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Kelly Lynch

Littler River Railroad to offer train rides in Hillsdale

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HILLSDALE, MICHIGAN – For the first time in 70 years, two steam-powered passenger trains will meet in Hillsdale, Michigan. On August 27th and 28th, the Little River Railroad will operate steam-powered train rides out of downtown Hillsdale in a partnership with the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society and Indiana Northeastern Railroad Company. The collaboration is an extension of the Indiana Rail Experience, a new and popular rail tourism program based in Northeast Indiana.

These 25-minute rides will depart from the southwest side of Hillsdale Street and the railroad crossing during the layover of the Fort Wayne Railroad’s popular Tri-State Scenic Steam Excursion. Tickets for the Hillsdale Train Rides are on sale now at indianarailexperience.org and space is limited.

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“Our Tri-State excursions will deliver 800 passengers to Hillsdale over two days in August and we wanted to give area residents an opportunity to enjoy a train ride of their own. The Little River Railroad will also give our guests another great amenity to enjoy while they shop and dine in Hillsdale,” explained Chris Homco, co-event manager for the Indiana Rail Experience.

Based out of Coldwater, Michigan, the non-profit Little River Railroad has operated in rail tourist excursion service since 1975 and routinely offers rides and events in Southeastern Michigan with Little River steam locomotives no. 110 and no. 1.

“We’re looking forward to seeing our attractions operating side by side,” stated Travis Bloom, Vice President of Little River. “Teamwork between members and organizations like this is key to sustaining historic preservation and help bring added value to the communities we serve.”

The town of Hillsdale once linked the New York Central’s original east-west route between Toledo and Elkhart and a north-south route between Fort Wayne and Jackson, Michigan. The Indiana Northeastern, through an association with the Michigan Department of Transportation and nearly Branch County Rail Users Association, has revitalized the railroad line and now serves over 25 customers and supports over 500 regional jobs.

Indiana Rail Experience Arrives in Region

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Courtesy of WPTA 21:

A preview of sorts Thursday afternoon, for a new, multi-year attraction in Angola. The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society (FWRHS) took community leaders, donors, and members of the media on the organization’s first Indiana Rail Experience. It’s a new partnership between the FWRHS and the Indiana Northeastern Railroad Company. “The stars really did align for us, to be able to offer something really exciting and new — right in our backyard,” vice president Kelly Lynch told ABC21. “Having an attraction like this is like having lightning in a bottle, and now we have a place to put the bottle.”

It’s an exciting development, for the non-profit, which celebrates its 50th year in 2022. Now, more than ever, passenger train trips and theme events will be offered, taking people from Indiana to Ohio and Michigan over 100-miles of railroad line. “Everything we do here is kind of a best kept secret,” Lynch added, “and the more people we can share this secret with, the better.” He’s of course talking about the iconic machinery that powers each trip: Nickel Plate Road no. 765. The 1940s-era steam locomotive was removed as a stagnant display in Lawton Park, and restored to working condition in 1979.

Wayne York has been there since it all began. “We’ve just far exceeded any hopes we ever had of what we could do with this locomotive,” he shared. “And it’s also the bigger picture of trying to preserve railroad history from the golden age, which was about 1925 to about 1960. And all the equipment on this train, dates from that period, as well as the locomotive — that’s the railroad heritage we’re trying to preserve and introduce to new generations.”

Cars range from practical to luxury and comfort. Some have dozens of seats, others small cabins which include controlled lights, a fan, and bathroom. The higher class cars even include queen sized beds with dressers. And in between, several options tables and kitchens for dining and snacks. An open car will soon be renovated to include a bar, while guests look out over the passing landscape.

Though coal and steam power the trip, hundreds of volunteers fuel the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society’s trips. Stewards, conductors, and engineers enthusiastic each and every time they ride the no. 765. “It takes a village to run a steam train — so every time we have a weekend work session, or we’re getting ready to take the train on the road, people come from everywhere,” Lynch said. “And it’s not just from Allen County or DeKalb county or Northeast Indiana. We have people from Michigan, from Ohio, from West Virginia, and Illinois.”

Steuben County Economic Development Director Isaac Lee, who boarded the trip with his children, sees big potential with the Indiana Rail Experience coming to Angola. “The work that I do, and that we do collectively to build our community, is about keeping our kids here with us, having them grow with us, be successful with us. It’s about generational growth,” he explained. “It’s not just looking at experiences that help my wife and I — it’s about the kids too.”

“This type of attraction has a magnet affect of bringing populations that either live here, or would like to tour through our area,” Lee continued. “You don’t get many experiences to work with trains. So, that experience coming north from Fort Wayne to Angola? We’re pretty excited about it.”

Much of the public, may already know and be following upcoming trips. The Indiana Ice Cream Train, and the Wine, Whiskey, & Spirits Train trips planned for July 8-9 are already sold out. And tickets are filling up so fast for other events, we’re told organizers are working on scheduling more events later this summer. You can look out for available opportunities for the Indiana Rail Experience here. “Being able to share that feeling of awe and wonder and joy with thousands of people every year?” Lynch told us. “That’s what’s really addicting.”