“The Queen of the West End.” (Photo by BobbaLew.)
Nickel Plate 765 is by far
restored steam-locomotive I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen many.
It was restored by Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society
(FWRHS), a private organization — not a railroad.
And it was restored beyond mere operation. That is, it can run hard,
just like it did in service.
765 was a particularly good locomotive. It was called “The Queen of the West End.”
765 is a SuperPower locomotive, built by Lima Locomotive Works
in Lima, Ohio (“lye-muh,” not “lee-muh;” as in “lima-bean”).
In the ‘20s, Lima Locomotive fielded its SuperPower concepts in the Berkshire mountains of western MA; at first a Mikado (2-8-2) with a big boiler and a gigantic fire-grate: a hotrod Mikado.
The idea was to not run out of steam at speed. Regular locomotives at that time ran out of steam as speed increased.
Getting performance out of a steam-locomotive is a delicate balance,
just enough steam to get good performance, but not too much.
Steam-usage could be varied by the amount of open valve-travel. The engineer could vary that.
“SuperPower” had other tricks to enhance steam generation, like heat to the boiler feedwater so cold water wasn’t sapping steam generation. Some of these tricks were adapted from stationary steam-boilers in power-plants.
SuperPower also used other tricks to maximize operation at lower speeds, like powering the trailing-truck supporting the firebox. This was called “boosterization.”
Speedy operation didn’t mean much to many railroads, who might manage 20-30 mph at most. But there were railroads level and straight enough to get really rolling,
particularly Nickel Plate.
Nickel Plate is actually New York, Chicago & St. Louis, founded in 1881 to counter the fact Lake Shore & Michigan Southern, affiliated with New York Central, had a monopoly from Buffalo west.
NY,C.&St.L. never made New York City. But there were plenty of other railroad connections in Buffalo beside NYC.
It was called “nickel-plated” by an editor of a Norwalk, OH newspaper engaged in newspaper wars to get New York, Chicago & St. Louis to locate through Norwalk, as many towns were doing back then. NY,C.&St.L. didn’t locate through Norwalk, and rumor had it “nickel-plated” was coined by a New York Central executive because NY,C.&St.L. was so competitive.
NYC executives probably referred to NY,C.&St.L. as “nickel-plated,” but it was a newspaper-editor that coined the term.
Nickel Plate to Buffalo parallels Lake Shore & Michigan Southern. Nickel Plate was often within striking distance of LS&MS, which later became New York Central and eventually CSX.
Nickel Plate no longer exists. It was merged into Norfolk & Western in 1964.
Norfolk Southern, a 1982 merger of Norfolk & Western and Southern Railway, now operates Nickel Plate.
NS also took over the old Erie line across southern and western New York, but not the complete Erie line.
Erie’s main from Hornell toward Chicago is now a shortline, and NS only operates the Buffalo extension. What NS is doing is Buffalo to the New York City area.
Since Nickel Plate was one of the few railroads still using steam-locomotives as dieselization began, quite a few Nickel Plate Berks were saved.
I can think of two others beside 765. 759 is at Steamtown
in Scranton, PA. and operated in the ‘70s.
757 is another, stored unserviceable at Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania
in Strasburg, PA. It’s outside, but still looks pretty good. Outside storage invites vandals and the rust-worm — it’s fenced.
765 was first on display in Fort Wayne (IN), renumbered to 767. 767 was the first Nickel Plate engine over an elevated bypass through Fort Wayne.
But the actual 767 was not in as good shape as 765, so renumbered 765 became its stand-in.
Rather than let 765 rot, the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society was founded in 1972 to get the engine running. The engine was renumbered back to its actual number, 765.
Restoring a steam-locomotive to “operable” condition is a monumental task.
Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society did a bang-up job. They restored it well enough to run like it did for Nickel Plate: hard
Nickel Plate prided itself on redball service toward Buffalo. Faster than New York Central. And the Nickel Plate Berks were perfect
for the job. They could run hard
765 has been around for a while in excursion service.
A couple years ago it had to be rebuilt, and I think it was rebuilt once earlier.
As soon as you start running it, it begins tearing itself apart. Vibration can start boiler-leaks, and the heavy running-gear is thrashing itself this way and that.
Nevertheless Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society keeps 765 in excellent shape.
It’s in such good shape it’s a dependable excursion steamer. Even the railroads are impressed. Norfolk Southern allows 765 to operate excursions on its mainlines.
An el-cheapo restoration might cripple out on the railroad, but 765 won’t.
A cripple could block the railroad.
An excursion Buffalo-to-Corning and back isn’t over a busy railroad.
The only train I saw both days was this excursion.
Locals said NS only operates at night.
Down in Altoona (PA) I might see 20 or more trains over six hours on NS’s old Pennsy main. And that’s missing quite a few.
Long portions of the old Erie main would generate no traffic at all,
like the Canisteo river-valley (“Can-iss-TEE-oh;” as in the verb “can”) between Canisteo and Addison.
Canisteo river-valley is so far out, there isn’t cellphone service.
I didn’t chase the entire trip. Just Letchworth Park
to Corning via Hornell.
A giant old trestle leaps Letchworth Gorge, but it’s due to be replaced.
I didn’t photograph it, since the speed-limit on the old bridge is 10 mph; 765 merely drifting.
Saturday morning (August 1st, 2015) I went to Hornell to chase the train toward Corning.
I poked around some, deciding Hornell wasn’t as photogenic as the Canisteo river-valley.
I drove down into the valley, and picked my spot.
Finally 765 appeared with its long train, doing about 40-45 mph — which is about all the line is good for.Finally...... (Photo by BobbaLew.) NO DIESELS!
Often diesel-locomotives are included in case the engine breaks down.
But 765 was on its own.
I then drove down to Addison, but the excursion was ahead of me.
A long line of chasers backed up at a stop-sign in Addison.
765 would make Corning before I did.
My smartphone has an app that displays 765’s location on a map. 765 has a GPS transponder on top.
Back-and-forth I drove all over Corning to find 765.
I must have crossed the Chemung River at least eight times.
Apparently the original Erie did street-running through Corning when built, and I was tricked by what remained.
Erie went to a bypass around Corning, and 765 was on that.
It displayed on my smartlphone app, but I don’t know Corning.
Finally I found it, after finding streets displayed on my smartphone app.
There it sat, its train unloading passengers, so it could chuff off to get serviced and turned.Off to be turned. (Photo by BobbaLew.)
Often just the engine gets turned, then couples to the train’s rear. In this case the entire train got turned, there was room.
You don’t just turn the real thing
like a model-train. A big hand doesn’t descend from the sky.
And 765’s crew had to get clearance from the railroad’s dispatcher. Getting that dispatcher was a struggle.
He must have been on break or napping.Back to load up again. (That tender has been built up to carry more coal.) (Photo by BobbaLew.)
Finally reloaded, 765 set back for Buffalo.
But I was already up in the Canisteo river-valley, set up at a long curve.
My lede picture is that long curve.
I then drove toward Letchworth Park.
I thereby joined the chasers, sometimes 80 mph over 55-mph two-lanes.
I got to drive right beside
765 toward Swain Ski Center.
This is the greatest thrill for an old steam-experienced railfan: that thing thrashing away right through my open driver’s window
I’ve experienced this multiple times, and each time with 765.
Once was years ago in WV with my now-deceased wife, and it scared her to death. It was right beside her passenger-window, which I had rolled down electrically.
Another time was back in 1993 with my brother Jack from near Boston. I had rented a video-camera, and we were right beside it cruising about 40 mph.
My brother got really into it.
He broke every traffic-law in the book, including running a stop-sign in front of a WV state-trooper. At one point he had his company-car doing 100 mph on the WV turnpike.
I hear Norfolk Southern limits limits 765 to 45 mph. But long ago, on-train, I clocked it at over 70!
I also got it as is returned back into Letchworth, drifting toward the bridge.Back into Letchworth. (Why is it everyone prefers this picture? It’s only drifting.) (Photo by BobbaLew.)
I had taken the wrong road into Letchworth, and ended up at a somewhat unphotogenic spot.
The next day, Sunday August 2nd, I drove back to Letchworth to get it from the right road (other side of the tracks) as it accelerated off the bridge.Bam-bam-bam-bam! (Photo by BobbaLew.)
I then drove down to Hornell, and found a location.Into Hornell off the Buffalo extension. (Photo by BobbaLew.)
Hornell is where the old Erie split. To the left is toward Chicago, and right is the Buffalo extension.
I then drove toward Corning via the Canisteo river-valley.
I stopped once in the valley and got it approaching a grade-crossing.Shreeek-shreeek-shreek-shreeeeeek! (Photo by BobbaLew.)
I found it in Corning right away,
and shot before it chuffed off to be turned.1/500th of a second. (Photo by BobbaLew.)
Getting this picture wasn’t easy. There were crowds all around.
But the crowds parted for 1/500th of a second; long enough to snag this picture.
I also got it returning.Back to load up again. (Photo by BobbaLew.)
Now, back toward Letchworth.
I got ahead of the excursion, but people were all over
where I wanted to take my picture.
But I did manage to get one with no one in it.Now I can go home. (Photo by BobbaLew.)
I could finally return home.
What I regret most is no pictures off a highway overpass. I passed a place where I could have got one, but surmised I’d do better in the Canisteo river-valley.
But it just so happened my planned spot in the valley was the same as the day before. It was too late to go back.• I’ve been a railfan since age-2, which is 1946, which means I witnessed steam-locomotives in regular service. Steam-engines are why I’m a railfan.
• My beloved wife of over 44 years died of cancer April 17th, 2012. I miss her dearly.