This weekend, you can see something few people have seen here since the 1950s:
A steam locomotive will pull a public passenger train out of Fort Wayne on a round-trip run to Lafayette and back.
Departing about 8:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday from the Do It Best headquarters at 6502 Nelson Road, the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society's Nickel Plate Road Engine No. 765 will puff off with about 800 people in 15 vintage passenger cars for the first public excursion runs the engine has made here since 1993.
There will be plenty of places to see the train as it chugs through the south side of downtown Fort Wayne and then roughly follows Jefferson Boulevard/U.S. 24 west out of town and through Huntington, Wabash, Peru and Logansport before turning south along U.S. 25 to Lafayette.
And if you really, really want to go, there still are a handful of seats left at $349 per person aboard the two luxury cars on the rear of the train. All Standard, Deluxe Coach and First Class seats sold out in less than two hours when they went on sale Sept. 1.
Riders include people who love trains, worked for a railroad, used to ride steam trains and more, said Kelly Lynch, rail society communications director.
“We are in the business of perpetuating incredible memories,” Lynch said.
Built in 1944 at the Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio, Engine No. 765 originally pulled trains between Fort Wayne and Chicago for the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, which later was known as the Nickel Plate Road.
The engine was taken out of service in 1958, and placed in 1963 as a monument in Lawton Park, according to background information provided by the railroad historical society.
Volunteers from the society received approval to remove the deteriorating engine from the park in 1974, and they restored it to operating condition in 1979. The engine went through another extensive rebuild in 2005.
The railroad historical society has used Engine No. 765 to pull excursion trains over the years, including hauling more than 7,000 Norfolk Southern railroad employees last year as part of that company's 40th anniversary celebration. For various reasons, the last excursions from Fort Wayne took place in 1993.
The rail society calls the trips this weekend the Wabash Cannonball, which was a train the Wabash Railroad operated from 1949 to 1971 between St. Louis and Detroit, Lynch said.
The Cannonball stopped in Fort Wayne near Grand Street, a short street between Calhoun and Harrison streets just south of the railroad tracks south of Baker Street. It also stopped in Lafayette.
“We're going to retrace the original route,” Lynch said of the excursions Saturday and Sunday.
He estimates it will take about three hours for the train to reach Lafayette. Travelers will have a layover there for a couple of hours before boarding for the return trip.
A couple of factors make it difficult to estimate the time the train will pass various locations along its route.
As a safety precaution, Norfolk Southern limits steam locomotives to a maximum speed of 40 mph on its tracks, Lynch said. Engine No. 765 was built to cruise at about 60 mph and tops out at about 90 mph.
The engine and its passenger cars also have to pull onto a siding to let priority freight trains pass if any are encountered along the way, he said.
But the engine should arrive on the east side of Fort Wayne within a few minutes after departing at 8:30 a.m. from the boarding area at the Do It Best offices, which are located between Fort Wayne and New Haven.
It will pass over the tracks that run across Anthony Boulevard just north of Wayne Trace, across railroad overpasses at Lafayette, Clinton, Fairfield and Taylor streets before returning to street level as it leaves the west side of the city about 8:45 a.m.
Engine No. 765 should reach Huntington about 9 to 9:15 a.m., and arrive in Wabash about 9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
On the return trip, the train should chug into Huntington about 5 p.m. and reach the west side of Fort Wayne about 5:30 p.m.
Lynch recommends people arrive early at viewing spots if they want to see the train. For possible viewing sites, see the map with this story at www.news-sentinel.com.
You also can track its location via the rail society's website, http://fortwaynerailroad.org/track-765, or on Twitter at NickelPlate765.
If nothing else, listen for the roar of its engine and the unmistakable sound of its booming whistle.