About 6,000 people made the journey this year over three weekends, Lynch said. Today is the last day for the event, which has been sold out for weeks.
Kendra Saurer’s extended family of 12 took a ride Saturday. The group included four children, ages 11/2 to 5.
“The boys have loved trains forever,” she said of the oldest cousins, including her son, 4-year-old Vance. “All three of these are train fanatics.”
Bob Wilkins, one of the children’s two grandfathers along for the ride, declared the trip a success.
“Trains are always fun,” he added. “It’s amazing how people volunteer to do this.”
As families await their turn to ride, they can get hot chocolate from Amanda Lee Coffee, a local coffee truck; shop for souvenirs; color Christmas-themed pictures; and tour the No. 765 steam locomotive, which is on display inside the maintenance building the Railroad Historical Society calls home.
Lynch hopes that won’t be true for long. He’s been among the staunchest supporters for the proposed Headwaters Junction development.
Headwaters Junction Inc. partnered with Continental Property Group and Design Collaborative to envision a mixed-use, downtown development that would house the No. 765 steam locomotive with a roundhouse, amid other attractions on the North River property.
The partnership’s proposal for the site was the only one received by city officials, who are working with a consulting firm to create a comprehensive plan for the North River property and the Riverfront Development.
Lynch, who wears an authentic conductor’s hat and uniform as he greets guests, is eager for the operation to move to downtown Fort Wayne, where other businesses can benefit from the influx of visitors.
A 2016 feasibility study found the attraction would bring an additional 140,000 people downtown. The expected annual local economic impact is $60 million, Lynch said.
“We’re in the entertainment business,” he said of creating a memorable experience for children. “It’s all about making everybody feel how you feel about it.”