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Published: Monday, 4/14/2014 - Updated: 1 year ago

Locomotives powered by steam open to public

'Detroit Arrow' excursions will be held July 12-13

Nickel Plate 765, a steam engine from the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, last ran near Toledo in 2012, but trips were closed to public. Nickel Plate 765, a steam engine from the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, last ran near Toledo in 2012, but trips were closed to public.

Norfolk Southern Corp.’s revival of excursion passenger trains powered by steam locomotives returns to the Toledo area this spring and summer, including a pair of trips that are open to the public.

The “Detroit Arrow” excursions on July 12 and 13 will carry passengers from Allen Park, Mich., to Fort Wayne, Ind., and back, with time during the layover to attend the Three Rivers Festival in downtown Fort Wayne.

The trains will mark the first public, mainline-track excursions in 20 years to offer boarding within an hour of Toledo.

Tickets go on sale Wednesday and will start at about $80. Coach, first class, and scenic-dome car seating will be offered.

Nickel Plate 765, built in 1944 at the Lima Locomotive Works, was one of more than 7,500 steam locomotives produced there between the late 19th century and 1949 in the sprawling plant on Lima’s south side, which at its wartime peak employed 4,300 people but ceased all manufacturing in 1981 and has since been leveled.

After its retirement by the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad — more commonly known by its nickname, Nickel Plate Road — the 765 was donated to Fort Wayne, which displayed it in a city park until the early 1970s. 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 last steam-powered, public excursions in the Toledo area occurred in 1994 using Norfolk & Western No. 611, then operated by Norfolk Southern itself as part of a “steam program” that benefited various railroad historical societies and museums.

Norfolk Southern announced the steam program’s cancellation late that year, citing disruption special trains caused to regular operations on the railroad’s busy main lines. Engine 611 was turned over to the Virginia Museum of Transportation, which now is embarking on a fund drive to restore it to service.

Two years ago, in part to celebrate its 30th corporate anniversary as well as the historical group’s 40th, Norfolk Southern arranged for a series of employee excursions led by Engine 765 that included crosstown trips from Oregon to Maumee and back and, later, from Bellevue, Ohio, to Bucyrus and return.

None of those trains were open to the public, however, and when NS teamed up with the Fort Wayne society to run more steam trips last year, the trip that came closest to Toledo originated in Cleveland’s western suburbs.

No trains will originate in Toledo this year, but the Allen Park boarding site is only about 40 miles north of the Michigan border, and the train will pass through Ohio’s extreme northwest corner during its trips.

Those who just want to see the historic, Lima-built steam locomotive in action won’t have to wait as long or travel as far. Employees-only trips are scheduled for July 5 and 6 between Detroit and Toledo.

Even sooner, employees-only steam specials are planned for May 3 and 4 that will travel east from Elkhart, Ind., and turn back in Bryan.

For information about tickets, visit the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society’s Web site, fortwaynerailroad.org or call 260-493-0765.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.

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