Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

All aboard No. 765 for trip back to 1940s

Railroad Society offering rides as part of Angola American History Days

Nickel Plate Road No. 765 always draws a cheer.

Dean Jackson

Whatzup Features Writer

Published September 14, 2022

Every time the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society hosts an excursion, Kelly Lynch sees something more than just a huge, steel locomotive steaming down the tracks. He sees a vehicle that entertains, educates and inspires.

As vice president of the association, he’s part of a group of several hundred that’s caring for the area’s railroad history. They are especially known for the Nickel Plate Road No. 765 locomotive. It’s a mission they’ve faithfully embraced since the 1970s when the engine was revived from a lifeless static display at Lawton Park. 

“We started as an organization dedicated to restoring a locomotive that was in a park, and it  has turned into has quite the collection with the 765 has our star attraction,” Lynch said.

The train will come to life Sept. 24-25 during Angola’s American History Days, as the “Victory Flyer” American History Train will run from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. out of the Depot Grill with riders encouraged to dress in 1940s attire. 

Keeping history alive

If the No. 765 is the queen, the passenger cars are the worker bees. These historic and vintage cars reinforce the message of the Society’s mission.

“They are critical to us,” Lynch said. “The availability of these vintage cars is getting harder and harder, and these are a lot like private yachts, private airplanes. And, of course, there are some more modest deluxe coaches. This is how people traveled. This was the premier  way to travel, and we’re trying to sort of recreate that era from the locomotive to the passenger coaches and beyond.”

Some 50 years later, they’ve  revived, reimagined, and repurposed them into an  impressive fleet of locomotives and passenger cars.   All that work is done almost exclusively with the work of volunteers, donors, and sponsors. In the process, they’ve drawn the attention of tens of thousands from all 50 states and internationally. 

This month they’ll wrap up one of their most ambitious schedules of excursions.

Riding in style

Billed as the Indiana Rail Experience, rail fans get a chance to enjoy the train in excellent condition.  That can be said for their  first-class, deluxe, or executive cars from the  1920s to 1950. With the recent  addition of a dining room and open-air cars, it doubles down on a one-of-a-kind experience. 

Their routes cover more than 100 miles from Edon, Ohio, into South Milford, Indiana, and Hillsdale, Michigan, following Indiana Northeastern’s rail freight routes. Rides vary in length, some being all-day treks.

Some trips like the Tri-State Scenic Steam Excursion takes riders to Hillsdale to shop at farmers markets and exploring the downtown with a relaxing ride both ways.  Another shorter route, the Indiana Ice Cream train stays in the Hoosier State with a tasty treat.

As with all their events, the train is a portal to the past when steam was the king of the rails and diesel was barely gaining momentum.

It’s a throwback to a time when steam engines dominated the rails.  As a passenger, traveling was  the portrait of luxury and status. To do that effectively, the group had to methodically find and integrate vintage passenger cars and bring them back to life. 

Going back in time

A history train ride is especially fitting for the No. 765. After years as a Civil War event, Angola’s American History Days expanded and created an intriguing opportunity. 

Lynch says the new partnership was too good to miss for the railroad society. 

“We saw an opportunity in Angola,” Lynch said. “Their expanded programs include all sorts of American history. It was a perfect justification for us to be involved because our locomotive was built in the 1940s.”

He says it’s ripe with a lot of sensory opportunities and important lessons using living history with a town festival.

“The steam locomotive is the time machine itself, but the onboarding experience is what completes that time travel,” he said. “We wanted people to be able to walk off the train to be transported back in time back into another era.”

This train conjures up what life was like in 1945, days after victory in World War II  was officially secured in Europe.  

Riders will engage wit h reenactors, including combatants. Running from the station on the Trine University campus, west of downtown Angola, the train will roll through southern Steuben County along the  historic Wabash and New York Central Railroad path near Pleasant Lake into Steubenville.

“There will be enough to fill their day with activities,” Lynch said. “Once in Pleasant Lake, they’ll get a chance to take in the vintage cars. Enjoy food vendors, a jazz band, and a dance  floor set up at the fire station.

“There’s plenty to do while waiting between train departures. Trains will depart several times daily with about a 90-minute wait between arrivals at each station.”

Angola’s American History Days is about a mile east of the depot at Trine. Based  at Commons Park there are a number of Civil War components, including reenactors, artillery and a Civil War medicine exhibit. They’ll also have a President Abraham Lincoln reenactor. 

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