By Sue Botos
The old railroad station on Depot Street, off of Lake Road, is quiet today, serving as storage for maintenance equipment and as office space for Norfolk Southern railroad. The occasional freight train roars past, leaving the small white building in its wake.
But during the 1930s, the Rocky River station was bustling as trains from the Nickel Plate Railroad carried commuters from the depot to the newly completed Union Terminal in downtown Cleveland.
Although the Nickel Plate reached the end of the line in October 1964, train buffs, the curious and those who remember riding the rails may have the chance to get a taste of days gone by. Historic locomotive No. 765 is set to pull the “Nickel Plate Limited” on a special excursion between Rocky River and Bellevue on May 12.
The No. 765 was built in Lima, Ohio, during the last months of World War II to haul freight. It was restored by the Fort Wayne (Indiana) Railroad Historical Society in 1979, and offers various excursions throughout Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio. It’s said to be the largest operating steam engine east of the Mississippi.
According to Kelly Lynch, spokesman for the railroad society, despite the hefty price tag of $99 to $249, depending on type of accommodation, the trip was sold out by the end of February. A waiting list is available at www.fortwaynerailroad.org.
Lynch said that the details regarding the exact departure point and other opportunities to get a closer look at the train are still being worked out, and should be available within the next few weeks.
The approximately 500 passengers will ride aboard cars ranging from basic coaches to deluxe, dome and first-class accommodations. Some are restored vintage cars, while others are more modern. To protect the older cars, Lynch said that children will only be allowed in coach.
According to the Rocky River Historical Society’s book “Rocky River Yesterday,” the Nickel Plate made its debut in October 1882, the same year the Rocky River station was built. Originally known as the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad, it’s said to have received its nickname in a Norwalk (Ohio) Chronicle editorial, which referred to the railway as a “double-track, nickel-plated railroad.”
In 1916, Cleveland’s Van Sweringen brothers acquired the railroad when they were developing Shaker Heights and later the Terminal Tower because they wanted to run interurban trains between Shaker Square and Public Square. The New York Central Line wanted to sell, so the brothers purchased the first of nine railroads they would eventually own.
Today, the tracks that will carry engine No. 765 and its lineup of cars belong to Norfolk Southern, which last year hired the locomotive to provide private excursions for railroad employees. This year, the line allowed the Fort Wayne group to run public excursions as well.
This will not be the first time in the area for the 765. Between 1944 and retirement in 1958, the engine ran between Buffalo and Chicago. Since its restoration in 1979, it has been part of several excursions on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad Line, which runs from Canton to Rockside Station in Independence.
The Rocky River to Belleview run will be the only Ohio trip this year. An excursion between Altoona and Lewiston, Pa., is set for May 25.