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The Journal Gazette

  • Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette John Jaress looks out his window as he puts the restored Jeddo Coal No. 85 steam engine into reverse with a lever Saturday afternoon at the Railroad Historical Society for their annual open house weekend.

  • Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette The restored Jeddo Coal No. 85 steam engine prepares to take a caboose down the track and back during Saturday’s annual open house weekend at the Historical Railroad Society.

Saturday, August 18, 2018 5:50 pm

Steam locomotives delight crowd during Railroad Historical Society's open house

Crowds gathered as the historic steam locomotive No. 765 let out a whistle as it sat on the tracks during the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society's open house on Saturday.

The glossy black engine, which was the first locomotive to make its way across Fort Wayne's elevated railroads, had coals stacked high as conductors climbed aboard.

In its seventeenth year, the open house event in New Haven was expected to attract 4,000 to 5,000 visitors over the weekend.

For the first time, there were two operating steam locomotives at the event, the Nickel Plate Road Steam Locomotive No. 765 and the Jeddo Coal 85. 

"The event is sort of our opportunity to bring people up close and personal to an industry that is not always on our radar, but is still critically important to the transportation and connectivity to our country," said Kelly Lynch, vice president of the society.

In addition to the operating locomotives, a model railroad layout was also on display.

The Jeddo Coal 85 was this year's special guest, coming from Gramling Locomotive Works in Ashley, Indiana.

John Gramling, 74, and son Barney, 47, have restored three smaller steam locomotives and take them around the country to different events.

"Dad and I have five steam engines, and it started out as a father-son project that kind of got out of hand," Barney said, laughing.

The two have visited 19 states and over 30 railroads in the last 14 years.

The Jeddo Coal, built in 1928, spent 20 years in the Pennsylvania coal mines. Fifty years later, the Gramlings bought the train. This weekend, it ran caboose rides for visitors at the open house.

Anne Sordelet of Fort Wayne and her grandchildren looked on as No. 765 let out steam and began moving on the tracks.

The group originally came to New Haven for the Maumee Valley Antique Steam and Gas Association's show, but took time to come and see the locomotives just a few parking lots over.

Sordelet had been to the open house once before, and looked forward to showing her grandchildren the steam engines.

"Over here, we're just seeing the tremendously large steam engines that are really neat to look at," Sordelet said. "It educates the community about the mission that they have to restore the old trains."

For Lynch, he hopes the open house will bring an awareness to Fort Wayne's railroad history, as visitors are able to get up close to the "rolling historical attraction."

He said for most people, the event is their first exposure to steam engines, besides waiting in a car at a railroad crossing.

"I don't remember what it's like to not have the 765. It's one of my first memories, so I think seeing people react to seeing it for the first time, there's always this sense of joy, elation and curiosity," Lynch said. "I think being able to inspire such a positive emotional reaction from people is why all of us do it."

cstefanski@jg.net