Before dawn on a chilly Saturday morning in October, they lined up at least a quarter of a mile long to board the train. Why? Steam locomotive Nickel Plate 765 was going on an excursion! Tickets had sold out within hours!
Even more remarkable, all along the way from Fort Wayne to Lafayette – and then back -they lined up at nearly every crossing to take pictures, movies, or just wave. They pulled over on the side of the road. They stood outside in yards and fields. Where the track parallels Highway 24, they caused a traffic jam in one lane by slowing down en masse to keep pace with the train.
They stood in crowds or even by themselves, anywhere they could, to get a glimpse of 765 – to see the steam and hear the whistle. There were hundreds of us riding the train, but I am absolutely sure that more than that were on the roadside – in groups of 1 to 30 or 40.
Aboard 765, the atmosphere was a cordial throwback to the warm personalized service you’d expect from days gone by. Here’s car host Scott giving us our overview of what to expect (yes, 765 might just lurch a bit now and then, so be careful when you get up to walk to the concession car).
Fernando Tarango and one of the smoothest sax players around were adding to the mood. Here they were teaching us how to sing the Wabash Cannonball (since we were in fact tracing part of the path of the Wabash Cannonball). Fun fact – the gentleman on the left side of the photo below is one of the original engineers of 765, along for the ride!
Perhaps the best part of the train experience is that you see an entirely different vista than when you travel by car. Here’s a view of downtown Fort Wayne that I hadn’t seen before.
765 is operated by volunteers, like Scott, associated with the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society. Here they are poring over the locomotive at our stop in Lafayette to make sure we were ready for the return trip.
This isn’t a 765 thing, but while we were in Lafayette I was able to grab lunch at a great food truck, EMT – Emergency Munchie Truck. Gotta put in a plug for them.
And, of course, Fernando couldn’t resist playing some more music as we waited for the shuttle to take us back to the train from downtown Lafayette.
Among all of the volunteers, I need to call out Kelly Lynch. Not only does Kelly handle communications for the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, but he is leading a bold vision to bring Nickel Plate 765 to downtown Fort Wayne.
The concept, Headwaters Junction, is on the table along with other plans to transform our downtown riverfront area. It is a superb plan that deserves to happen – not just because it would be fun or cool – but because it can do so much to improve the quality of life in our city and bring tourism revenue here.
Think about it for a second. For this weekend’s two excursions, 700 tickets sold out in a mere couple of hours. Hundreds (maybe thousands) of people lined up at crossings, along highways, in fields, on overpasses – on both days – just to catch a glimpse of this historic steam locomotive. Given the number of cameras I saw on tripods or being held by hand, I’d hazard a guess that more videos were shot between Fort Wayne and Lafayette this weekend than in Hollywood during all of last year.
I personally urge you to support this project however you can. You can start by visiting the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, googling the many videos online about 765, going to see 765 in its current home outside of New Haven, or riding the Santa train in December (yes, there’s another excursion coming up soon).
Whatever you do, remember to … Listen for the Whistle!