Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society bringing a second steam locomotive to area
By Justin Kenny | News-Sentinel
Following a few weeks of negotiations with the northwest Indiana city of Hammond, another large piece of railroad history is coming to Fort Wayne.
The Nickel Plate Road No. 624, a cousin of the NPR No. 765 currently operated by the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society (FWRHS), will be headed to northeast Indiana in an agreement with the Hammond city government.
"No money was transacted," said Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society Vice President Kelly Lynch about the deal. "Technically, the FWRHS' ownership of (the 624) will be limited. The locomotive will be transferred to another entity to keep it separate from FWRHS and have its own budget.
"Think of the separate entity as being a silo dedicated specifically for the restoration of 624 without using any of the resources we have invested in the 765.
"The locomotive, built in 1922 at the same Lima Locomotive Works facility in Ohio that constructed the 765, will be extensively restored and could be brought back to full operation, pending a more thorough inspection.
"While a restoration to operation would be wonderful, the 624 will make a compelling attraction to Fort Wayne and be displayed in an evocative, exciting fashion," said Kelly Lynch, vice president of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society.
The 624 is a Mikado-type locomotive that was donated to Hammond in 1955 after decades of freight service for the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, more commonly known as the Nickel Plate Road. Much like the 765 prior to its restoration, the 624 has been displayed for decades outside exposed to the elements. While occasional cosmetic maintenance has been given to the locomotive, work recently ceased.
Lynch and the FWRHS, who had long been eyeing the 624, saw an opportunity. Lynch had contacted Hammond a few times over the years regarding the locomotive, but never received a response. After a recent change in management within the City of Hammond Parks and Recreation, the department began exploring options for the 624.
"Conversations about what to do with park engines like the 624 can be challenging for any community and it's rare to have the opportunity, experience, donors and partners in the city as we do in the situation with the 624," Lynch said. "We are excited for the opportunity to give this important artifact a bright new future and carry on the legacy of Hammond's railroad history."
Extensive renovations to the 624 will be pricey. Due to the lack of space at FWRHS' current facility off of Edgerton Road in New Haven, restoration work will be performed at a private site in the area. Current plans call for the boiler, frame and tender to be removed and sent off-site for extensive repairs.
Relocation and cosmetic work on the 624 is estimated to cost $250,000. A full mechanical restoration could cost as much as $1.2 million.
The work to transport and rehabilitate the locomotive will be sponsored by an area private donor.
"Considering how long the locomotive has been outside, it's in remarkably good shape," said Zach Hall, operations manager and mechanical consultant with FWRHS. "The (asbestos abatement) early in its display life did wonders to preserve the boiler. While there is some obvious deterioration, it can be repaired. Beneath all the rust and faded paint is a locomotive in decent condition."
If the 624 is restored to full operation, it is doubtful that it will take on an extensive excursion schedule like the 765. Other options "are being considered" if the locomotive returns to the rails under its own power.
Of the 141 Mikado-type locomotives constructed for the Nickel Plate Road, only three remain. No. 639 is on display in Bloomington, Ill. while 587 is undergoing restoration at the Indiana Transportation Museum in Noblesville.
To honor its history with the northwest Indiana city, the 624 will be named the "City of Hammond."
The 624 is slated to be a featured attraction at the proposed Headwaters Junction complex in downtown Fort Wayne. Fundraising for the project is expected to begin in late 2017/early 2018.
Updates on 624 can be found online at www.fortwaynerailroad.org.