The following of Fort Wayne’s steam locomotive has never been more evident. Last weekend, the locomotive’s caretakers experienced their biggest open house in history with thousands of attendees, over 1500 passengers, and consistent crowds for two days. Though modest in scope, the opportunity provides the public the chance to get up close and personal with the locomotive and the engine does a demonstration run at least twice daily for the crowds. The lines for both caboose rides and tours were longer than the trains themselves. Not a bad showing for a two track pole barn near the state line.
Events like these are Allen County’s only opportunity to experience what 25,000 people enjoy every week when the locomotive is operating on the railroad. Why? Because the facility in New Haven is perfect for off-season storage and restoration work, but it remains a striking reminder of the unrealized potential in the locomotive’s draw and significance, and a major reason why Headwaters Junction was conceived: to realize and enhance the potential of this rare national attraction. It’s a concept that asks:
What if these crowds were downtown? What if it was part of a meaningful Fort Wayne experience? What if it was connected with area attractions and points of interest? What if it was located within a riverfront development? What if it could offer sights, sounds, and experiences totally unmatched in the city, state, or region? What if we capitalized on our own assets?
What’s incredible is that this 68-year old machine creates new fans and followers through every town it travels, rewarding its supporters and increasing their numbers every day. You’ll spy every age, background, and demographic seeking out this train for the experience it offers – even on a weekend afternoon as simple as last Saturday.
Let’s take a closer look at these fans. What do they say? Where do they travel from? What does the 765 mean to them? Here is a brief look:
This city deserves to capitalize on itself. This is not a museum. It is not a dusty, static history lesson. This is an attraction that moves in the physical and emotional senses. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see what that could do for downtown.