Kelly Lynch – The Voice of The Past

 “If you can get someone to care, you can open the door and enlighten them”

Kelly pacing the 765, masquerading as 767, in 2016 during a visit to the Cuyahoga Valley. (Courtesy Photo)

Nothing brings people together like a good story. Tales of a time long ago are known for intriguing an audience and giving them chills down their spine. Storytelling is an invaluable skill to the world of preservation, as the industry thrives on educating the public with a multi-sensory experience of the glory days of railroading. Today’s spotlight goes further with this idea of storytelling, as we sit down with the storyteller of the Fort Wayne Rail Historical Society (FWRSH). Behind the Throttle is proud to feature Kelly Lynch, the voice of the past.

Kelly and I had an opportunity to talk via telephone last week. However, our interview was quickly derailed from my agenda as he took the reins of the conversation and encapsulated me with stories and memories from growing up a train enthusiast, to now helping share his vision with the rest of the world. Kelly was born in 1985 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. His grandfather before him had an extensive career working with both the New York Central and the Indiana Harbor Belt line, which led to Kelly’s father’s fixation on trains. Kelly’s father would go on to volunteer his time at the FWRHS, and would play a substantial role in 765’s original restoration. Kelly was inspired by his dad’s dedication and perseverance, and as he would tag along to the historical society with his dad, soon the train-loving bug would bite Kelly as well. “I almost didn’t have a choice”, he joked with me as he described the experiences he had of being in the cab of the locomotive when he was a young man, especially recalling watching the engine crew prepare to haul a deadhead move to West Virginia in the early 1990s. All through his primary education, Kelly spent his free time with the 765. Additionally, through high school Kelly found his other passion of filmmaking. He would use his experiences with 765 to practice making films and combine the two things he loved the most, foreshadowing the future that awaited him further down the line. 

A young Kelly being introduced to the wonder of model trains by his father.  Soon after this photo was taken, the basement would become occupied by a large layout. 

Following his high school graduation, Kelly began working at the Ohio Central Railroad in the steam shops as a laborer. His occupation there served as an opportunity to learn about steam, both maintaining and operating. From 2004 to 2007, he began furthering studying filmmaking at Columbia College in Chicago, and juggled working at the Ohio Central during this time. At university, Kelly gained an understanding of how to tell stories with the magic of video, and sought to bring his newfound knowledge to the world of railroading. After graduating in 2007, Kelly began to make videos for other museums and historical organizations as a way to show the public what these monuments had to offer and how their exhibits would benefit them. From this point onward, Kelly found himself in a variety of positions around the country, both train related and not. He spent time working for several filmmaking firms, along with doing contract work for more railroads, including RJ Corman when the railroad ran steam excursions with their Chinese-built QJ locomotive. He even found himself working for Apple at one point! With all of these jobs, Kelly still made time to see his one true love in Fort Wayne. Working with several museums, Kelly saw the impact of stories firsthand and began to make promotional videos for the FWRHS to help share the narrative of the 765. “I wanted the rest of the world to be as in love with the 765 as I was”, he explained to me, calling the 765 a time machine that had the ability to fascinate crowds as she roared down the tracks. 

Kelly ascending the cab of the famed berkshire during the first open house following 765’s overhaul in 2005. 

In 2016, Kelly was elected as the Vice President of the FWRHS after several years of handling public relations and marketing. With this new position, Kelly now played a key role in the planning of the 765’s mainline excursions, along with the deadhead moves. He outlined to me the several logistical factors that play into organizing these large scale events, citing the process of getting a host railroad to agree to an excursion, acquiring passenger cars, and of course, the dreaded “I word”, insurance. Additionally, Kelly explained the process of creating an experience for the passengers such that they are entertained and intrigued throughout the whole train ride. He went further to explain how these excursions can allow for the public to not only see steam trains in action, but also for them to learn more about the history. “If you can get someone to care, you can open the door and enlighten them”, he told me. Giving passengers this one-on-one opportunity with a steam powered time machine is how Kelly hopes to incite interest, curiosity, and excitement in the passengers on board these trips, and just at Fort Wayne’s events in general. 

The Fort Wayne crew poses with their pride and joy following a trip around the Horseshoe Curve, with Kelly standing to the right of the headlight. (Courtesy Photo)

Nowadays Kelly holds down a dayjob of making promotional films for companies and working as a digital marketing consultant. Additionally, he continues to work closely with the FWRHS, spreading their mission of preserving the past and continuing the traditions of classic railroading. With the historical society, Kelly has been working tirelessly to bring Headwaters Junction to fruition. This new project will provide the 765 a new home in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where the organization can further demonstrate the look and feel of steam railroading, while also creating a new tourist destination that can help bolster the local economy. The romance of railroading has certainly faded over the years, yet Kelly hopes to preserve some of these illustrious aspects in aspiration to keep the tradition and history alive. Kelly spoke to some of his memories working with the 765 and the FWRHS, and recounted firing the locomotive over the Horseshoe Curve while his dad rode behind him in the tool car. He recalls a feeling of pride, knowing the organization trusted him to fire successfully on such a mountainous terrain. Additionally, knowing his dad was just a few feet behind, Kelly was proud to have shared that moment with his influence in getting into the hobby. “After all, he kidded, “It was all his fault I was there!” Kelly also told me of the time when following the deadhead move to West Virginia in 2012, he and his longtime friend Zac McGinnis (previously featured on Behind the Throttle) visited the grave of his grandfather, the first Lynch of railroading. 

Right: Kelly unveils the NKP 765 to the public with it’s temporary renumber to 767 to honor the locomotive’s  former look while on display in Fort Wayne. (Courtesy Photo)

“How do you thank someone you never met?”, a question that settled in Kelly’s mind upon arrival at the cemetery. Kelly would lay his pair of gloves that he used to fire the 765 earlier next to the headstone, a small tribute for the immense influence Kelly’s grandfather indirectly played on his life. As time goes on, Kelly aspires to follow in his father’s footsteps and inspire more people about the magic of railroading. “Everytime you bring the engine out there’s always immense payback”, he outlined to me, showing that when 765 was hot and ready, new faces were inducted into the hobby. So long as he is on this earth, Kelly will continue to share the magic that comes with a steam powered time machine, and will continue to kindle the coal fires inside the locomotive, and the fires of passion on the outside. 

Kelly hostling RJ Corman QJ No.2008 as he prepares to take to the high iron in Lexington, KY. (Courtesy Photo)

Thank you for reading this edition of Behind The Throttle. Tune in next time for an interview with Andre Barry, a laborer for Amtrak at Union Station, DC. Until then, I am Max Harris, and thank you for your continued support of Behind the Throttle.