A preserved steam locomotive built 68 years ago in Lima, Ohio, is to return to its former home rails this week to kick off a series of special train trips that Norfolk Southern railroad will operate for employees as it celebrates its 30th corporate anniversary.
The Nickel Plate Road 765's tour starts with a "ferry" trip from Fort Wayne, Ind., to Bellevue on Friday.
Toledo is on its itinerary later this month.
Kelly Lynch, communications director for the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, said tickets for the trips won't be offered to the general public, although "this could lead to public trips in the future."
The historical society, which is observing its 40th anniversary this year, has a three-year agreement with Norfolk Southern to provide its Lima-built locomotive for special trains through 2014, he said.
The trips scheduled this summer represent the busiest year in the 765's history as a restored locomotive.
After arriving in Bellevue, it is scheduled to make three round trips to Bucyrus, Ohio, on Saturday and two more on Sunday with Norfolk Southern employees and their families on board.
The train will then travel from Bellevue to the NS Homestead Yard in Oregon on July 23 before making a series of short round trips on July 28 and 29 between Homestead and Air Line Yard in South Toledo.
Schedules for the train have not been publicized, but Mr. Lynch said those desiring to see it will be able to follow its progress on a Twitter feed, Facebook page, and a global-positioning, mobile-phone app that will be available from the society's Web page, fortwaynerailroad.org, starting on Tuesday.
"It's kind of funny that a steam engine has a Twitter account. We even beat Union Pacific to the punch," Mr. Lynch quipped, referring to the western United States railroad that still maintains two steam engines for excursion trips.
Engine 765 "is one of only, really, five mainline steam locomotives left" in operating condition in the United States, and the biggest one east of the Mississippi River, he said.
It costs about $10,000 a day to operate, which the Norfolk Southern contract will cover, along with a major mechanical tear-down inspection that will come up in 2019, Mr. Lynch said.
After the steam engine's Toledo appearance, another trip is scheduled to leave Homestead on July 30, with a destination of Williamson, W.Va., the following day.
Later stops on the tour include Norfolk Southern terminals in Conway, Pa., near Pittsburgh, Enola, Pa., near Harrisburg, and Berkley, Mo., near St. Louis.
The trip west from Harrisburg to St. Louis will include another pass across northern Ohio on Aug. 22.
"It's the first time in 10 to 15 years we've been able to publish 'deadhead' schedules," Mr. Lynch said, using a railroad term for a train with no passengers.
Although the public won't be able to ride, he said, the steam-powered train is expected to attract throngs of railroad enthusiasts and residents along the tracks.
"The machine is a sensory experience," he said. "It's not just a static display."
Engine 765 was built in 1944 at the Lima Locomotive Works for the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, which came to be known by its nickname, Nickel Plate Road, and whose lines including the Fort Wayne- Bellevue route it will run on Friday.
After its retirement, it was donated to Fort Wayne, which displayed it in a city park until the early 1970s, when the historical society organized to restore it to operating condition after a decade of exposure to the weather.
It ran on a variety of excursion trains between 1979 and 1993, after which the 765 was sidelined for a major overhaul that began in 2000 and took six years to complete.
The locomotive was featured in a Train Festival event in Owosso, Mich., alongside two other preserved steam engines and has run several other excursions since then.
Norfolk Southern, meanwhile, operated a steam-excursion program through 1994, primarily using two restored Norfolk & Western locomotives.
Company management ended the program that year, citing delays the special trains caused to its revenue-producing freight trains as a principal reason.
In recent years, the 765 has ridden Norfolk Southern rails only to travel from its Fort Wayne base to excursion engagements elsewhere, and always in tow behind a diesel locomotive.
Although a diesel will accompany it on the upcoming trips as a backup, Mr. Lynch said, the steam engine is planned to lead and do all the work.
"It's a growing relationship, and a partnership with NS," the society spokesman said.
Using the 765 for excursion trips "saves them the hassle" of maintaining their own locomotive "and brings everyone the rewards."
Contact David Patch at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6094.