I am a railroad buff. Working for the railroad seems to have run in my family. My maternal uncles, grandfather and great- grandfather worked at some point for the railroads in one job or another.
My wife’s father was a laborer on a track gang for Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad in Hannibal, Missouri. He retired in the same job for the same railroad, by then renamed Burlington Northern Railroad.
My great-grandfather was a tie-hacker for the Wabash Railroad in Hannibal, using a long-handled broad-axe to shape timbers into railroad ties. My grandfather recalled working with his father as a young boy, and his son, my uncle, retired as an engineer from Conrail many years after first joining the New York Central Railroad.I have had the pleasure of working as an engineer on several museum and shortline railroads in central and southern Indiana, and, for a few years, provided classroom and hands-on training for shortline railroad engineers who were seeking certification under rules of the Federal Railroad Administration.
That was a fun period for me. I greatly enjoyed being a locomotive engineer, and had always wanted to learn to operate a steam locomotive, though there were not many of them around. I got to work as fireman on two steamers, the Nickle Plate #587 of the Indiana Transportation Museum, then in Noblesville, Indiana, and the Whitewater Valley Railroad’s Baldwin Prairie #100. However, life got in the way, and didn’t get rated as an engineer on either engine.
One of the traits common to most railroad buffs is fascination with the now romanticized steam locomotive. Whether it is the huge, sophisticated United Pacific Railroad Big Boy or the even larger Challenger gliding effortlessly across the prairie, or the diminutive six-wheeled Mogul narrow-gauge engine struggling to lift a short cut of cars up a mountain slope, the aura of mystery surrounding the complex webs of pipes and valves, clouds of smoke, and billows of exhausted steam, combine into a feeling of awe and respect for the men and machines that forged progress across the face of America.
Steam railroading began to rapidly decline with the introduction of diesel locomotives, which could work longer stretches of time without refueling, needed less mechanical and operational support, offered a cleaner working environment for employees, and provided large amounts of horsepower on relatively small frames. Most railroads had converted completely to diesel engines before 1960, with only small shortlines, or branches, continuing the operation of steam locomotives.
Railroads typically relegated their steamers to branch line duty in the early years of dieselization, where they continued to serve faithfully, until even the light density feeder lines could be operated more economically by diesels. The railroads sold their proud fleets of steam locomotives to smaller railroads, foreign countries, or, junked them for the scrap metal.
Steam locomotives also began to appear as displays in city parks across the country, a static reminder of the important role the railroads played in tying the far-flung regions of the U.S. into a new nation.
After diesel locomotives became the standard for modern railroads, groups of rail fans who recognized the special love affairs steam locomotive crews had with their engines formed historical organizations to preserve steam locomotives and provide a romantic glimpse into the past.
One such railroad, the Whitewater Valley Railroad, based in Connersville, Indiana, was especially historic since it also preserved a second era of transportation. The railroad is built on the towpath of the earlier Whitewater Valley Shipping Canal, and many of the old canal locks may still be seen along the railroad’s right of way.
Trails and Roads
Early “roads” in every region of North America were animal paths usually created by migrating bison moving between water sources and meadows and plains that provided their food. The herds trampled underbrush in broad swaths, widening narrow trails sufficiently to allow passage of horse drawn wagons. Native Americans used these same trails during hunting season and when on diplomatic or warring trips.
While Indians relied on the seasonal movement of bison herds to maintain these rudimentary paths, pioneer settlers cleared trees and underbrush from these paths to create roads wide enough for wagons to use. Following English tradition, Virginia first enacted road-clearing legislation in 1632 requiring each man to work on the roads a given number of days each year or to pay another to work in his place.
Whitewater Valley Railroad
In those days the Whitewater Valley was a popular Native American Indian trail that connected the present sites of Muncie and Anderson, Indiana with Cincinnati, Ohio, a region occupied by the Delaware Indians. As settlers made their way west in the early nineteenth century the Whitewater River gave them access from the Ohio River northward to Indiana’s rich farmland and hardwood timber, and the area became settled before the rest of Indiana. Connersville was platted three years before Indiana became a state.
John Conner, a settler who married a Delaware Indian maiden, established a fur trading post on Eastern Avenue in what is now Connersville. Five years later, on March 4, 1813, he recorded the first official plat of Connersville and built a saw mill and a grist mill on the Whitewater River just north of the original town site.
Because settlement of the area moved northward from the Ohio River, Connersville was a thriving community with a trading post, post office, and a formal courthouse as much as seven years before the state legislature selected the site of Indianapolis as the state capitol. In those years, people living in what is now the Indianapolis area rode horseback to bustling Connersville to pick up their mail, buy merchandise shipped in from the eastern region, and to take care of legal matters.
Commerce thrived in the rich Whitewater valley and soon there were surplus crops and mill products which could be marketed in eastern markets. Getting the goods to those markets was the biggest challenge faced by those in the Midwest region in the early 1800s. Transportation was provided by rough horse trails hewn from dense forests, usually with low stumps making passage difficult for wagons and stage coaches and torturous for passengers. The wagons, pulled by teams of horses, had to constantly veer around those treacherous stumps and low areas where water turned trails into mud holes. The going was slow at best.
Travel by Water
In those days any lengthy journey presented problems. Sail and steamboat transport accounted for much of the commercial traffic and was so important that all major settlements in the eastern part of North America were situated on the coast or a navigable river. There were a few roads, but, most of them were simple trails hewn from the wilderness to enable farm produce to be taken to a local market by wagon. There were few roads connecting towns together.
Travel by water was almost always preferred for personal travel or merchandise shipment because it was easier and more convenient. Overland travel was all that was available in those areas where there were no rivers heading in the right direction. In the early 1800s overland travel from the east to Ohio and Indiana was still very difficult. The few trails that existed were usually poorly maintained and could be impassable in wet or winter weather. Transportation during seasons of bad weather was generally limited to pack-trains and horses traveling over traditional Native American Indian trails.
The Allegheny Mountains separated the headwaters of the Potomac River in the East from the Ohio River in the Midwest. As far back as Presidents Washington and Jefferson it was recognized that connection of these two rivers would provide access to the rich farmlands of the Midwest for produce that was in heavy demand on the east coast. That connection could open up the Midwest to serve as a major breadbasket for the young nation.
During his term in office, President Thomas Jefferson orchestrated two important steps to prosperity taken on behalf of the United States. The first, the Louisiana Purchase, was the acquisition by the United States of approximately 530 million acres, or 828,000 square miles of French territory. Jefferson decided to purchase Louisiana because he felt uneasy about France and Spain having the power to block American traders’ access to the port of New Orleans.
The land purchased contained all of present-day Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota south of the Mississippi River, much of North and South Dakota, northeastern New Mexico, northern Texas, and the portions of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide.
In 1803 Congress also allocated a portion of the revenues from the Ohio Territory land sale to the building of a proper road from Cumberland, Maryland, which sat on the shores of the Potomac, to Wheeling, Virginia, on the Ohio River. Jefferson signed legislation in 1806, and construction of the National Road began in 1811. The National Road, today called U.S. Route 40, was the first highway built entirely with federal funds. The route closely paralleled the military road first opened by George Washington and General Edward Braddock in 1754-55 when America was still a British colony.
Using innovative European road design, a right-of-way 66 feet wide was first cleared, and then a roadway laid along the center 20 feet wide covered with 18 inches of crushed stone at the center crown, tapering to 12 inches at the outer edges. These practices provided good drainage and kept the roadway in good condition. Rivers and creeks were usually spanned by stone bridges and distances were marked by iron mile-posts. One of the original bridges still stands in Maryland, and is an enduring testament to the engineering challenges surmounted.
The National Road
The National Road, originally The Braddock Road, blazed by the Ohio Company and George Washington, circa 1750, reached Springfield, Ohio in 1838, and extended to Vandalia, Illinois by 1841. Indiana was reached in 1832 when the road arrived at thriving Connersville.
Although this new road was an important improvement over the pioneer’s horse trails, it was still muddy and slow. The National Road didn’t become capable of handling large amounts of freight until it was covered with wooden planks laid side by side on top of the crushed stone in 1855.
The National Road opened the Ohio River Valley and the Midwest for settlement and commerce. The road made it possible for thousands of travelers to move their families west over the Allegheny Mountains to settle the rich land of the Ohio River Valley. Small towns along the National Road’s path began to grow and prosper. Cumberland, Uniontown, Brownsville, and Wheeling evolved into commercial centers of business and industry.
Uniontown was the headquarters for three major stagecoach lines which carried passengers over the National Road. Brownsville, on the Monongahela River, was a center for steamboat building and river freight hauling. Many small towns and villages along the road contained taverns, blacksmith shops, and livery stables.
It is likely that taverns were one of the most important businesses found on the National Road, providing travelers with food, drink and lodging. There were two different classes of taverns on the road. The stagecoach tavern, which was a more expensive accommodation, was designed for the affluent traveler. The other class of tavern was the wagon stand, which would have been similar to a modern truck stop. It is estimated there was a tavern just about every single mile of the 800 mile long road.
During its heyday the National Road carried heavy traffic throughout the day and into the early evening. Almost every kind of vehicle could be seen on the road. The two most common vehicles were the stagecoach, which averaged 60-70 miles a day, and the Conestoga wagon, which was designed to carry heavy commercial freight. A Conestoga wagon, pulled by a team of six draft horses, averaged 15 miles a day.
It is humorously said that wagons were so numerous on the National Road that the lead horses of one team had their noses in the feed trough at the back end of the wagon in front of them. There were numerous travelers on horseback with their luggage stuffed into saddlebags, and enormous droves of sheep and herds of cattle that raised dust like huge, boiling, clouds all along the right of way.
Originally the plans called for the National Road to stretch from Baltimore to St. Louis. But, the rapid adoption and expansion of railroads led to the National Road project being abandoned after stretching 800 miles.
Rivers, Lakes and Canals
In order to open the country west of the Appalachian Mountains to settlers and to offer a cheap and safe way to carry produce to a market, the construction of a canal was proposed as early as 1768. Canals seemed to be the answer for a reliable and more economical freight transportation system. The rise and fall of hills and valleys could be controlled by locks, dams and aqueducts. A closed canal system also was a controlled environment that was perceived as impervious to the ravages of spring flooding which so often made rivers too dangerous to navigate.
Since canal boats would be able to carry more freight than wagons on each trip they made, the cost of shipment would be reduced, making market prices much more affordable for all the produce and merchandise shipped from the West. A canal boat might carry dozens of barrels of Kitchen Queen Flour from Indiana, while a Conestoga wagon could only carry a few. However, those early proposals were to connect the Hudson River with Lake Ontario and its hearty shipping industry. While this connection seemed reasonable, shipping on the Great Lakes was always perilous venture.
It was not until forty years later, in 1808, that a survey was funded for a canal that would connect the Hudson River to Lake Erie, which offered benefits of the Great Lakes shipping industry as well as riverboat connections to the Midwest. Lake Erie is the warmest and most biologically productive of the Great Lakes, and the Lake Erie walleye fishery is still today widely considered the best in the world.
On July 4, 1817, New York‘s first elected Governor, Dewitt Clinton broke ground for the construction of the Lake Erie canal. When finally completed on October 26, 1825, it was the engineering marvel of its day. It included 18 aqueducts to carry the canal over ravines and rivers, and 83 locks, with a rise of 568 feet from the Hudson River to Lake Erie. It was 4 feet deep and 40 feet wide and floated boats carrying 30 tons of freight. A ten foot wide towpath was built along the bank of the canal for horses, mules, and oxen to tow the boats safely through the locks.
Water transportation was much better suited to moving year around heavy freight than roads of that time, and when the Erie Canal was completed in 1825, there was a rush to construct a network of regional canals to move goods between markets. Although rivers were abundant in the east and Midwest regions, many were difficult to navigate under the best of circumstances, and were often completely impassible for entire seasons, due to flooding or drought.
In 1822, Indiana’s neighboring state, Ohio, commissioned their first canal feasibility survey in an effort to bring the modern canal concept to the growing agricultural state. On July 4, 1825 work began on Ohio’s Erie Canal. Two weeks later ground breaking was held for the Miami Canal, and work also began on the Ohio & Erie Canal from Akron to Cleveland. Two years later an official party boarded a canal boat in Akron and the next day arrived in Cleveland. By 1832 the entire 308 mile route of the Ohio-Erie was open to traffic.
Unlike the Ohio & Erie, the Miami & Erie Canal was not initially conceived as a route from Lake Erie to the Ohio River, but rather as a connecting canal between bustling commerce centers within the state. The Miami Canal was in operation from Middletown to Cincinnati in 1828, and in 1830 the 17 miles were completed to Dayton. The extension to Troy was started in 1833, and by 1845 the sprawling Ohio canal system was open to traffic from the Ohio River to Lake Erie.
At its peak, Ohio’s canal system consisted of almost 1,000 miles of main line canals, feeders and side cuts. Located in forty-four of Ohio’s eighty-eight counties, the canals touched the lives of all the state’s citizens. Ohio’s canals, like others throughout the country, prospered until 1855, the year revenue receipts were their highest, when the railroads began to provide more affordable freight hauling. By 1903 income from selling canal water to businesses and industries exceeded the income from freight carried on Ohio’s canals.
Indiana’s canal system bill was signed by Governor Noah Noble on January 27, 1836. The act created a canal system that would function much like today’s interstate highway system, carrying large volumes of traffic from one market center to another, and connecting to canal systems in adjoining states. The Whitewater Canal would tie the prosperous Whitewater Valley to the Ohio River and eastern markets.
Canal boats had proven that they could move both passengers and freight efficiently year around. The primary exports from Indiana at the time were agricultural products, while boats returning from Cincinnati carried supplies for local merchants and businesses within the growing communities. Shipping by boat was preferable to shipping by wagon because the canal boat could carry larger loads and heavier items and at a competitive price.
Travelers on a canal boat were offered meals and overnight accommodations, allowing them to arrive in the morning in the city, ready to conduct their business. The smooth and scenic ride made canal travel more comfortable and clean than the stagecoach ride over the rough and dusty roads of the time. Ohio’s successful operation of their canal system made it possible for Indiana to modernize transportation within its borders and advanced from its edge-of-the-frontier position.
Indiana’s Canal System Bill included construction of a system of canals including the Whitewater Canal from a connection with the Ohio River on the southeastern edge of Indiana to Cambridge City north of Connersville. From Cambridge City a side cut canal would connect the White Water Canal with the Central Canal, which ran northeast to southwest through Indianapolis from Fort Wayne to Evansville.
A headquarters for the proposed Whitewater Canal was located in Connersville in a handsome Greek revival style building located on Fourth Street. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began surveys for the Canal in 1824, and construction began September 13, 1836 at Brookville. The canal was completed to Lawrenceburg and the Ohio River in 1839; to Laurel in 1843; to Connersville in 1845; and to Cambridge City in 1846. The total length of the canal was 76 miles, and cost the State of Indiana $15,000 per mile.
The Whitewater Canal was built on a difficult route, with the ground falling 491 feet in its 76 mile length. This required the construction of 56 locks, 7 feeder dams and 12 aqueducts, including two that crossed the Whitewater River itself! The canal was built to a surface width of 40 feet, and a normal water depth of 4 feet, with a 10 foot wide path for the tow horses along one side.
Water for the canal was diverted from the Whitewater River by feeder dams constructed across the river. To overcome the gradual rise in elevation the canal used masonry locks to trap water used to float the canal boats from one level to the next. Since the canal was often level between locks, horses were hitched to ropes thrown from the boats, and pulled the vessels from one lock to another.
Although it was a valuable transportation link, the canal was never a financial success. It was frequently flooded by the rampaging Whitewater River. Duck Creek aqueduct in Metamora was destroyed by a flash flood in 1846, and aqueducts at Laurel and elsewhere were destroyed in 1847 closing the canal for six months. Repairs had scarcely been completed before another flood closed the canal for almost a year. Records show that four major floods, and countless smaller ones, kept the canal closed for long periods.
It seemed that when the canals weren’t plagued with too much water, they had too little. Newspaper accounts of life in and around the canals offer up a colorful and nostalgic look at what it must to have been like when canals were the primary means of comfortable travel and economical shipping.
A glimpse of life on the boats that traveled the Wabash & Erie Canal which passed through Huntington County, Indiana is fun reading. Most of the canals planned for Indiana were never completed, however. To learn more about Indiana’s canals, visit these websites: The Canal Society of Indiana, and Carroll County Wabash & Erie Canal, Inc.
After many years of discontent, Whitewater valley residents petitioned the state legislature of 1864-65 to authorize a railroad along the canal route. It was proposed that converting the already state owned tow paths along the canal to a railroad route would be much less expensive than new construction, and the railroad could get into operation quickly, relieving the state of its disappointing canal program.
Indiana’s first major steam railroad was completed in 1847 from Madison, on the Ohio River, to Indianapolis. Trains could haul tons of products and goods at a very low cost, and passengers could now travel a great distance in a single day. Perhaps more importantly, railroads could also be built just about anywhere.
In 1865 the Indiana canal era came to an abrupt end when the Whitewater Canal right of way was sold to the Indianapolis and Cincinnati Railroad. The I&C railroad started in 1853 with the consolidation of the rail line from Lawrenceburg to Indianapolis with the Ohio & Mississippi railroad. That rail line later became part of the New York Central System, then the Big Four, and eventually was consolidated into the Conrail system.
The railroad finally became today’s Whitewater Valley Railroad, a historically preserved passenger line that runs from Connersville to Metamora, using locomotives and passenger coaches built in the early 1900s.
White Water Valley Railroad
After the Indianapolis & Cincinnati purchased the canal right-of-way, its subsidiary, the White Water Valley Railroad, reached Connersville in the spring of 1867, and continued on to Hagerstown in 1868. The WWVRR connected with the Indianapolis & Cincinnati Railroad main line at Valley Junction, 17 miles west of Cincinnati, and ran trains into Cincinnati over the old canal tow path.
In 1890 the Indianapolis & Cincinnati Railroad was absorbed by the rapidly expanding “Big Four” – the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis. The Big Four later became the New York Central Railroad. Freight and commuter trains operated on the line through Connersville into Cincinnati. Named high speed commuter trains, complete with parlor cars, were briefly operated from Cincinnati through Connersville to Fort Wayne, changing at Connersville to the tracks of the Lake Erie & Western Railroad.
Passenger service on the railroad ended in 1933, while local freight service was maintained until discontinued by Penn Central in 1972. With the formation of Conrail in 1976, interchange switching service was provided in Connersville, until the duties were taken over by Indiana Hi-Rail in 1981. Freight operation from Brookville to Valley Junction was taken over in 1979 by the Indiana & Ohio. Freight service was later entirely abandoned on the Whitewater line between Brookville and Connersville.
The present Whitewater Valley Railroad is an operating railroad museum dedicated to the preservation and operation of the railroad line from Connersville to Metamora, a scant few miles north of the original terminus at Brookville. After a substantial washout closed the track between Metamora and Brookville in 1974, Penn Central removed 4 miles of track in 1976 between Metamora and Brookville. The remaining 18 miles of line from Connersville through Metamora were purchased by the Whitewater Valley in 1983 and the line runs through remarkably beautiful scenery like that found on a model railroad.
I have had a long time interest in the history of the railroad industry and had read extensively about the marvelous achievements of Rocky Mountain Narrow Gauge railroads in conquering unbelievable challenges. I greatly enjoyed reading about the operating practices in the early days of railroading when steam locomotives were the standard, and the progress made in operating safety over the years. This knowledge even came in handy in my professional life as an advertising agency manager.
I first began modeling railroad equipment and scenery while building sets for television commercials for the rural electric cooperatives of Missouri back in the mid-1970s. My background was radio and television, having graduated from the Carolina School of Broadcasting in Charlotte, North Carolina. As manager of the in-house advertising agency for the association, we had developed an advertising program to assist the cooperatives in reducing electrical demand, and therefore their energy costs, during those extremely hot days of a Midwest summer.
The program utilized radio stations to broadcast an alert message when the electrical suppliers began to experience a substantial increase in demand. The commercials notified cooperative members that an electrical peak was approaching and that they could reduce their electrical costs by decreasing their electrical usage during the peak. The program was called Peak Alert, and it was quite successful. It was adopted by many other energy suppliers, and remains in operation in some places today.
The television commercial we were preparing back then was intended to visually illustrate peak demand. The analogy used was a steam locomotive that needed a helper engine when more cars were added to its train. Two engines meant additional cost to pull the train, just as putting an extra power plant on line during a peak was additional cost.
We purchased steam locomotives and freight car kits, buildings, street lights, materials for building deciduous trees, and plaster for forming streets and gutters. The set was built and painted over a period of several days, and was ready for production of the commercial as scheduled. The set was used as a backdrop for narration of several commercials, but I no longer recall what finally became of it.
I left the cooperatives to move across the state to help with the family business, a radio station in Chillicothe, Missouri, after my father suffered a severe heart attack. The damage to his heart was going to keep him on a reduced work schedule for some time, and I had the radio & television background to help bridge the gap until his health returned. Lea took on the program director role, while I became the assistant station manager.
In subsequent months Lea also had a live daily radio show on weekdays, recorded commercials and also hosted live events. We enjoyed being part of the Chillicothe community, and were active in the local Lions Club, church, and social activities. We sponsored the largest annual Armed Forces Day celebration in the region for several years, and were heavily involved in the coordination of the event year around.
One of my proudest moments was seeing my father awarded a patriotism award by an Air Force general for the radio station’s sponsorship of the annual Armed Forces Day event. He had served many years in military organizations from the Marine Corps Reserve, National Guard and Missouri State Guard. He had worked his way up to Chief Warrant Officer before leaving the service. He was quite pleased to be given an award by a three-star general.
Grand River Junction
One evening, while waiting in the hall of one of the Chillicothe churches to pick up my sons after a Boy Scout troop meeting, I met J.B. He was waiting for his son, too, and we struck up a conversation. In the course of our visit he mentioned that he was a model railroader, and invited me to attend one of the club’s meetings to meet some of the other members. At the time I wasn’t active in the hobby at all. I was, intrigued, however, to learn that he built brass locomotives from scratch, and was known in the area for his high quality model locomotive paint jobs.
That next week I attended a club meeting, which was held in one of the member’s home, and was captivated by model railroading. At some club member’s homes there would be a fully operational layout where we would function as a train crew, following specified orders distributed at the beginning of the meeting. At other member’s homes we would build scenery or track or build an addition or expansion to the layout. It was a time of great camaraderie and a wonderful way to learn more about railroading.
I delighted in the chance to use my creative skills to plan, construct and operate entire railroad systems. I read extensively about vanquished railroads. Along the way I learned a lot about America’s historic steam railroads; the construction challenges they faced, and how they conducted day to day business. There is also a great deal of written material on individual jobs on a train crew and how crews function as a team to operate efficiently and safely.
Under J.B.’s tutelage I also began learning to plan, build, paint and letter wooden freight and passenger cars and brass locomotives from scratch. Plans for an extensive layout in the spare bedroom of my own home began to take shape. After having the club over for a couple of weeks to help assemble the bench work, followed by construction of the track and rough scenery, the final scenic details were left for me to complete.
At one of the homes there were multiple spots where a member could operate a portion of the railroad, performing train make up and staging in preparation of setting freight cars out for pickup by the mainline freight. Each operating station had an engine control for a switching yard laid out alongside the main line. Each person was given orders for the day’s operation, and by the end of the evening everyone had shipped freight cars out and received new cars to be spotted in the railroad freight yard. Those would be sorted at the beginning of the next operating session.
Before long I hosted one of the weekly club meetings at which we were going to operate trains for the first time. I had a lot of fun watching members discover the surprises I had built into the layout. I enjoyed designing hidden scenes that could only be viewed from certain spots, or a sudden wisp of smoke that brought the eye to an obscure hobo campfire in the woods, or, with the illumination coming from a black light, stars shone in the dark sky, headlights seemed to glow on vehicles, and light seemed to splay on the ground outside windows and doors.
There were many enjoyable discussions about the history rich Chillicothe area railroading. Missouri’s very first railroad passed through this town, and the “golden spike” that joined the ends of that first rail line was driven just outside of town. The commemorative marker was still in place at the site of the golden spike, but disappeared in 1982. One only hopes it was given an appropriate place of honor in a railroad museum.
That first rail line in Missouri was the Hannibal & St Joseph Railroad which carried the Pony Express mail from where it was received in Hannibal, through Chillicothe to horseback Pony Express riders waiting in St Joseph. The Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad was eventually absorbed by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, which later became Burlington Northern.
The legendary Wabash railroad also once ran through Chillicothe on its way to Kansas City. During my years in Chillicothe I walked many miles of track at various times, just exploring the scenery and picking up discarded date nails that had been used by the Wabash to indicate when each tie had been placed under the track. It was quite inspiring to imagine the railroad operations as they must have been long ago, but by the mid1980s the scarcely used branch line was being operated by a local switching company.
The three of us, Butch, J.B. and I spent many hours together exploring various railroads and rail sites in the area. One weekend during a trip to Trenton, Missouri, we visited the Rock Island Railroad yard, which was scarcely used any more, and found a discarded signal maintainer’s motor cart thrown back out of the way in the weeds at the edge of the yard. It was in bad shape, with a bent frame, broken wheel, and missing motor.
It wasn’t really much more than what appeared to be a motor scooter on the left side, with a small box frame holding two wheels for the right rail, and a metal mesh basket to hold supplies in between. This was a pretty exciting find for us, however, because Butch had earlier purchased some used railroad ties and scrapped rail and built a standard gauge layout around the pond on his farm just outside town. It was a memorable experience learning how to lay the ties and set the track to the proper width. Once track was built it was time to acquire a piece of equipment to run on the track. That signalman’s cart was just the ticket.
We got quite a bit of enjoyment rebuilding that little cart, which I dubbed the Whizbang Doflingus. Butch had a machine shop on his farm where we were able to straighten the frame and get it pretty well trued up, mounted a motor, and added two additional seats so the three of us could ride together. However, we had trouble with it jumping the track all too frequently. We couldn’t figure out whether it was a problem with the cart or with the track, so we decided to take it to one of the abandoned tracks in the area to see if it would run any better on professionally constructed track.
We picked a stretch of Wabash track on the west side of town where the track was straight and flat for quite a long distance and out of view of public roads. We made several very short runs with it before the wheels on one side or the other would drop inside the rail onto the ties, which brought it to a very quick stop. What we finally observed was that the unit seemed to drop off the high rail in a curve but either rail when running on level track. It was wondering from side to side, indicating that the unit was too wide.
Upon closer inspection we found the problem. The support bars from the scooter to the outside wheels had either been measured incorrectly or welded to the wrong frame member, which made the gauge too broad, and the cart unstable. It appeared to be something someone had constructed for their own use, rather than being a manufactured item, and we suspect it might have been quite frustrating because of the gauge problem, which probably led to its being discarded.
M9s and M19s
Butch learned about a railroad sale of equipment the Missouri Pacific Railroad was conducting at their switching yard in Osawatomie, Kansas. J.B., Butch and I decided to go to the auction to look over some of the track crew motor cars that were listed for sale. There were several available, though most were in “out-of-service” condition. Butch designed and built an open trailer long enough to haul two of the motor cars, along with room for a small amount of additional accessory equipment, so we could bring back some motor cars.
Bright and early on the day of the auction Butch hooked the trailer to his pickup truck and the three of us headed to Osawatomie, about three hours distant. When we arrived at the rail yard, we were somewhat disappointed that there was a huge crowd of buyers crawling in, on and around every piece of equipment in the yard, including the motor cars.
As we mingled with other bidders, we began to understand that we were going to be bidding against buyers with a lot more financial resources than we had available. We decided that we didn’t want to go home empty handed, but probably couldn’t outbid those who would be interested in the better motor cars, so we chose to focus on the purchase of derelict pieces that we could salvage enough pieces from to build a complete unit.
So, it was decided which pieces we would bid on, and the maximum we were willing to pay for each piece. There was a smaller unit that caught my eye. It would only carry two persons, rather than the standard crew of four. The unit’s motor had a piston rod through the crankcase, and the cab had been crushed as a result of the ensuing derailment. I was able to purchase it very reasonably, since no one else seemed interested in it.
Butch purchased two of the scrapped motor cars to build one, and as it turned out, both had good motors, so I didn’t need to buy another to replace mine. All in all, we bought three motor cars, my M-9, and two M-19s, all built by Fairmount for Missouri Pacific Railroad. After returning to Chillicothe, we immediately began repairs, and within a month had two of the cars running, and the third scrapped out. The extra motor from one of Butch’s M-19s was a perfect fit for my M-9, and would power it along at good speed.
After testing the cars on Butch’s short track at the lake, we wanted to get the cars on a longer piece of rail where we could give them a real workout. After much discussion with railroaders in the community, we were able to make contact with the owners of a defunct railroad located in Bevier, Missouri. The former coal hauling railroad had used steam engines right into the 1980s when the railroad was abandoned. The owner of the railroad put us in touch with two former employees who agreed to meet us on a Saturday morning to give us access to the track which ran past several abandoned coal mines.
Bevier & Southern Railroad
The original operator of the Bevier & Southern Railroad was the Kansas & Texas Coal Railway, which was reorganized in May 5, 1898 as the Missouri & Louisiana Railroad. The Missouri & Louisiana divided on September 26, 1914 with the northern portion adopting the name Bevier & Southern, with the slogan “Have Train Will Haul.” During 1915 the company operated 63 miles of track in bringing coal from the many mines along its route to the CB&Q siding in Bevier for shipment to markets all over the Midwest.
Headquartered in Bevier, the railroad had its general offices located near the roundhouse. Records indicate that it employed over 40 employees at one point. The railroad was very important to residents all along the line, as it was a primary transportation link for many of them. Miners would gather at the roundhouse to catch the 4AM passenger train to ride to work, and then school children would ride the return train to town so they could go to school.
After school the children rode the passenger train back home. The return trip brought miners home from their day’s work. The passenger train usually consisted of seven miners’ cars and coach number 204 for other passengers and the mail. The passenger service was discontinued in 1926 after post offices at Ardmore and Keota closed.
In 1943 it was necessary to construct additional tracks to serve new pits at Southern mines, and the railroad tried electric locomotives to reduce the cost of operation. The experiment lasted only two years, however, due to the severe grade between Ardmore and the Southern mines. Frequent burnouts of traction motors proved the locomotives were ill suited for the task, and the electric operation was discontinued.
Over time, as mines depleted their veins of coal and were closed, the railroad was forced to abandon unused sections of track until it finally reached its present length in 1961 of 9.18 miles, from the Burlington Northern siding, adjacent to their yards in Bevier, to Binkley where the last working mine was located.
The B&S went out of business in 1982 after seventy years of operation. Their general offices were moved into coach #204, parked on the main line near the roundhouse. One of their locomotives, #109, a Brooks 2-6-0 that was originally Illinois Central Railroad #560 is now on display at the Illinois Railway Museum. Another of their engines, Baldwin 2-6-0 #112, is on display at the post office in downtown Bevier.
We had a splendid day visiting with a couple of the former B&S employees who still lived in Bevier as we ran the two motor cars down the line, listening to their stories about past operations on the line and photographing scenery along the way. I made tape recordings of several of the conversations as we toured the grounds and roundhouse. We acquired a large number of 35mm photos of the equipment, buildings, roundhouse and scenery.
The roundhouse was subsequently moved to Steamtown Historic Site Pennsylvania as a fine example of the steam operated repair and maintenance facility from the steam era. It is difficult to imagine the complex web of massive drive belts that operated each of the gigantic drills, saws, and presses, but if you should have the chance to visit Steamtown this is one exhibit you won’t want to miss. It was delightful experience learning about the history of the operation, and a day I will always fondly remember.
The three of us subsequently made motor car excursions on other rail lines in the area, including the Wabash and CB&Q lines. We also requested and received verbal permission from the Brookfield station master to enter BN property to document an abandoned Burlington Northern branch line that ran north out of Laclede, Missouri. That line was scheduled to be salvaged that same summer by a scrapping company.
When the track is removed from the railroad evidence of its very existence quickly disappears. As railroad buffs, we often wished someone had taken photographs of the equipment and right away of those rail lines of the past for the sake of preservation. When we learned of the impending dismantlement of this branch line we wanted to help photographically preserve whatever we could of the long closed depots and interesting areas along the line while the rail was still in place.
After we successfully obtained approval to enter the property of the railroad, J.B., Butch and I drove over the next few weekends to each of the small towns that had railroad depots on the abandoned line to take photographs of the facilities as they looked at that time. We also were able to look through a couple of the depots that had been vandalized and were standing open. Unfortunately, anything of much significance was damaged or gone.
In the loft of one of the depots, however, we found a handful of written train orders from the early CB&Q steam era rolled up, tied with a string and tossed up into the rafters of the attic. They may have been stored up there for years and fell to the floor and overlooked at some point. It was with great pleasure that we read through those, and realized that we had been able to capture a piece of the history of that branch line. Those items were eventually turned over to the Grand River Historical Society in Chillicothe for preservation.
Much of the 35mm photography I did on those visits, and during the subsequent trip up the line on the rail, was used later in a slide-to-video documentary produced for a local business in the following year. Entitled, The Withering Vine, the documentary lamented the abandonment and salvage of the rail line, and the loss of so much important railroad history in the area.
As l learned more about the railroad industry I gained a greater appreciation for the hard work and dedication of the employees to operate safely and on schedule. I learned as much as I could about the various occupations on the engine crew, and the duties and responsibilities. When I moved to Indiana a few years later and discovered the Whitewater Valley Railroad, I was prepared to take my interest to the next level and volunteer my time as a crew member so I could learn even more.
When I later moved to Indiana, I was particularly interested in locating the historic steam railroads that were still in operation. We visited all parts of the state, from French Lick in the south, to Sandy Creek in the north, Peru, during the Iron Horse Festival, and toured the Indiana Transportation Museum north of Indianapolis. But, it was the Whitewater Valley Railroad that captured my interest. I spent many enjoyable weekends there over a period of several years.
Operations on the WVRR
Operations on the operating museum’s railroad have always been performed entirely by volunteers supported by a salaried office manager. The railroad operates historically significant diesel locomotives and open window coaches on a regular schedule, from Connersville to an historic canal town, Metamora.
An additional WVRR train comprised of a locomotive and one or two coaches operates in Metamora as the Metamora Shuttle, carrying passengers further South on a two-mile excursion along the restored canal, past the Whitewater Canal lock, America’s last remaining canal aqueduct over Duck Creek, and a beautifully wooded scenic rail line that runs along the canal.
In 1986 I joined the present Whitewater Valley Railroad as a volunteer. Their headquarters was located in a white concrete block building in a small yard facility on Highway 1 south of Connersville, Indiana. The yard facility at that location provided several tracks where equipment could be stored, coaches and cabooses could be switched around to make up trains, and locomotives could be serviced as needed. There were also a few bunks in the main building where a person could catch some rest in between duties.
The railroad had two Operating Divisions, 1) the steam division operated the “Through Train” that ran 16 miles from Connersville to Metamora, and 2) the diesel division “Metamora Shuttle” that offered 30-minute, 2 mile round trip, rides once an hour. This train was normally pulled by a bright blue General Electric diesel locomotive, #210. The shuttle train had previously been pulled by the bigger and heavier Lima Hamilton #25 diesel, which was relegated to backup engine status, performing yard work and fill-in duty when needed.
Everyone who wanted to work on a train crew had to go through extensive supervised training to receive ratings, grade advancements or promotions. Members were qualified through a combination of examinations and field experience under the watchful tutelage of those already qualified in the job.
In 1986, the training guide stated that you must have taken the Railroad Operations Training Course, given each February, before you could work on a train crew. If you became interested in joining the railroad during the summer after the annual training course was completed for the year, you were allowed to work in the maintenance shop or do cleanup and repair chores around the railroad yard. But, you could not work on a train.
Each new member who wanted to become a trainman had to follow a time-proven program of advancement that literally helped them understand operations from the ground up. The member would first become qualified as a brakeman, also called trainman, coupling and uncoupling cars, throwing switches and tending to the mechanical needs of the passenger coaches. He would inspect each coach before train departure, making any needed adjustments to the running gear or accouterments.
When the person reached proficiency in these operations skills they could then elect whether to advance into training for other positions such as conductor, the top job on the train. The conductor is responsible for the proper lineup of coaches, loading and unloading passengers, and getting the train underway according to the timetable instructions. Responsible for the safety of the passengers, the conductor must be ready to handle all types of emergencies. He or she is also responsible for the supervision of the crew. The conductor is the boss.
The other option for training was to enter into engine service as a fireman on the diesel locomotives, or fireman on the steam engine. An engine crew member had to be thoroughly qualified as a fireman in order to become an engineer. It was also recommended in those days that the member become a diesel engineer before going into steam locomotive service. Once an engineer learned to efficiently operate a train using a diesel locomotive, it would make the transition into the heady tasks of steam locomotive operation simpler.
I also think this recommendation was prompted by the current steam engineers who were protecting their territory. The more steam engineers there were, the fewer opportunities there would be to operate the engine. And, operating the steam engine was fun! At the time, the steam engine pulled the Through Train the sixteen miles from Connersville to Metamora and back. The diesel engine was used to operate the local Metamora Shuttle. Several steam engineers refused to operate the diesel engines, preferring the long haul passenger trips to the short local runs in Metamora.
The Through Train to Metamora ran on a timetable, leaving Connersville each Saturday and Sunday at 12:01 PM during the operating season. The train laid over in Metamora for two hours, allowing passengers to shop in the quaint recreated Canal Town that predated the railroad. The trip over the line took an hour and fifteen minutes, which made the excursion a full day event suitable for families and groups.
I fondly recall the first trip I made on the railroad as a paying passenger. Lea and I had recently moved to Indiana with our sons, and had made several day trips during summer weekends to explore the various areas of the Hoosier state. On this particular weekend we drove from Indianapolis to Connersville to ride on a passenger train pulled by a steam locomotive over the state’s “Most Scenic Route,” according to the brochure. We were not disappointed.
The Through Train’s vintage passenger coaches were pulled by a tiny 1919 Baldwin “prairie” steam locomotive with a slope backed tender and ballooned smoke stack that captured my heart as soon as she came out of the steaming track and backed up to her train. Originally designed to use wood as fuel, the engine, #100, was later modified to burn coal, but still retained the distinctive wood-burning firebox and cabbage stack.
Number 100 was originally constructed for the Florala Saw Mill Company in Alabama then worked as a logging engine on the Escambia Railway from 1923 to 1935. She was then rebuilt and used as a saw mill switch engine where it earned the distinction of being the last wood burning locomotive to work on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. Purchased in 1977 by the Whitewater Valley Railroad, the engine was the darling of the railroad and received loving care from her crews.
There was a caboose at the end of the train on the day of our first visit, carrying a private party. On the return trip to Connersville it was directly behind the nose of the engine, which backed up the hill. Lea and I had taken seats in the lead passenger coach behind the engine going to Metamora, and were then at the end of the train as it worked its way back up the hill to Connersville. We were able to get in the last car of the train where I could stand on the vestibule and watch the scenery pass by. I loved every minute of watching the track appear from beneath the car, the weather weary railroad ties flying off into the distance as the train made its way back home.
The conductor on that train, Cheryl, engaged me in conversation on the return trip, and, learning of my interest in railroading, invited me to ride the caboose to the switching track outside town during the layover. I immediately accepted the invitation, of course, and was able to observe some of the behind the scenes activity while the engine was run around the train in preparation of pulling the coaches back up the hill to Connersville. I was hooked!
As I began making weekend visits to the railroad to learn more about how it operated, I delighted in knowing that this was an operating museum where I could actually perform many of the chores and duties that I had imitated as a model railroader. Here was a full size railroad where I might actually get to operate a steam locomotive one day! There weren’t many places left where you could get this kind of training. And, it was free!
Like a lot of potential members, I suspect, I didn’t want to wait six months until the next scheduled training course to get started working on a train. So, I began doing cleanup chores and whatever else I could do to help out around the property while trying to introduce myself to as many of the volunteers as I could. As I was able to meet decision makers, I began proposing on-the-job training that would allow potential members to get involved right away by creating “student” positions, and letting them do on the training under a qualified conductor.
While there wasn’t a great groundswell of enthusiasm for the idea, I discovered that one of the members had videotaped the previous training classes, and was willing to share them. I began talking to the railroad superintendent about setting up a home study course that could replace, or at least supplement, the regular training classes. I volunteered to donate VHS copies of the tapes so that they could be loaned to new members on a case-by-case basis. The railroad agreed to give the idea a try.
After making copies for the railroad and a set for me, I purchased a set of the training manuals they handed out in the winter classes and studied them over and over while watching how the information was presented on the videotapes. Then I arranged to have the course instructor give me the written exam on a date he was working at the railroad.
I took the exam in passenger coach #2 in the WVRR yards, while the coaches were being sorted and lined up, awaiting the day’s load of passengers to arrive. Then I looked up a conductor I had worked for on a previous weekend, and he and I went and found the instructor, who was fireman on engine #100 that day. The instructor quickly graded the test, and much to my delight, I passed on my first try!
The conductor verified that I had satisfactorily demonstrated that I knew how to inspect the train properly, and I was issued a Student Brakeman Qualifying Trips form, meaning that I was authorized to work as part of the train crew. I had become their first ever “home study” brakeman! The date was September 6, 1986. It was the beginning of many years of volunteer work for the railroad, and it all started with getting on the ground and doing the work.
Since my passion was to become a WVRR steam engineer, I decided that I would go into diesel fireman training as soon as possible, and then get my diesel engineer’s rating. This plan would eventually allow me to work as a brakeman, diesel fireman, or diesel engineer on days there was no slot open for steam fireman. There were not many vacancies on the Crew Board for steam fireman slots, so if I wanted to be active more frequently, I would have to work more in the diesel division.
Steam Division Qualifying Trips
After passing the test and receiving my Student designation, I signed in at the depot as a Student Brakeman on the Through Train, I inspected each of the passenger cars that had been assembled on the main line for the day’s train to Metamora, and made my first official run that same day behind the steam engine. It was a very pleasant trip, with lots of opportunities to watch the engine from the last coach as it pulled its train through lovely canopied curves.
I made my next trip the following Saturday, September 13, completing the required two qualifying runs on the “Through Train.” The conductor is the crew boss on the train, and gives the student a “pass” or “no pass” grade at the end of the day. On my first student run the conductor wrote in the comments section of my Qualifying Trips Form “Did an outstanding job,” and the conductor on the second trip wrote “Super fantastic.”
After completing the training runs behind the steam engine, I had to make two training trips on the Metamora Shuttle to qualify as a brakeman. I didn’t look forward to those trips at all. Diesel engines just didn’t interest me the way steamers do. I just loved to ride on the running board of the Baldwin, or on the coach steps next to it, to watch it work and listen to the various steam systems that drive it!
Some of the most fun on the steam engine was when we were sorting cars in the mile-long switching yard. After putting a string of cars where they needed to be spotted on a side track, the lightweight little steamer rushed a mile down the track to the main line, so it could get on the adjacent track to make the next movement of cars. It was exciting to stand on the running board on the rear of the tender where the wind and the cinders rush through your hair as we rushed to complete movement of the next cut of coaches!
Diesel Qualifying Trips
My Qualifying Student Brakeman diesel shuttle trips were scheduled for October 4 & 5, 1986. I signed up to work the Shuttle Train in Metamora on both Saturday and Sunday, so I could get those trips completed as quickly as possible. Switching and operations were different on Sunday than on Saturday, so you were required to work one of each. I wanted to get both runs in during one weekend so I could get back to work on the Through Train. Little did I know that that weekend would be far from standard!
It turns out the weekend I signed up to do my shuttle runs was the annual “Canal Days” celebration in Metamora. On that weekend there are hundreds of flea market vendors that set up throughout town, and the huge crowds attending the city wide festival were also train ride buffs. We had one of the largest shuttle passenger days to date on the railroad.
The Through Train also had a large crowd, but not near the record set earlier that year in May, when it hauled fourteen coaches and cabooses for a single special event. Nevertheless, we were so busy that weekend running shuttles out of town, two miles north, and back, that we didn’t get to take a lunch break on either day! It was great fun, however.
Saturday, October 4
I arose from my bed with mixed emotions at 5:30 that first morning for the drive to Connersville. I left early because the shuttle train usually left the depot in mid- morning, deadheaded (no paying passengers) to Metamora, and began passenger shuttles at about 10:30- 11:00. Then when the Through Train chuffed into town at about 1:15 p.m., the shuttle went “into the hole” (on a siding) at Leonard Siding just north of town to let the Through Train go by on the main line.
Then, after the Through Train discharged its passengers, it would return to Leonard Siding, cut off the cars and use the siding to run around the cars and hook up on the opposite end, prepared to pull the string of coaches up the hill to Connersville. The shuttle, meanwhile, had run its shuttle trip north of Leonard Siding, and usually returned in time to follow the Through Train back into town. The shuttle then ran a shuttle trip or two to the north while the Through Train was in town, would run one after the Through Train departed, and then follow it into Connersville about an hour later.
That Saturday morning dawned wet and dreary. As I turned onto the highway and sped eastward from Indianapolis, it was raining hard, and had been raining hard for two days. The constant beat of the windshield wipers had become all too familiar in recent days, as evidenced by the number of low-lying fields flooded, and streams and rivers racing bank-full with boiling water and debris.
The rain graciously slacked off as I drove farther east, and when I arrived in Connersville, it was merely overcast. I wondered if the rain would go north of the railroad, leaving us dry for the anticipated drudgery of the shuttle runs. I was pretty confident that I had come well prepared for about anything, though, because I intended to stay overnight, and get my second shuttle run in the next day, so I had packed pretty well.
I had stuffed my brakeman’s grip (black leather duffel bag) with an official Whitewater Valley Railroad windbreaker, various report forms, torpedoes, fusees, an extra set of work clothes, raincoat, flashlight, signaling flag, switchman’s lantern, gloves, two wrenches, a warm up suit for sleeping, and an extra set of underclothing, just in case.
After signing in at the railroad dispatcher’s office, I found the lady who was listed as fireman for the Shuttle Train diesel #210, on which I was going to be working, and introduced myself to her as the student brakeman. She invited me to go with her to inspect and start the locomotive.
Before we had gotten out of the depot, the general manager announced that we had a bus load of passengers enroute that wanted to go to Metamora on the shuttle, and then ride back on the Through Train, allowing them a couple of extra hours to shop at Metamora. He also stated that there were already 350 reservations for the Through Train. That historically indicates that we would also have about 350 “walk-ins”, which meant a consist of eight or nine coaches for the Through Train.
Since the ground was so saturated from recent rains, and the skies continued to threaten rain later that day, the superintendent decided that the Through Train would be run in two sections, rather than making Baldwin #100 have to work so hard on slippery rail. Besides, the sanders weren’t completely re-installed since last spring’s firebox and flue overhaul, and were not considered reliable enough to take a chance on stranding a long train.
Plans were made for diesel engine #25 to pull half of the train five minutes (1 mile) behind the first section, which would be pulled by steam engine #100. This was the first time the Whitewater Valley had ever run three trains at the same time, and the search for two sets of green flags for the Through Train engines caused a great stir. This meant, of course, that we had to inspect and start both diesels, since the crew for the Through Train would not arrive for a couple more hours.
As fireman Mary and I headed out the door, I pulled my raincoat out of my grip (duffel bag) and slipped it on, since it was starting to sprinkle. I wondered if the drenching thunderstorms I had left behind were starting to move in. Maybe we would be lucky, and the main part of the storm would move north.
We walked half way down the Connersville yard, five or six coach lengths south of the House Track where engine #100 was being coaled and watered. There sat the bright blue cracker-box shaped General Electric Yard Engine #210, slumbering on the mainline track at the south end of a snake-like string of coaches and cabooses.
Mary unlocked the cab door to the locomotive and waved me inside out of the rain. The engineer’s seat was on the right side of the locomotive, with a seat on the left for the fireman. As she started explaining the checkout procedure, she twisted knobs, pulled levers, positioned the reversing lever in the brake stand, and opened the door to the electric panel, instructing me to close the knife switch that cuts in the batteries to power the engine starting system.
After watching me engage the points, she commented that she always turns her face away when opening or closing the knife switch, since the electrical arc is sometimes frighteningly violent. Then we went out the front cab door on the fireman’s side of the engine into a steady drizzle, and walked completely around the engine on the ramp, to a panel just in front of the engineer’s cab window. Mary disappeared halfway into the dark recesses of the panel cavity, and pulled out a long, oily, dipstick used to check the air compressor oil level.
After verifying an appropriate amount of engine oil was present, we moved one panel toward the front of the engine and checked an oil dipstick in the fuel injector pump. Moving to the next panel door, we checked a sight glass for water level, and to the front of the engine hood to check the sand levels, then down on the ground to check fuel tank levels, wheel journal bearings, drawbars, knuckles, hoses and brake rigging. All of this was made more interesting by the ever increasing intensity of the rain, which beat down with an ever increasing vigor.
We were glad to complete the inspection routine and escape to the seclusion of the cab. As the rain continued to wash over the 650 horsepower G.E. engine, Mary sat down in the engineer’s seat and pointed out each of the gauges, describing their function, and what they should read under normal operating conditions. Then she threw over a worn brass lever mounted on the control panel to the “On” position, engaged the recessed starter button, and forced that monstrous mass of slumbering metal to groan laboriously as it was coerced from its restful sleep.
After fifteen or twenty seconds of disjointed noises and reverberations that seemed to have no rhythm or pattern to them, the diesel throbbed grudgingly to life, startling all the panel gauges simultaneously. An eternity later the noise of those huge pistons crashing up and down became the recognizable drone of a diesel locomotive. After a ten minute warm up, Mary double checked the gauges, determined that everything was normal, and suggested that we move on to inspect engine #25 while #210 warmed up.
Lima Hamilton engine #25, one hundred horses more powerful than #210, and much larger and heavier, is a road engine, rather than a yard engine. It was built for making long freight runs with dozens of freight cars behind it. #25 operates much more smoothly than #210, and seems much more refined. It is definitely more rugged, and requires a more extensive checkout and inspection routine. It was painted in a black livery at that time, with the WVRR diamond logo on its front hood.
Since #25 was sitting in the shop yard on the house track beside the steam engine. The crew was feeding coal into the tender with a converted grain conveyer by shoveling from a coal pile positioned alongside the house track. The engine was beginning to sizzle from the heat in her firebox beginning to expand the water in the smoke box. I couldn’t help casting fond glances at #100’s lovely lines, smelling her coal-smoke fragrance, and realizing that I was going to miss being with her that day.
After another rain slick walk around the greasy walkway of engine #25, peering into panels for dipsticks and sight glasses, Mary and I climbed carefully up on top of the slippery hood and removed the smoke stack “coffee can” covers that keep rain out of the engine block. We then went into the cab where Mary cranked the starter and easily brought the engine humming to life.
Canal Days Festival
When we returned to the dispatcher’s office, the rest of engine 210’s crew had arrived, and the conductor was studying a switch list, compiled to lineup the coaches for the three trains to be used. Since this was the first time in anyone’s experience three trains would have to be coordinated, everyone was concerned about how switching movements were going to be done at Leonard Siding later in the day. Everyone had suggestions to offer, and discussion was at times lively and loud.
After beating the horse to death, with no resolution even possible until we had a better understanding of conditions at the time, the Engine 210 crew headed out to the yards to begin the morning switching movements. By that time I had introduced myself to the conductor and brakeman, and decided that this was going to be an interesting day.
The conductor was in his mid-fifties, and looked like he had just stepped off the farm. He wore badly faded denim jeans and a much laundered long sleeve denim shirt with western snaps for buttons. Laid back in personality, he was very pleasant, and willing to let you do as much of the work as you wanted to. He carried the conductor’s walkie-talkie radio in one hand and the microphone in the other, rather than using the holster that attaches to your belt.
Most conductors wear the radio in the holster, and dangle the microphone by the cord from their neck so their hands are free at all times. I wondered how he was going to be able to perform his many duties with the radio being such a burden all day. The brakeman was also a pleasant fellow, dressed in gray pinstriped engineer’s overalls with cuffs, with a red scarf tied around his neck, he looked like he should have been in the cab of the steam locomotive.
The showers had abated by this time, although it was still overcast and threatened to start up again at any time. But it was quite warm, so we all stowed our raincoats on the ramp of the coach behind engine #210, which we would take with us to Metamora for use on the shuttle. It was too warm to wear the raincoat when it wasn’t raining, and they are dangerous when you’re getting on and off cars, due to all the extra material that can catch on something and get you into real trouble.
While we made the cuts-and-couples at the back of the train, fourteen coaches behind our engine, and thirteen coaches from where our raincoats were, it began to rain cats and dogs! We got drenched! Then we got soaked! And by that time we were so wet it didn’t matter any more! I had already decided that I would change into tomorrow’s clothes after we got the train underway, and try to figure some way to dry them out for the next day.
I had to chuckle at the conductor, who didn’t seem to understand the least simple rules about giving instructions to the engine crew over the radio. His directions were vague, not making a lot of sense a lot of times, but were, at least, colorful. I mused that the crew must have worked together enough that they understood what he meant for them to do, but I couldn’t help thinking that he must not work enough to have learned proper radio procedure.
Our switch order included the switching around of two cars at the end of the line of cars. Coach # 5 was in front of coach # 6, and dispatch wanted them reversed in order. We pulled the cars to the south, stopping the movement at a point that let us cut coach #5 loose just north of the yard lead. We moved the remaining cars to the south of the yard lead, and then backed onto the middle yard siding, where engine #25 was also parked. We backed the cars until coach #6 was clear of the fouling point, a couple of coach lengths in front of #25, and stopped the movement. After cutting coach #6, we pulled the cars ahead past the yard lead switch, and went back on the main to pick up #5.
After coupling #5, and hooking up the air line hoses, we moved the cars ahead of the yard lead, threw the switch, and then backed them to pick up #6. As we made our coupling, and hooked up the air hoses, we gave hand signals to the conductor who radioed the engine, which was out of sight around the curve, to move ahead. As we stood alongside the train, in a drenching downpour, the drawbars on the coaches stretched and disconnected, pulling the air hose apart, and setting up the emergency brakes on the train.
The Near Disaster
The conductor, standing under cover of the wheel house roof, radioed to the engine to try a re-couple. After the train backed up and re-coupled, we hooked up the air again and signaled to the conductor to have the engineer take up the slack, and again the cars uncoupled. This went on for two or three attempts, until Mary decided that the pin in the coupler knuckle must not be fully dropping into place to lock the drawbar knuckle.
The only way to solve this problem is by lubrication or brute force. We had no lubricants with us. She signaled to the conductor to back the engine, and then gave the hand signal for “bump,” or, hit harder than usual. The conductor radioed to the engine and told the engineer that we were going to have to “bump” the car to make the couple.
He then instructed him to come back. In a few moments, the cars began slowly moving back, and then picked up a little more speed than normal, in order to “bump” the sticky drawbar. The cars coupled snuggly, and we gave the conductor the hand signal to stop the engine. He radioed to the engine to stop, but the cars kept coming back. He radioed a second time, this time a little louder and urgently, but the cars kept coming back, closing the gap with engine #25. .
I began to pacing the coupler at the back of the coach, where the air hose would have to be connected, and looked up the track in the direction the cars were backing. There sat engine #25, now just a coach length from us. The conductor radioed the engine again, this time in a panic, but the cars just kept coming back. Now the conductor was screaming into the radio, and I was getting ready to run back to the yard to begin yelling at everyone to get out of the way.
l knew that a collision with engine #25 was only moments away, and the string of coaches on the curve between the two diesel locomotives would be forced over on its side! Just as I was beginning to break into a run, I heard the air brakes go into emergency, and the cars suddenly stopped. Startled, I stopped and looked back and saw the brakeman standing between the cars, with his red scarf accenting the pale, frightened look on his face.
He couldn’t believe what he had just done! He had stepped between the moving cars, in violation of all safety rules, and thrown the angle cock on the still unconnected coach #6, which released the air and set the brakes. Visibly shaken, he was busy apologizing to the conductor for what he had just done, but to me he was instantly a hero. I wished I had been given the presence of mind to dump the air. He saved the day, and the conductor knew it!
The real concern was finding out why the engine didn’t respond to the radio orders. This was a real serious situation that could have resulted in disastrous damage to the equipment. Almost instantly the radio crackled to life as the engineer asked what had happened. The conductor yelled that we had dumped the air to stop the train before he ran into engine #25, and demanded to know why he didn’t stop when ordered to.
The engineer called again, asking what was going on. The conductor looked at the microphone he held in his three-fingered right hand, and realized that he had been pushing the spring-loaded clip that attaches the microphone to your lapel, instead of the push-to-talk switch! He had not transmitted anything!
We cautiously completed the switching being careful to stay clear of the cars in case our conductor goofed again. We also made sure an extra hand was in the curve where they could see both us and the engine, to relay hand signals when needed. When the switching was completed, we loaded thirty-three adults and six children into our coach, and began the pull to Metamora to run the Shuttle Train.
During our hour and a half pull to Metamora, the clouds began to break away, and the sun peaked through in frequent periods of sunshine that warmed our spirits. I hung my wet clothing in the doorway of our coach to dry. It must have looked pretty humorous to rail fan photographers along the way! The line from Connersville is very picturesque with lots of wildlife in the often canopied curves and straight-aways along the 16 miles of track.
During the trip I had a chance to visit with our greatly embarrassed conductor, who turned out to be a founding member of the railroad’s board of directors, and qualified in every operating position on the railroad! He had a farm not far from Connersville, and gives all of his spare time to making the railroad solvent. He is also the steam engineer for whom one feature of the railroad is named. He has the distinction of having driven a steam train completely off a broken track and into a field on a long curve south of Connersville.
By the time we reached Metamora, it was mostly sunny, and a large crowd of shuttle passengers anxiously awaited our arrival. We discharged the folks we brought from Connersville, loaded our new patrons, and left immediately for the first shuttle run of the day. We pulled the coach on through town, past the Duck Creek Aqueduct, a restored lock, and down the hill a couple of miles to the end of the line, and then backed back into town.
It stayed busy all day. If we were afraid that the morning rains would keep the crowds away, we needn’t have been. The diehards were there in force. There was no chance to take a lunch break, since we had crowds waiting to board upon our every arrival. The two sections of the Through Train came into town at 1:30, and when we were all three parked end to end, we made quite a sight! There were large crowds of fans milling around the trains all afternoon.
The crews usually get together after putting the trains away at night, and go into town for dinner. There they talk about the trials, tribulations, and victories of the day. Several people seem to work both days on certain weekends, doing different jobs each day. Others work a certain schedule, such as the first Saturday of each month, doing a regular trick in a certain job.
After the day’s work was finished, Mary and I buttoned up the shuttle train just north of Metamora, where it would rest on the main line overnight. We rode back to Connersville with the Metamora ticket agent and met the day’s crews at a large cafeteria for a group dinner. The chit chat was light and happy, and the camaraderie was comfortable. After dinner I found a coin operated laundromat, dried my clothes, and returned to the depot.
I decided that since I was going to work both days that weekend I’d save myself three hours of driving back and forth to Indianapolis, by staying over at the railroad. A lot of the steam crew members spent the night, either bunking in the depot building, or staying at a motel in town. I thought I would do something a little different, and bunk down in a caboose in the rail yard.
Crummy Night’s Sleep
I walked through each of the cabooses that evening trying to decide which one I would sleep in, and began to understand why the old-time railroaders called the caboose a crummy. When you look at it as a bunk house, it leaves quite a lot to be desired. There was a closet on each side of the aisle under the cupola seats. One contained track repair equipment, flagging supplies, and other railroad materials. The other would hold the train crew’s grips, raincoats, lanterns and other gear.
Under the bunks, which often were wood planks that made a lift-up door, were more tools and supplies for emergency repairs, grease, oil cans, wicks for journal boxes, and wrenches and tools for working on air lines and brake hoses. Usually under one of the bunks was a spare coupler knuckle and pins, jacks, and tools to make heavy repairs easier. Notice I didn’t say anything about a bathroom.
I selected a wood sided caboose, #1902, a 1935 crummy with center cupola, and four bunks in one end and a conductor’s desk, coal stove and coal bin in the other. Formerly a Baltimore & Ohio railroad caboose, the bright red cabin car was purchased from Conrail, and still has the original coal stove, with the conductor’s storage bins and compartments in place. It’s probably as close to the original configuration of a train crew’s crummy living quarters as any in the yard.
The caboose was situated on a middle track with lines of cars on either side, which would make it nice and quiet. I decided to sleep against the east wall, so the morning sun wouldn’t wake me too early, and picked the one on that side with the best padding. Using my railroad signal lantern as a ceiling light, I peeled off my clothing and slipped into my sleeping bag. I must have tossed and turned for thirty or forty seconds, and dropped off into a deep restful sleep. It had been a long, eventful day.
Sunday, October 5, 1986
I arose at 7:00 a.m. the next morning to bright sunny skies, birds singing, and I felt well rested. It had been a quiet night in caboose #1902, as I had hoped. After dressing and packing my dirty clothes and sleeping bag the next morning, I locked up the caboose and walked back to the depot where the crew was already tending to the steam engine. This is definitely a love affair these men have with that steam engine! I exchanged greetings with the crew members, and went into the dispatcher’s office to sign in for duty.
Finding no new notices or advisories posted, I drove into town for a big breakfast. If today’s crowds were anything like yesterday’s it wasn’t likely that there would be time for lunch. When I returned to the depot the engineer, fireman and brakeman for #210 were ready to drive to Metamora to get the train ready for an early start, but the conductor hadn’t shown up yet.
It was finally decided, after we had waited some time, to go on down and get the train checked out. The conductor could meet us down there. I rode with the engineer in the Metamora ticket agent’s car. The rest of our crew rode down on the railroad’s Highrailer, which is a maintenance truck with highway and railroad wheels. The Highrailer crew would be doing track work in the Metamora area during the day.
Upon arrival I began inspecting the coach and caboose, and also checked the sand box and journals on the engine. As I was finishing up, the balance of our crew arrived, and the fireman did his inspection on the engine. By the time we were ready to get into operation, we had a large crowd already gathering at the loading area outside the ticket office, waiting for a shuttle ride.
Since our conductor had not shown up, the engineer, who has his conductor’s rating, directed the brakeman to function as conductor, and for me to function as brakeman, so we could get the shuttle in service and be able to make an extra run that day. We moved the train down to the loading ramp, filled the coach with passengers, and headed out for our first run of the day.
Moving slowly on the first round trip, to check out the rain soaked roadbed and track, we saw lots of deer and other wildlife along the wooded right of way much to the delight of the passengers. Upon our return we found another capacity crowd waiting for us, so we loaded and went out again. This time when we returned we found our conductor waiting for us, and he had brought another student brakeman with him.
We had another interesting day, with another first on the railroad. We were so busy on the shuttle, and had so many people wanting to ride, that we had to count people as they boarded, and cut off boarding when we got a full load. After the Through Train arrived at 1:30 p.m., we loaded two of the Through Train coaches with passengers and had engine #100 follow us out on a shuttle run!
The folks who got to ride the steam shuttle that day probably don’t realize what an exceptional treat they got, but it hadn’t been done before. The really neat thing is, I’ll be able to tell new people coming on train crews that I was there for the first three-train weekend, and the first two-train shuttle!
We made several extra shuttle runs that day and the crowds didn’t thin out until late evening. When the Metamora ticket office closed we finally received a very welcome clearance to deadhead back to Connersville. We dropped the conductor and student brakeman off at Leonard, where they had parked their car, and had two regular passengers riding to Laurel, where they live. The brakeman rode in the engine, so I had the rest of the train to myself and two passengers.
The sun was just beginning to set as we left Metamora for the hour-and-a- half trip. I was beginning to feel the fatigue of the day. I couldn’t wait to get the passengers unloaded at Laurel so I could stretch out for a little while before my drive home. Laurel is seven miles north of Metamora, and at 12 miles an hour, it takes at least five minutes to travel each mile, and a slow order in rain soaked stretches seemed to drag on for an eternity.
It was quite dark by the time we finally whistled into the Laurel stop, so I lit the coach with my signal lantern, and helped the passengers off the coach. As they stepped clear I gave the engineer the highball signal, threw the step box up on the vestibule, and stepped back. As the coach rolled past, I stepped up next to the train, and reached for a grab rail on the caboose, and swung up onto the step.
Once aboard, I climbed into the cupola and watched the headlight of the locomotive light the way home. It was quite an unusual feeling being alone on the train, in total darkness, with nothing but the tree-lined, canopied, track in front of the locomotive being lighted. I again thought of my railroading friends in Chillicothe, Missouri, and knew that this is an experience I would have loved to share with them.
Advancement to Engine Crew
It is greatly rewarding to work on a train crew, and I had many great weekends working the trains there. However, I was more interested in working on the engine crew. The first step to getting a job on an engine crew on the WVRR was to qualify as a student fireman on either or both the steam or diesel engines by passing a written exam. You must be a qualified brakeman to be a student fireman, since in addition to your engine duties you were responsible for making switching moves if no brakeman was available.
After a time of service that varied with the individual, you could be promoted to fireman upon the endorsement of three engineers who thought you were prepared for promotion. The engineers on the diesel locomotives had to be satisfied that you could properly inspect the locomotive, start it and prepare it for service, perform lookout duties while under way, and properly shut down the engine at the end of service. You could also operate the locomotive when under the direct supervision of a qualified engineer.
Training requirements for steam fireman were even more stringent, but could be undertaken simultaneously with the diesel fireman training. There were more tests, naturally, since you had to learn the intricacies of steam operation and all the equipment systems on the locomotive. There was no hard and fast rule for how quickly you could advance to engineer on the steam locomotive, but it was generally held that you should work about two years as a steam fireman before you moved up to engineer.
I never realized my dream of being qualified as a steam engineer. During my training as a steam fireman the State of Indiana Transportation Department took the steam engines out of service because they didn’t meet today’s modern standards for boiler construction, and therefore, were deemed unsafe. Protests aside, there evidently didn’t appear to be any way to get a waiver from this rule, and it appeared our engine would be out of service indefinitely.
Since it was such an attraction, and drew big crowds, it was decided to ship the boiler off to use as a pattern to get a new boiler built that would look as much like the original as possible. While the engine was away for rebuilding, the State of Indiana reversed its decision and allowed waivers for this type locomotive, but it was already too late for us.
The boiler was under construction in Mt Pleasant, Iowa for years. Modifications were made in the new boiler’s design to allow for easier clean out of the firebox, and when it finally arrived on the property it would not fit on the running gear frame. Someone miss-measured! This was an expensive disaster, and the engine remains out of service still today because of that error.
I went on into diesel engine service, became an engineer, a training engineer and then a supervisor of locomotive engineers. I worked with a number of railroads as a volunteer and others as a trainer, and have a lot of interesting stories relating to those experiences. But, that’s for another time.