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.
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.
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.