Even at a standstill, the #765 Berkshire engine belches steam and smoke to regulate its boiler pressure. (Image/Alan Sakalas)

Since OnAllCylinders is about all-things piston-powered, we decided to give you a closer look at another type of mechanical masterpiece.

Let’s head back to a time long before asphalt crisscrossed the continent, when rail was the preferred means of travel. We’re not referring to 200 mile-per-hour bullet trains or electric subways here. We’re talking about steam locomotives—those smoke belching, whistle howling engines that you see in old westerns and gangster movies.

#765 boasted a top speed of 70 miles-per-hour, which put it close to the pinnacle of steam engine performance. (Image/Alan Sakalas)

With its main line running right through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park near Akron, OH, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad offers a full schedule of rail tours. Usually, the line runs a fleet of diesel engines, but on very special occasions, the railroad hosts a touring steam locomotive—in this case, the Nickel Plate #765 operated by the Ft. Wayne Railroad Historical Society.

As part of the legendary “Berkshire” series of locomotives, #765 represented a leap forward in steam train design. The engine was built for more speed and pulling power, boasting a larger firebox and a unique 2-8-4 wheel arrangement. Hundreds of ’Berks traversed the nation in the years between 1920 and 1960. As diesel technology* advanced however, steam locomotives were retired from service and most were eventually scrapped. Thankfully, #756 avoided the boneyard and was lovingly returned to operating condition.

*Fun Fact: Diesel locomotives use their diesel engines to generate electricity, which powers electric motors attached to the train’s wheels. So technically speaking, a diesel locomotive is actually driven by electricity.
Literal Boilerplate: the Lima Locomotive Works, based in Lima, OH (just north of Dayton) built #765 in September 1944. (Image/Alan Sakalas)

Think working on an old muscle car is tough?

How about maintaining a 400-ton machine that predates Eisenhower’s presidency. The Ft. Wayne Railroad Historical Society has a cadre of volunteer engineers, mechanics, and fabricators dedicated to operating a locomotive that would have otherwise been lost to history.

Diesel engines are tasked with the normal day-to-day routes of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. This is a vintage Alco (American Locomotive Co.) engine; still wearing its classic Baltimore & Ohio livery. (Image/Alan Sakalas)

The Nickel Plate #765 ran on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad lines as part of the “Steam in the Valley” celebration. We were able to climb aboard and snap some pictures. But even if you don’t live in Ohio, there are still several short-line and scenic railroads zigzagging across the country. A quick trip to the Googlesphere will help you find one near your home.

You can learn more about Engine #765 at the Ft. Wayne Railroad Historical Society Website.

Next time you fret about gas prices, just think about the expense of filling a steam engine’s coal tender. Our hats are off to the Ft. Wayne Railroad Historical Society for keeping Nickel Plate Road #765 rolling strong. (Image/Alan Sakalas)
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Author: Paul Sakalas

Paul is the editor of OnAllCylinders. When he's not writing, you'll probably find him fixing oil leaks in a Jeep CJ-5 or roof leaks in an old Corvette ragtop. Thanks to a penchant for vintage Honda motorcycles, he spends the rest of his time fiddling with carburetors and cleaning chain lube off his left pant leg.