No. 757 is back in Bellevue, where it was during heyday

BELLEVUE — Visitors to the Mad River & Nickel Plate Railroad Museum will find the historic Nickel Plate Road steam locomotive No. 757, the Berkshire, back home in Bellevue.

It made the three-day journey from the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, Strasburg, Pennsylvania, arriving home Feb. 14, said Dwayne Fuehring, the organization’s vice president and Bring Back 757 project manager.

Constructed in 1944 by the Lima Locomotive Works, the 757 was technologically advanced in its day. It was one of 80 fast-freight steam locomotives on the roster of the Nickel Plate Road.

Weighing 440,800 pounds, the 757 could operate at speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour and pull some of the longest and heaviest freight trains of the day. The 757’s home terminal was Bellevue, where it and its sister engines transported freight and freight trains between Chicago, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Conneaut, Ohio and Buffalo, New York.

After the locomotive was retired in 1958, Fuehring said the engine was stored in Bellevue and offered to the city of Bellevue in 1960. However, circumstances prevented the city from accepting the gift.

“The city spent six years trying to fund a display site to display the locomotive,” Fuehring said. “After six years, the railroad grew impatient and they decided they needed to be rid of it.”

In 1966, the railroad donated the engine to the Pennsylvania museum where it was cared for and displayed.

The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania is home to about 100 historic locomotives and railroad cars, a library and archives, a working restoration shop, an education center. It’s a Smithsonian affiliate, and one of 24 historic sites and museums administered by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission as part of the Pennsylvania Trails of History.

Today, the 757 is one of six preserved Nickel Plate Berkshires that remain in existence and 53 years later, it made the 550-mile journey home.

“We had a 25-mile-per-hour speed restriction for the whole trip,” Fuehring said.

He said the railroad coordinated with the transport.

“They wove us into their traffic pattern,” he said. “That took some time.”

Two crew members rode the train and two followed in a vehicle, switching off every so often, he said. The vehicle had tools on board in case repairs were needed enroute.

Fuehring said it’s important the 757 is home because the museum has wanted a mainline steam locomotive and the 757 was top choice because of its history.

“And the fact that it was supposed to be Bellevue’s to begin with made it the one we wanted,” he said. “Our museum is dedicated to the preservation of railroad history in Bellevue. We did not have a mainline steam locomotive in the collection.”

The museum started a Bring Back 757 fundraising campaign in August 2017, and raised $250,000 from a wide variety of businesses and individuals.

“A lot of the residents have donated,” he said. “A lot of the older generation that remember what happened in the 1960s.”

“We’re happy to see it home,” he said.

But the project isn’t finished.

“It’s a three-phase process,” he said. “Right now, we’re still fundraising.”

Money raised now is to go toward restoration, and $90,000 more is needed.

“We’re also raising money for the site where it will be displayed,” he said.

The third part is a permanent display of the restored locomotive, he said, and museum personnel are hoping to have the project complete in three to five years.

“We’re going to start restoring it probably next year,” he said. “This year we’re in the process of building a new restoration building.”

The crew is hoping to have the new building completed before winter. The building is to be located on the former Bellevue Farmers Cooperative property, which the museum purchased in 2013.

“For the last five years we have been progressing bit by bit,” he said. “It’s a group effort by the board.”

The museum opens for the season May 4 and is open weekends until daily operations begin Memorial Day weekend. The museum remains open through Labor Day.

“We’re the largest static rail museum in the state of Ohio,” Fuehring said.

He recommended anyone visit the museum, especially railroad enthusiasts, but also anybody with an interest in history. Visitors total about 5,000 per year, plus about 3,000 people during the Holiday Train event in December.

“Kids just love it here,” he said.

Fuehring said the inside of the museum is newly renovated.

One of the renovations under way is a dome car, and renovations are to continue through the season.

“There were several of them made when passenger travel was more common,” he said.

The museum is a nonprofit corporation founded in 1976 as a local bicentennial project by volunteers.

Since then, the museum has collected more than 50 pieces of railroad equipment, countless artifacts, five buildings, 10 acres of property and a rail viewing platform and park, making it the largest rail museum in Ohio.

Volunteers have steadily increased the numbers of pieces without government assistance, the organization’s website said. On average, two or three pieces of equipment receive a paint job every year. Considering most of the equipment is outdoors, the commitment is essential to preserving the collection.

The museum is named after the two railroads that had the most impact on Bellevue’s development. The Mad River & Lake Erie Railroad was the first railroad to be chartered in Ohio, and Bellevue had rail service by the mid-1830s, much earlier than most developing towns of the day.

Bellevue was 20 miles south of the MR&LE’s Northern Terminal, the lake port of Sandusky.

In 1882, the Nickel Plate Road was constructed through. Being the halfway point between Chicago, Illinois, and Buffalo, New York, on the NKP mainline, the town became the largest classification terminal on the NKP, and even today Moorman Yard is the largest terminal on the modern-day Norfolk Southern line.

Donations can be made at the museum, online at bringback757.org/donate or by mailing a check to Mad River & NKP Railroad Museum, Bring Back 757, 233 York St., Bellevue, OH 44811.

For more information, email madriver@onebellevue.com, check MR&NKP on Facebook or call (419) 483-2222.

For information about the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, visit www.rrmuseumpa.org or call (717) 687-8628.