November 1, 2013

FRIDAY: When the train came to town


---- — And I thought the Wabash Cannonball was just a fun song.

My Facebook feed lit up last weekend with pictures from friends who’d gone train-chasing. No, not the kind that puts your life in danger. They’d gone to watch restored steam locomotive Nickel Plate No. 765 chug through on Logansport’s railways.

At first, I thought they were blowing smoke. Steam engines make me think of steampunk clothes and Will Smith in the movie “Wild Wild West” and that first song in the musical “The Music Man.” And museums. They’re always a big part of transportation museums (my favorite kind). But finding out one was rolling through town on its own steam? I never dreamed that would happen.

No. 765 — no connection to the area code — was one of the Berkshire steam locomotives know for “superpower” technology and charming aesthetics, according to the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society. After its technology ran out of steam in the 1950s or so, the poor No. 765 was left to rust on display in a Fort Wayne city park for about a decade.

Lemme tell ya — I don’t think I’d survive sleeping in a park that long.

But I’m getting off track. Anyway, a band of folks got together in the early 1970s to restore the ol’ 765, getting her chugging again. From the 1980s on, she went on trip after trip around Indiana and as far as Buffalo, New York — about 52,000 miles total over the decade. The locomotive had to have another rebuild in the mid-2000s, and has taken plenty more rides since then.

Last weekend, the railroad society took the train for a ride to Lafayette and back, calling the trip “The Wabash Cannonball” after the song. (I can just hear the fiddles start to play. That’s the ticket!)

I remember playing choo-choo train when I was a kid. I even had a wooden whistle that made the choo-choo sound, just like the 765. Pulling a few Norfolk and Southern passenger cars and ones from other companies — not to mention the deluxe Pullman car as the caboose — the train sounded just like my whistle.

Only louder, more impressive and probably not available in your local corner gift shop.

The train’s technology may be antique, but the railroad society has all the bells and whistles anyway — including a smartphone app to track the 765 whenever it takes a trip. Just what I always needed. Another app to show how nerdy I am!

You think I’m kidding, don’t you?

— Sarah Einselen

[friday] editor / nutty about transportation.

If you think you can spot all the train-related phrases I used in this column, email me at!