Past to make whistle stop as steam train returns to Pittsburgh Monday
A hissing behemoth familiar in times past is chugging across Western Pennsylvania this week and will return to Pittsburgh on Monday.
Nickel Plate Road No. 765, a 404-ton Berkshire steam locomotive, is riding rails through several states as an ambassador for Norfolk Southern's 30th anniversary celebration.
“It's in first-class shape,” said Bruce Manwiller, 65, of Beaver Falls, a member of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, who chased the engine last week from Ohio to Altoona. “It's always put on a good show. It's always been a dependable machine.”
Manwiller likely will be back on the trail Monday as the engine makes its way from Harrisburg through Pittsburgh to the Conway railyard in Beaver County. The steam locomotive will stop for the night before heading to Bellevue, Ohio, in the Sandusky area. The train will be in St. Louis on Sept. 10.
“We chased it all weekend,” Manwiller said. “I likely will want to get a camera on it again somewhere.”
The public can't buy tickets to travel aboard No. 765, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Norfolk Southern has limited the rides to employees and their families.
The restriction, though, hasn't stopped crowds from flocking to roadways and railroad crossings to catch glimpses of the bygone beast.
“We come into these people's lives and are the talk of the town for days,” said Kelly Lynch, communications director for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Railroad Historical Society, which owns the mainline engine. “It's kind of like having your own Tyrannosaurus Rex or rocket ship and bringing it down Main Street.”
A locomotive works site in Lima, Ohio, built No. 765 in 1944 for the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad Co., which used it on the Nickel Plate Road — a railway from New York to St. Louis via Chicago that ran along the Great Lakes and passed through Erie.
“It pulled everything from Pullman sleepers to soldiers and tanks, oranges and apples,” Lynch said.
The engine sat in storage or on display in a park until 1972, when the Fort Wayne group formed to restore it.
The locomotive moved under its own power in 1979, when it began a stretch of pulling more than 100,000 people some 52,000 miles before being shut down again in 1993 — the last time the engine visited Pittsburgh.
Another restoration project from 2000-05 took 13,000 volunteer hours and $772,000 to complete, according to Train magazine.
This summer is the busiest period for No. 765 since the last restoration.
“It was built for this type of work,” Lynch said. “The more you use it, the better it is.”
Norfolk Southern was formed in 1982 with the consolidation of Southern Railway and Norfolk and Western Railway. The company signed a three-year lease to use No. 765 through 2014.
“You don't have an opportunity to ride a historic train like the Nickel Plate No. 765 every day, and we think this is an excellent way to recognize the work of our employees, build nostalgia and honor our history,” said Dave Pidgeon, a company spokesman in Harrisburg.
In addition to the steam engine, Norfolk Southern painted 20 diesel locomotives in the color schemes of companies that are part of its past. The company does not publish train schedules because of safety and security concerns, Pidgeon said.
“I would say anyone interested should keep their eyes open,” he said. “You never know when a heritage locomotive will be traveling nearby.”
As for the rumbling and whistling steam engine, its progress can be tracked online at fortwaynerailroad.org or via Twitter.
“It is definitely alive, and you can easily see how so many people get transfixed by these machines,” Lynch said. “It represents something that is very American and very iconic.”
Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or firstname.lastname@example.org.