Nickel Plate Road 765 and its train are about to duck under Chew Road east of Mansfield on Tuesday, Aug. 21.
Nickel Plate Road 765 passed through Northeast Ohio on Tuesday en route home to New Haven, Ind., for a little R&R before heading toward the western reaches of Norfolk Southern in early September for more employee appreciation specials.
Fellow Akron Railroad Club member Paul Woodring and I decided to use our annual summer daylong railfan outing to chase the Berkshire.
We both wanted to photograph the 765 coming off the curved bridge over the Tuscarawas River in Massillon, so that was our first stop.
There had been some confusion in the railfan community on Monday as to the route that the 765 would travel. The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, which owns the 765, had shown on its website a route map indicating that the train would pass through Cleveland.
But the group’s Twitter feed indicated that the train would use the Fort Wayne Line between Conway Yard near Pittsburgh and Bucyrus. This was the same route the 765 traversed two weeks ago on a ferry move to Pittsburgh.
With the help of ARRC members Roger Durfee and David Mangold, we determined on Tuesday morning that the 765 would be traveling via Canton, Mansfield and Bucyrus.
We met ARRC member Bob Farkas in Massillon, but he decided to pass on the bridge shot due to the lighting conditions. I can’t say I blame him.
Bob instead photographed the train at Wandle — the crossing of NS and the Wheeling & Lake Erie in Canton — and at Wooster. Also catching the train at those locations were ARRC members Ed Ribinskas and Jeff Troutman.
The sun was high and the light harsh. Worse, we were shooting toward the sun and thus had to deal with backlighting. I ended up converting my color image to black and white.
We stayed with the bridge location because it is rare to see a steam locomotive here.
There was a sizable crowd trackside in Massillon and we were able to keep track of the 765’s progress because some of them had smartphones with the “track the 765” app.
Roger had predicted that it would take the 765 about three hours to reach Massillon and he was right on the money. The steamer and its train left Conway about 8:55 a.m. and passed by our location just before noon.
We were able to get ahead of the 765 while driving westward on U.S. Route 30 toward Mansfield. It helped that the 765 had to pause for a signal at Big Run and had a 10 mph slow order near Lucasville.
We set up on a 1910 era bridge carrying Chew Road over the ex-Pennsylvania Railroad tracks east of Massillon.
I was surprised at how long we waited for the train to arrive. We must have been further ahead of it than I thought and/or it had slower going than I expected.
We passed the time chatting with several locals who had come over to see the train.
The 765 made a service stop in Mansfield and we plotted our next move. We ended up traveling to North Robinson to catch the 765 coming through a pair of Pennsy-style position light signals on single track.
West of Crestline the ex-PRR mainline is sparsely used and the condition of the track reflects that. The 765 had a 10 mph speed restriction past our location. There are open spaces where tracks used to be. A track still leads to a grain elevator here, but no longer joins the mainline. The elevator itself had a disused appearance.
Although owned by CSX, the tracks are used by NS, the Chicago, Fort Wayne & Eastern, and the Wheeling & Lake Erie. It is my understanding that CSX has little to no interest in this line and does not use is. It inherited it as part of the Conrail breakup many years ago.
As we left North Robinson, we took note of threatening weather to the west. We would encounter rain at Bucyrus and again between Chatfield and Attica.
Yet, once we got north of Attica Junction, it was sunny and partly cloudy again. Go figure.
I wanted to photograph at Ridgeton, but Paul didn’t like the location. He wanted to shoot across some farm fields north of Chatfield where the NS Sandusky District tracks come close to Ohio Route 4.
Before leaving Ridgeton, though, I did photos of a southbound (railroad eastbound) NS grain train in sunshine with storm clouds behind it. It wasn’t quite storm light conditions, but it was in the neighborhood.
North of Chatfield, we turned down Albaugh Road. As we waited on the side of the road, the skies opened again, foiling Paul’s plans to get the video perspective that he had in mind.
We had decided to go north to Shriver and I had turned the car around and was headed back to Route 4 when we spotted the 765 charging north. I slammed on the brakes, came to a quick halt and jumped out of the car to do some grab shots.
They turned out quite well, actually.
We easily caught up with the 765 and I made another impromptu on a rural road south of Attica to get some more grab shots across the fields.
Again, we caught up to the 765 which was creeping along, perhaps dogging it in hopes of getting a better signal near Attica.
We got to Shriver with plenty of time to spare. The site features a sweeping curve, but the lighting was not ideal for photographing the inside of the curve. It wasn’t all that great for shooting the other side of the curve, either, even if the sunlight favored that.
I did the best I could, even getting some nice shots with side lighting on the straightaway.
It would be our last look at 765 today. The train cruised into Bellevue and into the yard and out of sight.
We sat on the Route 4 bridge by the hump along with a group of railfans hoping for a glimpse of the 765 taking the balloon track there.
But it was not to be. We could see smoke, even heard the whistle blow once. We guessed that that Berk had stopped at the engine facility.
We needed to get back so we gave up on getting the loop shot and headed east on Ohio Route 18, after a refueling stop. Dinner was at an Italian restaurant in Medina named Domnicks. I had lasagna and it was quite good.
It was a fitting end to a productive day of chasing the largest operating steam locomotive east of the Mississippi River.
The Fort Wayne group has a multi-year contract to operate the 765 on NS rails. Next summer should bring even more 765 chase adventures.
Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders
Coming out of the curved massive steel bridge in Massillon. The lighting conditions here were a challenge.
Passing fields and roads east of Mansfield. One local showed up to watch the train wearing a Pennsy trainman’s hat.
Splitting a pair of PRR position light signals in North Robinson on the Fort Wayne Line. Nearby crumbling concrete remains show that a signal bridge once stood here, perhaps over three mainline tracks.
Nothing illustrates steam on the prairie better than a train heading west behind a cloud of smoke. The 765 was gaining speed again coming out of a 10 mph speed restriction in North Robinson on the Fort Wayne Line.
Our plans for shooting the 765 across the fields turned into a grab shot in the rain. Still, it didn’t turn out too bad and we almost missed this shot.
Steaming past the crossing of Albaugh Road between Chatsfield and Carrothers.
Rounding the curve and heading toward the signals at Shriver. Bellevue and the end of this day’s journey is almost within sight.
The back edge of the storm is visible over the 765 as it comes into Shriver. The rain was, no doubt, welcomed during a summer of drought conditions.