Locomotive history passes through Elkhart County

Trainspotting made (somewhat) easier with social media.

Posted on May 1, 2014 at 7:06 p.m.

ELKHART — Word that a refurbished steam engine would be passing through Elkhart caught my interest Thursday morning when the newsroom learned it was headed our way within hours.

Trains passing through Elkhart are nothing new, but a 70-year-old Nickel Plate Road Berkshire locomotive was different and we wanted to alert area residents in case they wanted to see a piece of history.

The train was heading from New Haven, Ind., outside of Fort Wayne, to Calumet, Ill., but not before passing through Warsaw, Goshen and Elkhart.

I’ve never tried to track down the whereabouts of a moving train, but unlike the old days, we had social media to help.

Train in Elkhart this weekend
A Nickel Plate Road steam locomotive that passed through Elkhart Thursday, May 1, will be in Elkhart over the weekend.
The locomotive will be at the Norfolk Southern yard over the weekend while it offers rides to Norfolk Southern employees, as part of the 21st Century Steam program. The train will leave the yard at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 3, and Sunday, May 4, and pass through Goshen and Ligonier on its way to Bryan, Ohio. It will then return to Elkhart later in the afternoon both days.
The public is invited to enjoy the train along its route.

We posted a short preview story about the train, commonly known as the ‘765,’ on Elkharttruth.com and shared it on Facebook.

Tweets from the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society tracked its progress and a companion website provided sporadic updates via GPS.

I headed toward Goshen as a way to relay updates to our photo staff. I chose the C.R. 17 overpass on U.S. 33 as a lookout spot and after a while, photographer Tyler Klassen joined me.

And we waited.

At one point, according to Twitter, the train was slowed down near Milford — ironically — by train traffic.

Fifteen minutes later, an Elkhart County sheriff’s deputy stopped by to ask if we were OK and why we were parked on an overpass. He was fine with it and seemed equally interested in the train.

Klassen then got a call from Truth colleague Jen Shephard who said she was in Goshen and was also watching for it. With that said, Klassen left and I drove to a nearby Arby’s. I had just sat down with my meal when Jen called to say it had chugged through Goshen at a fast clip.

On Facebook, former Truth reporter Marlys Weaver-Stoesz said she had just seen it travel through Goshen and brought with it a distinctive train whistle.

I grabbed my sandwich and drove across the street to the tracks. The train had encountered another slowdown and Jen had time to re-position herself at the C.R. 17 overpass south of me.

I was parked in my car and listening to Rush Limbaugh complain more about the latest Benghazi revelations when I heard the whistle.

About the train
The Nickel Plate Road Berkshire locomotive was built in 1944 and became a fixture in Fort Wayne after World War II.
The 404-ton machine was restored in 1979 and the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society became the first non-profit corporation in the world to restore and operate a mainline steam locomotive, according to the group’s website.
The train underwent a major overhaul in 2005 and is used these days for public exhibitions and passenger excursions.

I got out of the car and sat on top of a pile of big stones for a good view.

White steam poured from the engine as it moved closer and I managed to fire off a few shots with my cell phone.

Pleased as punch, I stood up and watched it pass and waved to the engineers with boyish glee. The engineers, in return, looked at me blankly.

And just like that, it was over.

History, flying by and then vanishing like the steam the train had spewed.

I was glad we crossed paths.

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