Courtesy of Guest Blogger Dan L. Merkel, membership director of the Nickel Plate Historical and Technical Society
The New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad Company, the Nickel Plate Road (NKP), was formed in the early 1880s to connect New York in the east to Chicago & St. Louis in the west. Completion of the Chicago – New York segment occurred in fall 1882. The nickname Nickel Plate generally is credited to the newspaper in Bellevue, Ohio, when it ran several editorials talking about the “nickel plated railroad.” The nickname stuck.
It would be another 40 years before the connection to St. Louis was added to the system. This occurred in 1922 when the railroad acquired the property of the Toledo, St. Louis & Western, the Clover Leaf, which ran from Toledo to St. Louis. Also in that same year, the Nickel Plate secured control of the Lake Erie and Western Railroad, a line that ran from Sandusky, Ohio, to Peoria, Illinois. This made up the primary properties of the Nickel Plate until 1949 when the Wheeling & Lake Erie was added to the system.
The “Wheeling” ran primarily from Wheeling, West Virginia, to Toledo, as well, and also had branches to Lake Erie and the coalfields of eastern Ohio.
The NKP was known for its high-speed service. Trains would rocket across Indiana and Ohio on straight and level steel tracks to deliver fresh meats, vegetables and other perishable commodities to Buffalo where they were forwarded to the eastern seaboard. Interchange points in places, such as Frankfort, Indiana, Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and Bellevue, Ohio, were operated on clockwork-like schedules to keep the freight moving, and moving fast! Through the late 1950s, the railroad primarily was powered by more than 110 fast and powerful steam locomotives, many of them built in Lima, Ohio.
One of the industries served along the NKP’s Cleveland to Bellevue main line was the former GM Fisher Body Plant located in Euclid, now owned by HGR. The plant had an active rail spur on which Nickel Plate local freights delivered raw materials and picked up finished goods for the GM facility.
The Nickel Plate survived the Great Depression, served the United States with pride during World War II and performed spectacularly during the 1950s. But the changing economy and business environment caught up with it, and, in 1964, the NKP merged with the Wabash Railroad and the Norfolk and Western Railroad. Thus, the corporate life of the Nickel Plate Road ended.
Today, the history and the heritage of the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad is being preserved by the 900-member Nickel Plate Historical and Technical Society. Formed in 1966, this 501(c)(3) nonprofit society is the oldest continuously operating railroad historical society in the United States. Its purpose is to obtain, preserve and disseminate information and material related to the Nickel Plate and its predecessor, constituent and affiliated railroads. The Society publishes a quarterly Nickel Plate Magazine and a Modelers’ Notebook. Some of these materials can be found in HGR’s new manufacturing resource center in its customer lounge. There are several programs in place to collect & preserve materials related to the railroad, to assist with others’ preservation efforts and to keep alive the memories, history and traditions of this fine railroad. The Society’s business is conducted by an all-volunteer board of directors, and an annual convention is held each year in a city that was served by the Nickel Plate.