A steaming mountain of transportation technology waited on the tracks by the Do it Best, 6502 Nelson Road, early Sunday morning.
An operational piece of history, the Wabash Cannonball steam locomotive 765, built in 1944 and restored by the Fort Wayne Historical Railroad Museum, is one of the few like it in working condition in the United States.
Lines of people snaked through the parking lot, stamping their feet in the cold as they eagerly waited for their round-trip excursion to West Lafayette. Middle-aged men whose faces held the joy of children on Christmas morning jockeyed for position near the track entrance, snapping pictures and trading train tales.
Standing near the head of the line, Michelle and Steve Vevia said they had come so their son Hunter could experience riding a train as they had when they were his age. An older couple, Kenny and Lori, of Muncie, said they had come because he has a passion for trains and his wife was happy to keep him company. He had ridden historic locomotives, but not this one.
Carrying 22 tons of coal and 2,200 gallons of water the train's engine was ready for its trip. The average speed would be 40 miles an hour, although engineer Aaron Sherman said the locomotive is capable of speeds up to 80 mph. Steve Winicker, fireman, said most of that coal will be gone by the end of the trip, which was fine with him as this was the last run of the season. Whatever coal is left over they will just have to unload.
Kelley Lynch, communication manager for the Fort Wayne Historical Railroad Museum, said the 700 tickets for both days sold out in two hours. People from all over the country came to ride the train.
“It's the first passenger train to depart Fort Wayne since 1993,” Lynch said.
They have been operating these excursions around the country, most recently this spring to sold=out crowds in Pennsylvania. This trip has brought people from Canada, Texas, New Jersey, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. Lynch said people love this train because it is the only operational one of its kind in the country. The engine is 14-wheeled, 15 feet tall, weighs 404 tons, and was restored to the way it looked and sounded when it was built by the Lima Locomotive Works in 1944.
The trip retraced the route of the famous Wabash Cannonball passenger train. The two-day event was sponsored by the railroad historical society in cooperation with Norfolk Southern Corp. The 230-mile trip excursion had several coach-class seating options in vintage passenger cars. The train pulled out at 8:30 a.m. heading through Fort Wayne's south side on its way to West Lafayette.
High above the tracks on Edsall Avenue in southeast Fort Wayne local photo enthusiasts lined up with their tripods ready; it's not every day these guys get to shoot a real Wabash Cannonball steam locomotive. Most of the crowd had been there Saturday morning as well and warned that the bridge shakes when the train thunders under. And thunder it did. The wooden deck on the old bridge vibrated and for an instant a cloud of locomotive-generated steam enveloped the train watchers. And then with a kiss of cold mist to the cheek the vapor cleared and the train vanished down the track.