The upcoming steam-train tour that Norfolk Southern has arranged — starting with a ferry trip from Fort Wayne to Bellevue, Ohio on Friday and employee excursions out of Bellevue on Saturday and Sunday — is only part of the company’s plan to celebrate its 30th corporate anniversary. As was featured on a Blade Sunday Magazine page this spring, NS arranged for 20 of its new diesel locomotives to be painted in the colors of historic railroads that make up most of its corporate ancestry.
During the first week of July, all 20 of them plus an engine in standard Norfolk Southern paint (but celebratory numbers) were on exhibit at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, N.C. Despite stultifying heat in North Carolina — comparable to what Toledoans endured that same week — the event attracted thousands of railroad enthusiasts, some from hundreds of miles away, to photograph the special engines both under the broiling sun and by floodlight at night. The engines were often arranged so that railroads from the three main branches of Norfolk Southern's corporate family tree -- Southern Railway, Norfolk & Western, and Conrail -- were posed together, such as this grouping of New York Central, Pennsylvania, and their merger successor Penn Central. Yes, even Penn Central, which when it filed for bankruptcy in 1970 represented the largest business failure in United States history, has been recognized in the program.
By that week’s end, most of the Heritage Fleet had been returned to regular service — all except for a handful that had been sent directly from a factory in Muncie, Ind., to Spencer without first having gone to a Norfolk Southern shop for computer programming and other post-manufacture set-up. Well, there was one other exception: NS 8100, the Nickel Plate Road engine, which was sent to the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society facility near Fort Wayne to be teamed up with Nickel Plate 765, the star of the steam-train tour. The NKP-decorated diesel will be tucked in behind the steam engine for all of its stops except the final swing to St. Louis, for which a Wabash-painted engine will get the honors. The steam engine is expected to do all the work; the diesel will be there “just in case.”
Two other Heritage Fleet members — the ones painted for the Reading and the Lehigh Valley — brought a trainload of coal north from West Virginia last week to the Detroit Edison power plant in River Rouge, Mich. The train passed through Toledo and Monroe with the loads on the morning of July 10, then returned from Michigan with the empty coal cars on the afternoon of July 12.
After the empty train arrived in Bellevue, Ohio, it was diverted from its planned route back to West Virginia and instead was sent to Chicago for delivery to the BNSF Railway, which was to take the coal cars for loading in Wyoming instead! The two special NS engines stayed with that train as far as Lincoln, Neb., where they were assigned to a different train destined for a rail yard near Billings, Mont. There’s a decent chance that train’s arrival will be the first time a locomotive dressed for either the Reading or the Lehigh Valley has been seen in the Billings area; as of this writing, that's expected to happen sometime Thursday.
Whether you’re out looking for the steam train or not during its imminent tour, be aware of the route it will take, because the trips are likely to attract a lot of spectators and undoubtedly a few train chasers. The route from Fort Wayne to Bellevue closely follows State Rt. 613 between the Ohio/Indiana border and McComb, Ohio, so there will likely be a parade of photographers chasing the train on that highway as it heads east Friday morning. Similarly, State Rt. 4 runs close to the train’s route this weekend between Bellevue and Bucyrus, so traffic may get interesting at times, especially near Attica, Ohio. Especially problematic are conflicts between photographers who are trying to get ahead of the train for their next shot and videographers who desire “pacing” shots from their moving vehicles; this may especially be an issue along Route 613 near Oakwood, Ohio on Friday.
If all that weren’t enough, Norfolk Southern’s business train ran an employee-appreciation special from Toledo to Bellevue Tuesday morning. I’m sure that train , powered by the company’s four 1950s-vintage “F unit” diesels, turned a few heads in East Toledo, Oak Harbor, Fremont, and Clyde along the way.