About 10 a.m. Wednesday an old steam locomotive, belching smoke and blowing its distinctive whistle, chugged along the railroad tracks that crossed South Anthony Boulevard.
A young man walking by stopped and asked, What’s that?
That, of course, was the old 765, a completely restored, coal-burning locomotive hauling a cluster of passenger cars. It was a sight that disappeared from the American landscape more than half a century ago, so when the train does appear, it attracts attention like almost nothing else.
The train, which spends most of its time in a huge repair shed in an out-of-the-way spot in New Haven, was heading across the countryside Wednesday on a practice run from New Haven to Muncie and back. It passed through Fort Wayne on the way, appearing on the overpass next to Baker Street Station and crossing Taylor Street, so plenty of people probably caught a glimpse.
Starting July 20, the train will start a schedule of trips, making stops to pick up passengers in places like Bellevue, Ohio, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, W.Va.
In the fall, the same train will be making runs west, visiting places like Altoona, Ill., and St. Louis.
All in all, it will haul thousands of paying passengers, and thousands more will turn out to see the huge old machine.
Last year, for example, people from all 50 states and five different countries turned out to take rides or just see the locomotive, said Kelly Lynch, communications director for the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, which owns and restored the train.
Oddly, the train has no excursions starting in Fort Wayne. If you want to take part in one of the scheduled trips, you’ll probably have to go out of state.
In the past couple of years there has been a pitch to use some of the money from the so-called Legacy Fund from the sale of the city’s electric utility to create a home near downtown for the old-fashioned train. There’s no word on whether that proposal has any future in Fort Wayne.
It would be nice if it did – more than just nice.
Could you imagine the attraction the train would bring, with crowds of people showing up to board the antique train for trips, or just watch it chug away? People have come from all over to ride the train. Why not let people come from all over to board in Fort Wayne?
Most places would kill to have something like this, Lynch said of the train with its old-fashioned passenger cars.
At a time when people get accused of putting the cart before the horse, Lynch says, Well, we have the horse.