 16mm print of Steam Right On, a lovingly crafted, 18-minute documentary showcasing the 759’s own revival.

Filmed by Michael Autorino, narrated by Alan Frank, and produced by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the film’s soundtrack interchanges the imagined “voice” of the 759 with commentary from its crew members, all set against a plucky, folksy guitar track, professional, vivid cinematography, with excited, montage-style editing. It feels a little dated, but in a way that is charmingly so. “Come to think of it, who’s more suited to whistle-stop campaigning than I am?” asks the narrator.

While we see plenty of the 759’s crew at work, the filmmaker makes a distinctive creative choice to never use traditionally shot interviews or “talking heads.” We hear only the “voice” of the 759 and the evocative remarks from her laborers. The variety of footage is also striking – with glimpses of Ridgeley, West Virginia coming out to welcome the 759 on the Western Maryland Railroad and coverage of the 759’s long climb up the Middle Division of Penn Central over Horseshoe Curve.

A custom cut of the film was created by the Society for use in fundraising for the 765. At the tail end of the reel, footage of the 765’s crew is spliced in, showing them hard at work wrangling the 765 back to life in a section entitled “PROJECT 765.”

The footage plays out silently, meant to be narrated in-person by its presenters, wherever the 765’s crew was giving a much-needed pitch. While the High Iron Company had been funded by investors like Ross Rowland, the Fort Wayne group had settled their efforts in a modest field, without a shop facility like Calumet, and with only a grassroots donation campaign underway.

By 1979, the 765 was successfully restored, but the 759’s time had passed. When the Society shared Steam Right On, no one knew that the passing of the torch had already occurred. Suffering several mechanical issues, it was returned to Bellows Falls where it rested until it was relocated into the reorganized Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1984. For twenty years, the 765 would nonetheless follow its example, operating for Norfolk & Western’s successor Norfolk Southern, crossing the Mississippi River, gliding through the New River Gorge, climbing Horsehoe Curve, and marching into downtown Chicago in passenger excursion and public exhibition service, delighting millions of people from around the world.

In 2015, the 765 was welcomed to Steamtown for a series of special events – and for the first time since the late 1950s, two Nickel Plate Berkshires sat side-by-side in a roundhouse together. In steam preservation, where so many pieces of equipment were once scattered to the wind, the idea that two large mainline locomotives of the same class, same railroad, same type, same-nearly-everything, would co-exist together is a rarity. The bookends had finally met.

Bookends.

The 759’s role as a teaching tool has extended far beyond Conneaut or Steamtown.

It taught a new generation that it could be done.

But why’d they do it?

We should let 759 answer:

“Why do they do it? What causes their admiration? Where did their love begin? Where does it come from, this fascination that men have for me? My kind? The enthusiasm and admiration transcend time. Whether in a big city or a small town, the people turn out. Some, perhaps, with nostalgic memories of their youth. Still others with a youthful curiosity to see me first hand, for the first time…Well, let’s just say that this country and we grew hand in hand. We made an impression on each other. And each was better for it.”

Restoration of historic Wabash caboose completed

By Uncategorized

The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, Inc (FWRHS) has completed an extensive rebuild of its historic, century-old Wabash Railroad caboose no. 2534 – one of only two wooden Wabash cabooses in existence.

Once on display in Fort Wayne’s Swinney Park in 1957, the caboose and Wabash steam locomotive no. 534 were part of a monument installed by the Tri-State Railroad Community Committee, a consortium of area railroad employees. In 1984, the display was relocated to the FWRHS in New Haven.

While the caboose was used occasionally in events and operations in New Haven, its condition had deteriorated after 60 years of exposure to the elements. In 2018, project manager David “DJ” DePanicis, a school director from the Youngstown, Ohio region, determined that his woodworking background would enable him to take on the project in a leadership role.

With donations from members and the general public, in addition to assistance from the Wabash Railroad Historical Society, DePanicis and a team of over a dozen regular volunteers steadily disassembled and rebuilt the caboose over three years and committed over 5,000 hours to the effort. 90% of the structure was replaced and over 1,000 pieces of new lumber were used in the effort, including several curved and arched beams that were hand-made for the interior roof.

“We have such a great variety of people at the Society. Whether you have carpentry skills, are just providing general labor, or have just a love of history, our projects are the kind that anyone can lend a hand in, regardless of skills,” remarked DePanicis. “Restoring a caboose is a lot like building a house with your best friends.”

Generally, cabooses were used by train crews on freight trains to supervise their train and shipments en-route. Due to the long hours involved in the trade, they were often outfitted with desks, tables, beds, stoves, washbasins, and water closet and customized by their employees. This particular caboose was outfitted with a coal-fired stove cast in a Fort Wayne foundry. The caboose contains a combination of original kerosene and new and donated electric lamps for nighttime illumination and a pair of original Wabash Railroad marker lights were also donated to the project.

Wabash caboose no. 2534 will continue to serve in an educational and entertainment capacity, hosting families aboard the organization’s popular Santa Train and other seasonal events. The caboose’s counterpart, steam locomotive no. 534, is currently undergoing preparation for a restoration of its own sometime in the future.