The Bennett family has been involved in locomotive steam engines for as long as any of them can remember.
Jerrad Bennett, his father, Paul, and grandfather, Edgar, all played a role in restoring the historic Nickel Plate 765 – an old steam locomotive that was a familiar sight along North Clinton Street for more than a decade before it was retired from the line in 1958.
Bennett’s father taught him all there was to know about steam engines and his grandfather worked at Lima Locomotive Works during World War II.
All three belonged to the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society.
And all three passed their love for locomotives down from generation to generation.
Today, Bennett, 35, spends many of his weekends traveling from his home in Defiance, Ohio, to shows and maintaining his own steam engine.
On Sunday, Bennett, his children and friend Michael Minch gathered around the boiler of their steam engine at the Maumee Valley Antique Steam and Gas Association show, awaiting the 10-second countdown before the noon whistle.
An announcer counted down the final seconds and Bennett and Minch reached for the long ropes, pulling them slowly as the boiler let out a thunderous roar – causing Bennett’s children to cover their ears.
Bennett’s children, 13-year-old Kaylee, 6-year-old Courtney and his twin boys Shawn and Travis, 3, have all taken an interest in locomotives, engines and all things steam.
For example, when Bennett watches an online video of a steam engine or locomotive, he always has an audience.
The boys come running out and want to watch and know what’s going on, he said.
Bennett said some people might scoff at one of the things he loves most about a steam engine – its personality.
It breathes and you can hear it talking, Bennett said, speaking quietly as he listened to the sound of the steam pouring out of the boiler. You can hear it and it tells you what it needs. It has its own language.
Minch spoke with visitors during the show Sunday, explaining to them how the coal would keep the fire going and how water would be used to make sure it didn’t overheat.
It’s kind of surprising because these antique steam engines and things you might think it’s a dying thing, but people are still interested in it, Minch said.
Earlier in the weekend, Minch said crowds of several dozen or more than a hundred people would gather as he spoke, listening intently as he described how the machine worked.
Minch, who lived in upstate New York for several years, said he would often visit people who used stoves fueled by coal to heat their homes.
That smell of the coal burning, once you’ve smelled it, you’ll never forget it, he said, motioning toward the small pile of coal outside the boiler. It’s a great smell.