Old steam locomotive headed to Fort Wayne

A piece of history is coming to town, thanks to the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society

The No. 624 today, neglected and falling apart.
A rendering of Headwaters Junction, a downtown combination of trail, rail and river development, where the No. 624 is likely to end up.
The Nickel Plate Road No. 624 steam locomotive rolled throughout the Midwest in its heyday, and now it's headed to Fort Wayne as a piece of history.

When he first saw it, it looked positively post-apocalyptic.

The old Nickel Plate Road No. 624 steam locomotive had already been sitting still for more than 50 years across from Sohl Avenue in Hammond the day Kelly Lynch walked up to inspect it in person. The wood in the cab was rotted, weeds were growing up around it, most of the “jewelry” — accessories like lights on the outside — had fallen off or were gone.

It was — and still is today — a far cry from when it chugged passengers to and fro throughout the Midwest in the 1940s and 1950s.

“I’ve seen a lot of rough looking equipment through the years,” said Lynch, the director of marketing and development for the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society. “This looked like the hulk of a submarine someone had just set there.”

But while many may have seen the train as a long out-dated eye sore, Lynch and others with the Railroad Historical Society saw a piece of possibly forgotten history with great potential. And now, the No. 624 will soon be heading back to Fort Wayne, where it once .

It’s ultimate destination: a downtown riverfront project called Headwaters Junction which combines river, rail and trail development.

“This will become the first physical asset acquired for that,” Lynch said.

The locomotive, built in the early 1920s and retired around 1950, is being brought to Fort Wayne via work by the Lynch and his organization and Hammond City Council, which decided earlier this week to donate the train to the Railroad Historical Society.

The historical society specializes in preserving railroad equipment and already has a Nickel Plate Road No. 765 steam locomotive in it’s care — which has been completely restored by the society and is operational today.

The No. 624 is described by Lynch as a “distant cousin” to the No. 765 and maybe a little smaller or not as powerful, but a great find and addition to the society and Fort Wayne.

“This is a lot like getting a space shuttle or a Duesenberg,” he said. 

Lynch said the train is expected to be brought to Fort Wayne possibly in March, thanks to money and moving equipment donated by an anonymous donor. Several cars attached to the locomotive will also come with it, and while it will be maintained and restored by the historical society someone else will likely officially take ownership of the engine, according to Lynch.

But it will likely be on display here, for all to see a little bit of history that once rolled throughout this country.

“It’s an impressive choo-choo,” Lynch said. “A damn impressive choo-choo.”

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