Nickel Plate Road No. 587 pulls its first public excursion train after being restored. The train originated in Indianapolis and traveled via Conrail to Logansport, Ind., and back.
Where were you on the morning of Sept. 17, 1988? If you were a fan of mainline steam locomotives you probably were wishing you could figure out how to be in three places on the same day.
In Ohio, Norfolk & Western No. 611 was pulling a roundtrip between Columbus and Portsmouth. The Nickel Plate Road No. 765 was pulling a one-way ferry move from Bellevue to Brewster.
And over in Indiana the latest mainline steam locomotive to join the list of steamers was making its maiden run after being restored to operating condition.
I was a graduate student at the time at Indiana University. I had found out about the Nickel Plate Road 587 making its first public excursion from Indianapolis to Logansport, Ind., and return and had purchased a ticket to ride.
Sure, I was thrilled to be part of a “first,” but I was also happy to be able to get some new miles over routes that Amtrak’s Floridian had once used and over which I’d never ridden.
The 587 is a 2-8-2 USRA light steam locomotive built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in September 1918 for the Lake Erie & Western. It carried roster number 5541 and was renumbered 587 in 1924 after the Nickel Plate acquired the LE&W.
Retired in March 1955, the 587 was placed on static display in Broad Ripple Park in Indianapolis where it sat until 1983 when it was displaced by a library expansion program.
With the locomotive needing a new home, a group known as “Friends of 587” determined that the steamer could be restored and moved it by truck to Amtrak’s Beech Grove shops for the restoration work.
By fall 1988, the 587 was ready to stretch its legs on a mainline journey after a satisfactory test run on the Indiana Rail Road south of Indianapolis.
Conrail agreed to allow the train to pull a public excursion over a former Pennsylvania Railroad routing between Indy and Logansport.
I use the term “mainline” loosely because the tracks over which the 587 and its train would travel were a secondary line, although not in poor condition.
The Indiana Transportation Museum, which would later acquire ownership of the 587, provided a train of mostly former Santa Fe coaches.
The train boarded at Hanna Avenue in Indianapolis on the Louisville line and made its way north to the Indianapolis Union Railway tracks at IU interlocking, rounding the curve toward Indianapolis Union Station just as the Pennsy’s South Wind and Kentuckian once did.
However, the train ran on the bypass tracks south of the train shed as did Conrail freight trains and as CSX trains do today.
We then followed the route of Amtrak’s Hoosier State and Cardinal westward on the former PRR St. Louis Line to the site of the former Davis Tower where Chicago-bound Pennsy passenger trains made a right turn. The former St. Louis line west of here is abandoned.
Amtrak trains make a left turn off the ex-Pennsylvania at CP Clermont to get onto a former New York Central route, the Peoria & Eastern, but we kept going straight.
Our route took us through Lebanon and Frankfort. At Van Tower in Logansport we went around the wye and backed into town on the former Pan Handle tracks, crossing the Eel River before coming to a stop just east of South Third Street.
I disembarked and took a few photographs and watched the crew service the train. Here are a few of those photos, all of which have been scanned from color negatives.
The journey to and from Logansport was made without incident. The train was no speedster but wasn’t crawling along either.
I don’t recall how close we were to the published schedule, but we probably were not too far off.
I rode behind the 587 twice more before moving away from Indiana in 1991. One trip was a one-way journey in April 1989 from Indianapolis to Bloomington over the INRD and the other was a June 1991 journey over the former LE&W between Frankfort and Muncie.
I would then have one more encounter with the 587, riding an excursion from Indianapolis to Worthington, Ind., and return over another former Pennsy secondary line.
I have not seen the 587 since then and online reports indicate that it is landlocked at the ITM where it continues to undergo another rebuilding.
Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders
The service stop at Logansport enabled passengers to get out and get a good look at the locomotive.
There is always work to do with a steam locomotive. The crew attends to the NKP 587 in Logansport.
Note the boy at left watching the crew service the NKP 587. Is he a steam fan today because he was here on this day?
The excursion train sits idle in Logansport during the service stop.
I didn’t take notes to accompany my photos, but judging by the tired looks on the faces of some of these passengers I’m guessing that this photo was taken during the return trip.