Local railroaders accept retired Nickel Plate 624

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Engine No. 624 has stood silent in an outdoor enclosure in Hammond since 1955. It will be restored for display at a railroad attraction in Fort Wayne.

Steam Locomotive No. 624 will gleam once again, 60 years after hauling its last freight for the Nickel Plate Road.

The engine will steal the show at the Headwaters Junction railroad attraction envisioned for downtown Fort Wayne. The 624 might even see limited service with Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society Inc. excursions.

The City of Hammond donated the engine to the FWRHS, rescuing No. 624 from a fenced-off park just six miles south of Lake Michigan, where it had battled decades of northwest Indiana weather. A private donor will finance the restoration.

FWRHS Vice President Kelly Lynch announced the agreement Jan. 4.

No. 624 is a Mikado-type locomotive built by the Lima Locomotive Works in 1922 and donated to the City of Hammond in 1955 after racking up over a million and a half miles in freight service for the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, more commonly known as the Nickel Plate Road. In recent years, 624’s condition has deteriorated due to exposure to the elements. The FWRHS has owned and operated Nickel Plate Road No. 765, a larger Berkshire-type engine rescued from a Fort Wayne city park display in 1974.

“It’s been disheartening to see the deterioration over the years,” Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said of the 624. “I’m happy to see it go to a good home.”

Lynch said the FWRHS is excited to carry on the legacy of this artifact of Hammond railroad history.

“Conversations about what to do with park engines like the 624 can be challenging for any community and it’s rare to have both the right opportunity, partners and experience as we do in the situation with 624,” Lynch said in a statement.

No. 624 will receive a full cosmetic restoration and may be considered a candidate for restoration to operation pending a more thorough inspection. The work to remove and rehabilitate No. 624 will be sponsored by a private donor who has stepped forward and offered to manage the restoration project with the FWRHS providing technical support. Due to space limitations at the FWRHS facility east of New Haven, restoration will be done at a private site in northeast Indiana.

“The railroad preservation industry and organizations like ours have to innovate in order to achieve their mission and this approach allows us to keep time and resources focused on the 765 and our core operations, while giving another important artifact a new lease on life,” Lynch said.

Lynch, whose family is from Munster and worked at the Indiana Harbor Belt Roundhouse in Hammond, originally became involved as a consultant to the effort to preserve 624 in 2007 during the first meeting of the Northwest Indiana Railroad Preservation Society.

Since 624’s arrival near Hammond’s Civic Center, the engine has received occasional maintenance, including asbestos abatement in the 1970s. Recent efforts by the NIRPS were intended to further stabilize 624 against weather and vandalism, but work recently ceased.

“Considering how long the locomotive has been outside, it’s in remarkably good shape. The abatement early in its display life did wonders to preserve the boiler. While there is some obvious deterioration, it can be repaired. Beneath all the rust and faded paint is a locomotive in decent condition,” Zach Hall, of Portage, the society’s operations manager and mechanical consultant, said in a statement.

Current plans call for the 624’s boiler, frame and tender to be separated and trucked off-site. The relocation and cosmetic work on the 624 is estimated to cost $250,000 and a full mechanical restoration could cost as much as $1.2 million. Fundraising for Headwaters Junction is expected to begin in late 2017/early 2018. If the 624 is returned to operation, current plans do not call for it to operate consistently in excursion service like the 765, but several options are being considered.

“While a restoration to operation would be wonderful, the 624 will make a compelling attraction in Fort Wayne and be displayed in an evocative, exciting fashion,” Lynch said.

The 624 is considered a close relative to the society’s own restored No. 765, which is closely associated with the City of Fort Wayne. In recognition of No. 624’s connection to northwest Indiana, the locomotive will be named the “City of Hammond.”

The FWRHS is working to expand its membership in its 45th year. The organization claims over 600 members from 45 states and three countries, plus dozens of volunteers from around the Midwest.

To join the organization, or to read the full statement on Engine No. 624, visit fortwaynerailroad.org.