Railroads & Locomotives Tourist Railroad Profiles Nickel Plate Express: A night of mystery and elegance unmasked

Nickel Plate Express: A night of mystery and elegance unmasked

By Nastassia Putz | January 15, 2024

Masquerade-themed train carries guests into the new year

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Nickel Plate Express

A night of mystery, elegance, and a train ride. Leaving the worries of 2023 at the Hobbs Station, guests boarded the Nickel Plate Express train on Dec. 31, 2023. This sold-out train, figuratively, waved goodbye to the present landscape as 95 guests glided back in time and fearlessly entered the past in sophisticated, sprightly Bridgerton style. People traveled near and far to join the Nickel Plate crew for this first-time event, a 45-minute excursion on the Masquerade Express New Year’s Eve train ride.

desserts on table
A variety of sweets were set up on a table next to a gorgeous spread of appetizers. Nastassia Putz

Guests detrained several hours prior to the new year, entering a gorgeously adorned, well thought out venue at the end of the line. Dressed to impress, people sipped champagne, ate tantalizing hors d’oeuvres, and joyfully floated across the dance floor in cocktail and period-themed attire. It was a night too blissful to forget.

The Masquerade Express train

Operating on 12.5 miles of track between Noblesville and Atlanta, Ind.,— former Nickel Plate Road — guests boarded historic 1956 Santa Fe El Capitan Hi-Level cars (two coach cars and two dining cars). One locomotive was placed on each end of the train, Nickel Plate Road GP7 No. 426 built in 1953, and No. 4214, an F9 diesel built in 1956 that was originally used for the Erie Mining Co.

Nickel Plate Express Executive Director Emily Reynolds was the host for the evening. She has worked for the Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad since March 2021. With 20+ years of non-profit management experience, this is Reynolds’ first job with a railroad.

New to the world of trains, Reynolds says she is fortunate to be around an amazing and knowledgeable crew that has helped her gain an understanding of how to operate a tourist railroad. “I grew up in Noblesville and have fond memories of a train running through town. Being able to serve my community and ensure we continue operating a train in Hamilton County is a driving force for me.”

food sprawled on table
A beautiful arrangement of appetizers is displayed for guests to enjoy. Nastassia Putz

Planning the night

In June 2023, alongside planning the annual holiday train rides, Reynolds started to map out what this event would look like. She developed a brief outline of the evening which included the date, the location (Earthly Endearments — privately owned by Shannon and Steve Plumer), the food, and the music, which was inspired by the 2020 Netflix series, Bridgerton created by Chris Van Dusen.

“I spent weeks designing centerpieces, picking out sparkling wine, and ensuring the event went off seamlessly,” says Reynolds. Having held previous events at this local venue helped streamline the process. “The setup was the most time-consuming part. It took a team of 4 people over 8 hours to put out decor and set the tables in the venue. I think offering events off the train are so fun and unique, but they bring the challenge of not just prepping the train but also an outside venue.”

Was the night successful? Reynolds met and spoke with people from all over the central U.S. — Wisconsin, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and Louisiana to name a few. Her goal was to have people wowed by the end of the evening, and those smiling, laughing faces certainly said they were. A few can’t wait to come back again for another New Year’s Eve rendezvous.

Guests go all out

four people dressed up on train
Four guests, including Sherry Zaruba-Cassatt in the purple, sat contently on the train ride to Atlanta, Ind., dressed in period-themed clothing. Nastassia Putz

Sherry Zaruba-Cassatt, salon owner, typically doesn’t go out for New Year’s Eve. However, her sister heard about this event from a good friend who works on the train and decided to go. It was around Thanksgiving time when she committed to a night of mystery and elegance.

“My sister was constantly calling me. Did you order your dress yet?” says Zuraba-Cassatt. Like her sister, she did indeed order a dress for the evening. The dress came in time, but to her dismay, was “hideous.” Feeling defeated, she was upset, and ordering another dress wasn’t feasible with the time restraint. So, she decided to make her own dress.

She worked on the dress until the day of the event. It turned out perfectly, especially since she didn’t know what to expect. “I didn’t even get to ask my sister very many questions. To be honest, I didn’t care. I was just so excited to dress up like the 1800s and go on a mini weekend vacation.”

Overall, she had a fantastic time and would love to do it again. For her, the train ride was relaxing, and talking with new people alongside her husband, sister, and brother-in-law made the whole event worthwhile.

train guests wearing masks
Guests happily wore masks on and off the train ride to celebrate the new year approaching. Nastassia Putz

“The young men that sat at the table behind us on the train complimented our dresses several times and even gave me a mask from Mardi Gras. I’m such a people person. I told the young man who gave me this beautiful mask that I intend to make a dress to match it for next year.”

One part she found difficult — though a huge fan of costumes and dressing up — was trying to fit between the tables at the venue wearing a period garment. Can you imagine? “Trying to squeeze between tables with a petticoat under my dress.”

A crew affair

Bobby McCoy, the conductor for the evening, has worked with the train since December 2019. He is also an engineer and an instructor of conductors. McCoy has seen a variety of events happen on the train like weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries to name a few.

The Masquerade Express was a unique endeavor for him. “Conducting on the last train of 2023 and the first train of 2024 is a neat feeling,” says McCoy. He really enjoyed celebrating with all the guests and being a part of their experience.

guests dancing
Guests dancing in the venue on New Year’s Eve. Nastassia Putz

“Destination trains are something relatively new for us. We have our Murder Mystery Express trains which run to Atlanta, people disembark, have dinner, do other activities, and then hop back aboard to head back to Noblesville. Then occasionally we run trains to festivals and dinner in Cicero. Most of our rides have the event occurring on the train, so this gave people the experience of taking a train to somewhere and returning.”

As the conductor, McCoy feels an overwhelming responsibility to make sure everything runs smoothly from leaving the station on time to checking on each passenger’s welfare. “What we do here at Nickel Plate Express is unique. Many people today have not only never been on a train before, but do not realize it can be this much fun! We show them that by featuring events and themed rides in a fresh and upbeat way, and they still get to enjoy the sights and sounds of a real 1950s passenger train.”

A future endeavor

Reynolds learned a lot from this night and will carry it forward into planning the next event. “This was our first time ever offering a NYE ride. We learned a few things from the evening including more balloons if we do a balloon drop again, some music for the musician’s breaks that we can dance to, and to be prepared for hungry passengers.”

small string quartet
Live music played throughout the night while guests danced and socialized. Nastassia Putz

The spread was certainly exquisite. The music was perfect. The guests were happy. “We advertised appetizers and thought that guests would eat dinner before boarding an 8 p.m. train. We were totally wrong!” says Reynolds. “Luckily our catering company was amazing and had a huge spread of food to offer. They did an amazing job keeping food out and making it look gorgeous. It could have been something that went so wrong, but thanks to our amazing catering company it went totally well.”

In 2024, the Nickel Plate Express is planning to do a disco-themed New Year’s Eve celebration which will be posted soon. Go to their website for more information.

Fun facts:

  • 120 bottles total of sparkling wine, champagne, and cider
  • 140 masquerade masks
  • 400 balloons for the balloon drop
  • 121 staff hours for set up and event (not including the planning)
table set up with plates and masks
Tables were elegantly decorated with the theme of the night. Nastassia Putz

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