NEW HAVEN — Fort Wayne will get the chance to reminisce about the area’s railroad history once again at the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society on Aug. 16-18.
The open house, which will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday, will offer free admission to visitors as well as $5 train rides on special visiting railroad equipment.
According to Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society Vice President Kelly Lynch, the open house is one of two main events the organization plans annually.
“This is an opportunity. You can just walk into a railroad yard. It’s rarer still that you can get up close and personal with vintage equipment,” Lynch said.
The event focuses on the railroad legacy of northeast Indiana, with the hopes of transporting visitors through the past. The organization has multiple restoration projects in various stages of completion, but all have the same purpose: to educate people about railroads, then and now.
One project includes a 100-year-old caboose. When parts are no longer available, volunteers get creative.
“What you can’t repair, you have to replace,” Lynch said.
At the open house, volunteers will operate a steam locomotive and do demos every 30 minutes. It’s Lynch’s hope that the open house will remind visitors “of what Fort Wayne was capable of, back in the 18th century.”
“Railroads in the 18th century were the Raytheon and Parkview of today,” Lynch said. “High-speed rail existed 50-60 years ago. Imagine the commute between Fort Wayne and Warsaw. For a lot of people, this is a first opportunity to take a train ride, get up close with history that literally moves.”
Ticket sales for train rides started Aug. 1; children 3 and younger do not require a ticket. Rides are approximately 15 to 20 minutes in length and can be booked at https://fortwaynerailroad.org/event/2019-open-house/. After online train ride tickets are sold out, there will be 40 walk-up tickets available each hour thereafter, according to the organization’s website.
According to Lynch, this event always draws a varied crowd, including people from all 50 states and half a dozen other countries. It’s not uncommon for the event to sell out completely, he added.
“It’s not just train people or children, it’s everyone,” Lynch said.
There’s something appealing to everyone, even the volunteers and members of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society who come from various backgrounds. Some have worked with railroads in one way or another, or have relatives who have; others just enjoy working on trains as a side hobby. He estimates the group has 1,000 members and 100 volunteers overall.
One event attraction that’s sure to please the crowd is the steam locomotive that resembles a childhood favorite, “Thomas the Tank Engine,” a main character in the beloved show “Thomas and Friends.” Thomas, usually recognized by his blue and black paint, would ferry coal from one side of the island to another with his merry band of train friends.
“The engine has the same type … it’s what it would look like, sound like and be like (in real life),” Lynch said.
The family-friendly event will take place at 15808 Edgerton Road in New Haven. Food trucks will also be located nearby for visitors who want to grab a quick bite to eat.
In the meantime, the organization is in the process of finding a permanent location. By working with the Fort Wayne riverfront development projects and finding a location nearby, they hope to “add up all the right ingredients together and attract more people to downtown Fort Wayne,” Lynch said.
The society also sponsors the Santa Train. Santa will climb aboard three weekends, Dec. 7 and 8, 14 and 15, and Dec. 21 and 22. Tickets go on sale online at 6 p.m. Nov. 13. Members can buy beginning Nov. 11.
Guests will explore Santa’s railroad workshop, enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and climb aboard his red caboose. Tickets are $7 and children 3 and under are admitted free. Each trip is operated by a vintage diesel locomotive and lasts approximately 20 minutes.