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Mighty steam locomotive draws raves in Western New York visit

Sean Moore closed his small computer shop as soon as he heard the Nickel Plate Road 765, a historic steam locomotive, was set to pass by Dunkirk on its way to Buffalo.

He jumped into his van and found a spot to catch a glimpse of the engine. Joined by other train enthusiasts, Moore waited nearly four hours in the scorching sun Monday before the train passed.

The thrill lasted for all of 30 seconds.

“We looked at each other and there was not much spoken. We were just in awe,” Moore said.

The 765, built in 1944 by the Lima Locomotive Co. for the Nickel Plate Railroad, made its way to Buffalo for the first time in 20 years. The engine, which once pulled freight and passenger cars, now runs excursion routes for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Railroad Historical Society. Excursions from Cheektowaga to Corning are set for Saturday and Sunday.

With its 20 passenger cars and 5-feet-tall drive wheels, the 765 looks mighty. The engine also engages the ears with its loud whistle and captures the nose with its smell of coal smoke.

Moore, a longlife train enthusiast, says steam trains are “alive.”

“You can hear it pant and breathe,” he said of the machine built to pull 70 cars at 75 miles an hour.

The 765 evokes a similar feeling in Jason Sobczynski, 36, who operates the train. He’s made 16 trips with the 404-ton engine, logging more than 6,000 miles.

“It’s unlike anything anybody has seen unless they’ve already seen one of these,” said Sobczynski in the train’s cab.

The summer heat and steam pushed the temperature in the cab to 100 degrees Wednesday afternoon.

Steve Winicker, another operator, first got involved with the 765 in 1979, when the engine returned to the tracks after being restored. “It’s just a fascinating machine,” Winicker said. “It’s fairly simple in its individual parts but it’s hugely complex when you put it all together. You get a real appreciation for the people who built them and ran them, because it’s a monumental load of work to keep it going.”

The train helps keep history alive, he said.

“When you see little kids jumping up and down in the front of the car as they see you go by, it gives you a feeling of success or something that you’ve made somebody happier for at least a short minute,” he said.

The 765 can’t receive visitors. It’s being stored in a private yard. Still, some 20 to 30 people have come by for a look. Sobczynski doesn’t recommend that.

“One of the critical things about the continuation of this program is the safety of the general public,” he said. “It’s private property. It’s an active rail yard. We’re familiar with being around railroads. The general public is not.”

Buffalo is the farthest north the 765 has been since the excursions started, Sobcynski said. The engine is set to leave Cheektowaga at 7:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday and start its return from Corning at 6 p.m. each day.

Sixty-five people can ride in each of the 20 passenger cars. Tickets start at $119. For more information, go to www.fortwaynerailroad.org.

email: dsirtori@buffnews.com