NICKEL PLATE ROAD STEAM LOCOMOTIVE NO. 765

Historic steam locomotive no. 765 is a high-stepping, fourteen-wheeled, time machine that stands 15 feet tall, weighs 404 tons and can go over 70 miles an hour. It was one of famous class of steam locomotives called the Berkshire; one known for its “superpower” technology and aesthetic charm.

Once a fast-freight and passenger engine for the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad - more commonly known as the Nickel Plate Road - the 765 is now a celebrated icon of American innovation and goodwill ambassador.

Powered exclusively by volunteers as part of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society's educational programs, the locomotive has been restored to the way it looked and sounded when it was originally built by the Lima Locomotive Works in 1944. The 765 is remains one of only a handful of mainline steam engines that still operate in North America.

THE STORY OF THE 765

The railroads were the backbone of the United States. They won wars, built cities, and carried citizens from coast to coast. They touched nearly every aspect of American life.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th Centuries, railroad’s greatest icon was the steam locomotive. Built to be stronger, sleeker and faster, they were no match for more efficient, modern diesel-electric technology that took hold after World War II. With this in mind, it’s worth asking: Why are they important now? Why do they matter?

The steam locomotive was a precision machine forged from solid steel and crafted by the human hand. They lived and breathed, had voices and moods and hummed with an audible heartbeat. So often romanticized by railroaders, books, films and myth, these iron horses took hard, unwieldy work to corral and maintain.

For many, they were the most human of all our inventions.

STATS

Serial Number: 8673
Builder: Lima Locomotive Works
Type: Berkshire, S-2 Class
Wheel arrangement: 2-8-4
Height: 15ft, 8in
Weight: 404 tons
Length: 100ft
Horsepower: 4500
Boiler Pressure: 245lbs
Maximum Speed: 80MPH
Fuel: Bituminous coal, water

TIMELINE

Built: September 8th, 1944
Last Run: June 14th, 1958
Stored: 1958-1963
Displayed as “767”: 1963-1974
Restored: 1974-1963
Rebuilt: 2000-2006

OFFICIAL SOUVENIRS

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SUPERPOWER IN THE STEAM ERA

Named for the mountainous terrain in which it was proven, the 2-8-4 Berkshire-type locomotive, with two pony wheels, eight driving wheels, and four trailing wheels, became the first embodiment of the “Super-power” locomotive design that would change the course of locomotive development in the United States.

Designed by Lima Locomotive Works engineer William E. Woodard, the Berkshire was an expansion of the 2-8-2 Mikado-type locomotive design, which gained increased horsepower and heating surface with the inclusion of a larger firebox. That, in turn, necessitated the addition of a trailing truck and two wheels to support it.

During and after World War I, the Mikado became a temporary solution for the need for speed and pulling power as earlier steam locomotive designs proved effective at moving heavy freight tonnage, but their tractive effort suffered as a result of the cumbersome weight and wheel arrangement.

After experimentation with the firebox size on the Mikado design, Woodard designated that an entirely new wheel arrangement was necessary to support the increasing need for horsepower and enlarged firebox. Thus was born the 2-8-4 and the Super-power concept of “horsepower at speed” was incarnated.

The prototype, called the A-1, was broken in on the Boston & Albany Railroad’s Berkshire Hills, given extra tonnage and pitted against a Mikado for testing. The A-1 impressed the railroad so much that it ordered forty-five Berkshires for its own.

After decades of slow and cumbersome steam locomotive design, Lima's superpower technology became the new standard for speed and efficiency. The first Berkshire was the A-1, pictured above inside the Lima scale house.

Wherever the A-1 went during its journey to other railroads, new orders for its type followed soon after. Among the railroads to employ the new design were the Nickel Plate Road, Pere Marquette, New York Central, Erie Railroad, Illinois Central, Boston & Maine, Louisville & Nashville, and the Chesapeake and Ohio, which named the locomotives Kanawhas for the Kanawha River which bordered the lines of the C&O. While Lima pioneered and crafted the design, the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) also constructed several classes in successive bids to various railroads. The last steam locomotives built by Lima and ALCO were Berkshires.

The Nickel Plate Road was able to rout its underdog status and become an effective, high-speed freight line with the addition of 80 Berkshiresto its motive power ranks. Respected by engine crews and proficient at their tasks, the Berkshires outperformed even the newest diesel locomotives and could have been the last steam locomotives in use on a mainline railroad if it had not been for a recession in the 1950s that kept them at a standstill.

Given their immense numbers up until the end of steam power in the United States, several Berkshires would be preserved for future generations as others were sold for scrap.

"Where locomotives are born - the erecting shop is the heart of the Lima Plant. Here is where long life is built into the locomotive." - Lima Locomotive Works, approximately 1926
80 Berkshires raced within five states throughout Nickel Plate's 2,170 mile system. The earliest models - the S and S1 class - stand at the ready in Bellevue, Ohio in this early 1940 publicity image.
The 765 looks right at home in Bellevue, Ohio not long after leaving the Lima shops in 1944.

SOVEREIGN OF THE SUMMIT CITY

The plaque, mounted on the tender of 767/765, explaining the locomotive’s preservation in 1963 as a “monument to a great period of development in our country — the era of steam railroading.”

In the 1940s and 50s, the City of Fort Wayne, Indiana and the Nickel Plate Road sustained an interesting love-hate relationship.

The iron roadbeds of the Nickel Plate, New York Central, Wabash, and Pennsylvania railroads surrounded Fort Wayne. The Nickel Plate was nestled within the city; its West Wayne Yards were only blocks from downtown. The railroads busy route on the northern end of the city kept Fort Wayne from expanding and persisted to displease motorists, who were constantly held up by the trains.

Fort Wayne had already dealt with the problems inherent with ground level roadbed, as the Pennsylvania and Wabash to the south had elevated their tracks decades prior. To the north, a heated battle between the railroad and city ensued for years, with citizens chanting, “Elevate the Nickel Plate!”

With ground broken in 1947, the elevation of the Nickel Plate Road began in 1953 and ended in 1955 with a formal celebration that saw Nickel Plate Berkshire no. 767 parade across the elevated tracks, breaking a ribbon among station platforms crowded with spectators.

A less informal event had been held some time before, when Nickel Plate Berkshire no. 765 became the first actual train to traverse the new rails. After earning the reputation as the “best of the west end” on the Fort Wayne Division, Berkshire no. 765 had been stored during its retirement in the enginehouse of the Nickel Plate Road in Fort Wayne.

At the end of the steam era, several of the eminent Nickel Plate Berkshires locomotives were stored at the Nickel Plate’s relatively new East Wayne yards, which had replaced the cramped quarters of the more urban West Wayne. Both no. 765 and no. 767 were among the sleeping sisters in the engine house and after sufficient slumber, the 765 was fired up in 1958 to supply heat to a stranded passenger train in Fort Wayne. As other steam locomotives were scrapped, the engine would be saved at the request of the city that had once demanded the trains off the streets.

The city had asked for no. 767, but no. 765 proved to be in much better cosmetic and mechanical condition and, unlike other engines on the Nickel Plate, had been stored indoors for several years.

During an inspection, no. 765 was deemed to be an ideal candidate for donation to the City of Fort Wayne. The roundhouse was asked to quietly change the locomotives’ numbers and the 765 – renumbered as 767 – was placed on display in Lawton Park within sight of the Nickel Plate elevation on May, 1963. The real 767 was scrapped in Chicago in 1964.

Fort Wayne’s engine became a downtown showpiece, but after years of exposure to the elements, a group of local enthusiasts formed the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society to secure the locomotive for restoration.

October 5th, 1955: Nickel Plate Road no. 767 breaks the ribbon to open the city's brand new overpass at Calhoun and Superior Streets, freeing motorists from over 50 trains a day.
“...a monument to a great period of development in our country — the era of steam railroading.”
765/767 on display in Lawton Park as the gateway to downtown Fort Wayne.

SAVING THE SEVEN HUNDRED

In 1972, the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society was incorporated to find a way to care for the 765, which had suffered exposure to the outdoors for ten years. It was decided that the locomotive should be moved to a location where additional historic rail exhibits and even a future museum could be established. The remainder of a Wabash connection to the Casad Military depot adjacent to Ryan Road in New Haven, Indiana was selected and the track was rebuilt.

Society members set about preparing the locomotive for movement by lubricating fittings, packing journals, and repairing the air brake system. Temporary trackage was laid down to shuttle the 765 onto former New York Central trackage and the engine was carefully pulled over rails by a front end loader. A dip in the un-maintained rails caused the pony truck to derail, sending the locomotive into emergency. The Silent Watchman, a special feature that recognized when the pony wheels derailed, still worked after sixteen years of disuse!

The locomotive was towed backwards by the Norfolk & Western, which had since absorbed the Nickel Plate in a 1964 merger. The 765 traversed the elevated trackage and reached the Society’s Ryan Road property the following day.

In no short order, Nickel Plate caboose 141, Nickel Plate Railway Post Office/Baggage Car 831 and a Hygrade Reefer, which doubled as a workshop, were appropriated. Soon, all efforts concentrated on getting the 765 operational again.

Former Nickel Plate boilermaker Joe Karal was consulted to judge the locomotive’s candidacy for overhaul and operation and determined the engine mechanically sound enough to proceed. Work was officially kicked off in 1975 as jacketing and appliances were removed. As the year progressed, boiler tubes, flues, and superheaters were removed as dozens of staybolt caps were replaced as the engine and its parts were dismantled and cleaned. Work continued on the boiler, running gear and crank pins, stoker, mechanical lubricators, cylinder cocks, and the myriad of parts and pieces all necessary to ensure proper locomotive performance. A successful hydrostatic test in May, 1978 was a shot in the arm to keep a weary crew going.

Fall of 1978 saw a stationary fire-up where the engine steamed soundly. 1979 saw tender work performed and new rod bushings, brake cylinders, piping and sundry appliances saw continued attention.

Seven days shy of the locomotive’s 35th birthday on September 1st, 1979, the 765 moved under its power for the first time in twenty-one years. The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society had become the first non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation in the world to restore and operate a mainline steam locomotive.

Pulled by a back hoe and chain, the 765/767 is freed from Lawton Park after 11 years on display.
Work to restore the 765 perseveres through all four seasons between 1974 and 1979.

PRESERVING AND MAKING RAILROAD HISTORY

After a series of test runs on the Toledo, Peoria & Western in 1980, the 765 would begin its rise to stardom as a fan trip favorite.

Leased by the Southern Railroad for 22 trips in 1982, the locomotive earned its stripes on routes through mountainous terrain and rocketed across the midwest in later excursions out of Chicago, Fort Wayne, Cincinnati, and Buffalo, New York, to name a few.

The 765’s reach extended as far east as New Jersey and south to Georgia, and found a calling on the head-end of the New River Trains through West Virginia, carrying behind it the longest passenger train excursions in history. In the meantime, the 765 appeared in two feature films: 1981’s “Four Friends” and 1987 “Matewan.”

Throughout the 1980s and early 90s, the FWRHS successfully partnered with CSX, New Jersey Transit and Norfolk Southern. The 765 was also seen in the company of other locomotives such as Nickel Plate Mikado-type no. 587 and Norfolk & Western “Northern” no. 611 and their respective caretakers.

For 14 years, the locomotive proudly displayed the sights, sounds and smells of a bygone era of railroading, accumulating over 52,000 miles service entertaining and educating hundreds of thousands.

In 1993, the 765 entered the shop for a complete overhaul that has since returned the engine to the condition it was in when it was first constructed.

In 2005, a freshly rebuilt 765 left the restoration shop, on its way to make railroad history once again. In 2012, it became the first steam locomotive in over 25 years to traverse railroad landmark Horseshoe Curve in Altoona, Pennsylvania and in 2016, topped 70MPH on an excursion outside Chicago.

Between 2012 and 2015, the 765 operated as part of Norfolk Southern’s 21st Century Steam Program. Since its second restoration, hundreds of thousands of people and passengers from all 50 states and five countries have experienced the 765 and her historic train.

On September 8th, 1944, her builders could have never imagined that the 765 would endure to become a beloved attraction for young and old so many generations later.

For more on the 765, click here to purchase our souvenir book “Magnificent Machine“ or documentary, “Listen for the Whistle.”

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the 765 became the premiere motive power on the world's longest and heaviest passenger trains in the New River Gorge.
Between 2000 and 2005, the 765 was completely overhauled to factory specifications.
Between 2000 and 2005, the 765 was completely overhauled to factory specifications.
In 2012 and 2013, the 765 traversed the world-famous Horseshoe Curve in Altoona, Pennsylvania, becoming the first steam locomotive in over 30 years to cross the landmark.