Entrepreneurship Research Links

Articles

17 most common mistakes start-ups make and how to avoid them.
10 Good Reasons Not to Buy a Franchise
Spy On Competitors
Customer Service Still Rules
How to Delight Your Customers
Seven Ways to Keep Customers
Government Websites

Associations
American Association of Home Based Businesses
Business Improvement Group
Home Office Association of America
Jerome Levy Economics Institute
National Association for the Self-Employed
National Association of Homebased Businesses
National Business Incubation Association
National Congress of Inventor Organizations
National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB)
National Women’s Business Council
Small Business News
Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council
SOHO Org
United States Chamber of Commerce
Veterans’ Business Outreach Center
Working Capital
Young Americas Business Trust

Directories
Small Business Associations: BusinessTown
Entrepreneur Links Site
Small Biz Search

Entrepreneurs: Are You Ready?
Self Assessment from SBA

Business Advice
SCORE(SBA) Let SCORE assist you!
E- Business Institute Online Courses(SBA)
Small Business Administration

Business Documents
Microsoft Office Templates
Legal Forms
Business Office Forms

Business Insurance for Self Employed
Net Quote
National Association for the Self Employed

Business Plans
Bplans.com – Sample Plans
Business Planning Software (FREE )
SBA Business Plan Course
Creating a Winning Startup Business Plan

Canada Research Links
Canada Business Research – Strategis
Canada Business Services – CBSC

Checklist for Business Startup
Checklist Online – SBA.gov
Download as Word document

Company Research
Business Research Links

Consulting As A Career
Careers in Consulting
Consulting at Entrepreneur.com
Consulting Information Services

Credit Bureaus and Reports
Free Credit Report

Demographic Research
CIA Demographic Data
Internet Demographic Library
US Census Data
Canada Statistics

Discussions
Bottom Up (Keyword Search)
Entrepreneur Holdings
Entrepreneur’s Link
Entrepreneur Magazine
Entrepreneur Network
Entrepreneur Radio
Entrepreneur Site.com
Gorilla Marketing
National Business Incubation Association

Franchising
Franchise.org

Funding Sources
AllBusiness.com
Los Angeles Venture Association
National Association of Seed and Venture Funds – Home
National Business Incubation Association
National Venture Capital Association
Northwest Entrepreneur Network(Nonprofit)

Government Grants (Canada)
Canadian Government Grants
Business Guide to Government Grants
Grants Canada

Government Grants (U.S.)
Small Business and other grants
FREE Guide to All Government Grants, Scholarships and Loans
Electronically find and apply for grants

Health Insurance
Self Employed Health Insurance
Rates and Coverages
Health Insurance In Depth

Home Business/Office
Home Business
Internet Law
OfficeLinks
Small Business Help

Independent Contractor or Employee?
Canada Revenue Agency
Internal Revenue Service

Job/Career/Research Sites
Guru.com

Miscellaneous
Virtual Coach – 1% Club
S. Cal Technology

Self Employment Checklist
Advice Org

Setting Your Prices
Charging What You’re Worth

Small Business Management
Business Forum Online
Microsoft Small Business Center
Small Business Innovation Research
Small Business (Yahoo)
US Business Advisor

Startup Help
Inc. com
Start up Failures
Start up Help
Start up University
SBA-Forms of Business Ownership
SBA-Financing Basics

Other Business Research Links

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Marketing Research for Entrepreneurs

Market research is essential to making sure your business gets off to a good start, and has a reasonable chance to survive the critical startup woes. Market research is essentially the process of collecting, organizing, maintaining, and analyzing data that enables you to make good decisions about the market segments to which you should market, the services and or products to market, and what would motivate your prospects to make a purchase. Market research also involves the documentation of data collected and its preservation for future use.

Analysis of your market includes finding out what groups of potential customers there are, which are the segments you want to serve, what their needs are, what product or service offering would be of interest to them, what your competitors are doing, what pricing you should use, and how you should distribute your offering to your target markets.

The objective of your research should be to answer some very specific questions of prime importance to your business success. These might include topics such as:

1. What groups of potential customers have specific needs you might be able to fill;
2. How might those needs be met for each group or target market;
3. What would make the product or service appeal to each of the target markets;
4. How much would the customer be willing to pay;
5. Who are the competitors in your marketing area;
6. What would motivate the customer to buy from you rather than the competitor(s);
7. How the product should be branded to be most identifiable.

Surveys and Interviews

Marketing & Advertising mentor Jay Conrad Levinson, author of the Gorilla Marketing books says the least expensive marketing technique is to create a questionnaire and mail or e-mail it to members of your target market. Explain that that the more you know about their needs, the better you’ll be able to provide service to them. He also suggests checking for online discussion forums in your field of business, and conducting research among the participants. You can also surf the web for businesses such as yours to take advantage of their market research. One of the ways I have found this type research to be very productive is to connect with your prospects by telephone, mail or e-mail to set up an appointment with them to conduct a face-to-face interview. You will typically get a better understanding of their requirements, challenges they face in getting the service in a manner that meets their needs, and you have an opportunity to create a personal relationship prior to making your product or service offering. The key to making this work is to select members of local industry to be “experts” whose opinions are valuable. And, promise them a copy of that final report when the study is complete.

Focus Groups

Excellent low cost tools for gathering information during your initial market research, focus groups are a somewhat informal technique that can help you assess needs and feelings both before you start your business and on a periodic basis thereafter. In a focus group, you bring together from six to nine users of the service or product you plan to offer to discuss issues and concerns about the features and benefits desired. The group session typically lasts about two hours and is run by a well-prepared facilitator who maintains the group’s focus, and guides the conversation to gain particular information on predetermined issues. Focus groups often bring out spontaneous reactions and ideas that supplement the sought after intelligence, and result in expanding your knowledge about the topic being researched. Having a facilitator to run the session permits you to sit on the sidelines and more closely observe body language and group dynamics. Since there often are major differences between what people say and what they do, direct observation and videotaping of the session always needs to be done. The videotaped session should be periodically reviewed to supplement the value received.

Thoroughly planning the questions to be addressed in your focus group sessions will ensure that you gather valid comments to reveal firm guidelines for organizing your marketing strategy, as well as helping you understand the competitive landscape in your industry. Determine what you want to get out of a the session, test your questions to ensure you get the feedback you need, and have a facilitator keep the group on topic.

Effective use of focus groups can help you determine your customers’ opinions of the level of service they are currently receiving from your competitors, marketing issues on service or product acceptance, needs that are not being met or could be better met. You will discover the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors during the session and will be able to use the information to identify the special niche in the market place for your business.

Customer Panel

Another inexpensive measurement tool you should use after you have your business in operation is the customer panel. It differs from the focus group in that a representative group of current or previous users are brought together to critique your service or product offering. A customer panel will open your eyes and give you very valuable information to help you improve your service or product. Hearing and seeing your customer express their opinions in an open forum is even more powerful than gathering comments from customers in a formal feedback report.

There are outstanding resources on the web to help you do preliminary and detailed research into your industry. Knowthis.com has an excellent grouping of links to articles on a number of topics, as does gorilla.com, about.com, and a seemingly endless list of others. Through the generous contributions of a number of users I have posted an entire page of links to help you find good resources for conducting research on my Business Research page.

Posted in Consulting, Technical Writing | 1 Comment

Business Licenses and Permits

Most states and many cities and/or counties impose licenses and permits on a wide variety of businesses, and it is very likely your business will require more than one license or permit. Failing to get all required permits right from the beginning is one of the most common mistakes new entrepreneurs make. This mistake can be costly, in delays and penalties.

Contact your town or city offices to inquire about getting a business license. You may find that your city has a licensing department that will provide the necessary application form(s) required, and specifying the costs of licenses for different types of business. When you file your license application, the city planning or zoning department will review the application to make sure your area is zoned for the purpose you want to use it for and that there are enough parking spaces to meet the city codes.

Some license and permit types you may need for your business include sign, fire inspection, health department, air and water pollution control permits, and licenses from city, county and maybe even the state. You will also need a federal license in some cases, as well as a sales tax license if you collect taxes on sales.

Certain businesses and professions like barbers, contractors and most businesses serving food, require a state license. There are state agencies to deal with each of these types of businesses, and each will have a licensing procedure. Businesses providing investment advice or dealing with firearms are highly regulated and will also need a federal license. If you’re considering this type business, it’s best to consult an attorney.

If you’re planning to start a business in your home, investigate zoning ordinances especially carefully. Many residential neighborhoods have strict zoning regulations preventing business use of the home. Even so, it’s possible to get a variance or conditional-use permit, and in many areas, communities are becoming more supportive of home-based businesses. Some home businesses require a general business license, a home occupancy license and a specialty license.

The permits, registrations and licenses required vary greatly according to locality and the nature of your business. Chances are, you need a business license from your municipality. Virtually all cities and counties require that all businesses obtain a business license, strictly for the purpose of raising money for the city or county rather than to regulate the businesses’ conduct, much like the manner in which restaurants are supervised for sanitary conditions.

If you’re structuring your company as a sole proprietorship or a partnership, you have the option of choosing a business name, or dba (“doing business as”), for your business. This is also known as a fictitious business name. If you want to operate your business under a name other than your own (for instance, Carl Derringer doing business as “The Sign Shoppe”), you may be required by the county, city or state to register your fictitious name.

If your community doesn’t have a formal licensing procedure, file a “DBA” document with your Town Hall, and take a copy with you so you can get a copy for your file with a date stamp on it. You can find links to the website of virtually every regulatory agency in North America at the Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation‘s Web site.

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The Partnership Agreement

An unincorporated organization with two or more members is generally classified as a partnership for federal tax purposes if its members carry on a trade, business, financial operation, or venture and divide its profits. However, a joint undertaking merely to share expenses is not a partnership. For example, co-ownership of property maintained and rented or leased is not a partnership unless the co-owners provide services to the tenants.

If your business will be owned and operated by several individuals, you should take a look at structuring your business as a partnership. Partnerships can be organized as a general partnership or a limited partnership. In a general partnership, the partners manage the company and assume responsibility for the partnership’s debts and other obligations. A limited partnership has both general and limited partners. The general partners own and operate the business and assume liability for the partnership, while the limited partners serve only as investors, and have no control over the company and are not subject to the same liabilities as the general partners.

One of the major advantages of a partnership is the tax treatment it enjoys. A partnership doesn’t pay tax on its income but passes through any profits or losses to the individual partners. At tax time, each partner indicates his or her share of partnership income, deductions and tax credits. In addition, each partner is required to report profits from the partnership on his or her individual tax return.

Personal liability is a major concern if you use a general partnership to structure your business. Similar to a sole proprietorship, general partners are personally liable for the partnership’s obligations and debt. In addition, each general partner can act on behalf of the partnership, take out loans and make business decisions that will affect and be binding on all the partners (if the general partnership agreement permits). Keep in mind that partnerships are more expensive to establish than sole proprietorships because they require more extensive legal and accounting services.

An essential protection you should provide yourself when entering into a partnership is a Partnership Agreement. This Agreement is much like a pre-nuptial agreement in a marriage. And, breaking up a partnership is often as traumatic and costly as breaking up a marriage. Although I am not an expert in these areas, and the following information in not intended to be used as a legal instrument, here are some guidelines for structuring your Partnership Agreement.

1. NAME AND BUSINESS
2. TERM (The partnership shall begin on ___and end . . . )
3. CAPITAL The capital of the partnership shall be . . .
4. PROFIT AND LOSS
5. SALARIES AND DRAWINGS
6. INTEREST ON CAPITAL
7. MANAGEMENT DUTIES AND RESTRICTIONS.
8. BANKING
9. BOOKS
10. VOLUNTARY TERMINATION OF PARTNERSHIP
11. DEATH
12. ARBITRATION

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Business Entities

One of the big decisions we must make when starting our business is which form of business best fits our needs. The simplest business structure is the sole proprietorship, which usually involves just one individual who owns and operates the business. A big plus in the sole-proprietorship is that you have complete control of your business-you make all the decisions. If we intend to include others in our business, perhaps a partnership or some type of corporation would be the best fit.

The tax aspects of a sole proprietorship are especially appealing because income and expenses from the business are reported on your personal income tax return (Form 1040) at the end of the calendar year. Your profits and losses are first recorded on a tax form called Schedule C, which is filed along with your 1040. Then the “bottom-line amount” from Schedule C is transferred to your personal tax return as profit or loss on your normal income. This is especially attractive because business losses you suffer may offset earned income and reduce the amount of tax owed. As a sole proprietor, you must also file a Schedule SE with Form 1040 to calculate how much self-employment tax you owe.

In addition to paying annual self-employment taxes, you will be required to also make quarterly estimated tax payments on your income. Currently, self-employed individuals with net earnings of $400 or more must make estimated tax payments to cover their tax liability. If your prior year’s adjusted gross income is less than $150,000, your estimated tax payments will be at least 90 percent of your current year’s tax liability or 100 percent of the prior year’s liability, whichever is less. The federal government permits you to pay estimated taxes in four equal amounts throughout the year on the 15th of April, June, September and January. With a sole proprietorship, your business earnings are taxed only once, unlike other business structures.

Those are all pluses for sole proprietorship. But. There are a few disadvantages to consider, too, before deciding which structure is right for you. Selecting the sole proprietorship business structure means your personal assets are at risk to cover your company’s liabilities. As a result, your assets could be seized to satisfy a business debt or legal claim filed against you.

Raising money for a sole proprietorship can also be difficult. You will find that banks and other financing sources are reluctant to make business loans to sole proprietorships, in general, and startups in particular. In most cases, you’ll have to depend on your own financing sources, such as savings, home equity or family loans until you have a proven track record to demonstrate to a potential investor or lending officer.

Partnerships

If your business will be owned and operated by several individuals, you should investigate whether a partnership is right for you. Partnerships are more expensive to establish than sole proprietorships due to more extensive legal and accounting services, but they come in two varieties: general partnerships and limited partnerships. In a general partnership, the partners manage the company and assume responsibility for the partnership’s debts and other obligations. A limited partnership has both general and limited partners.

The general partners own and operate the business and assume liability for the partnership, while the limited partners serve only as investors only and are not subject to the same liabilities as the general partners. Limited partnerships usually are not the best choice for a new business because of the required filings and administrative complexities. If you have two or more partners who want to be actively involved, a general partnership would be much easier to form. One of the major advantages of a partnership is the tax treatment it enjoys. A partnership doesn’t pay tax on its income but “passes through” any profits or losses to the individual partners. At tax time, each partner files a Schedule K-1 form, which indicates his or her share of partnership income, deductions and tax credits, and report profits from the partnership on his or her individual tax return.

Even though the partnership pays no income tax, it must compute its income and report it on a separate informational return, Form 1065. Similar to a sole proprietorship, general partners are personally liable for the partnership’s obligations and debt, so if personal liability is a major concern in your business, you may be better off selecting some form of corporate entity.

Limited Liability Company

The Limited Liability Company (LLC) has been around since 1977, bringing together some of the best features of partnerships and the corporation, offering what is arguably the best setting for tax purposes. LLCs were created to provide small business owners with the liability protection that corporations enjoy without the double taxation. Profit and loss passes through to the owners and reported on their personal tax returns, just as in a partnership or sole proprietorship. Like partnerships, LLCs do not have perpetual life, in that the company dissolves when a member dies, quits or retires. And, some states require a partnership to dissolve after 30 or 40 years.

These considerations have often led small businesses to incorporate as an S Corporation. Today however, the LLC offers small-business owners another option. For example, there’s no limitation on the number of shareholders an LLC can have, unlike an S corporation, which has a limit of 75. In addition, every member or owner of the LLC is allowed a full participatory role in the business’s operation. To set up an LLC, you simply file Articles of Organization with the Secretary of State in the state where you intend to do business. Some states also require you to file an Operating Agreement, which is similar to a partnership agreement.

LLCs also have disadvantages. Since LLCs are created first at the state level, legislation in each state dictates the abilities and limitations of the LLC. If you decide on an LLC structure, be sure to obtain the services of an experienced accountant or small business attorney who is familiar with the various rules and regulations of LLCs. If you plan to operate in several states, you must determine how each of those states will treat an LLC formed in another state. Another excellent resource is the Internet. Simply go to your state’s website, find the Secretary of State’s office, and do a search for “Business” or “Companies” until you find the links to Corporations or LLCs. You can learn a lot very quickly about these entities in your state from these websites.

Full Corporation

Using the corporate structure is more complex and expensive than most other business structures. A corporation is an independent legal entity, separate from its owners, and as such, it requires compliance with more regulations and tax requirements than any other entity.

The biggest benefit the corporation offers is the liability protection provided the owner(s). A corporation’s debt is not considered that of its owners, so you’re not putting your personal assets at risk. A corporation also can retain some of its profits, without the owner(s) paying tax on them, and can also sell stock to raise money. The corporate structure, however, comes with a number of downsides, including higher costs.

Corporations are formed under the laws of each state with their own set of regulations. Because a corporation must follow more complex rules and regulations than a partnership or sole proprietorship, it requires more accounting and tax preparation services. For these reasons you’ll probably need the assistance of an attorney to guide you through the maze. I have also found it a good practice to have an accountant to help with timely tax filing and reporting.

Another drawback of standard corporations is that owners of the corporation pay a double tax on the business’s earnings. Not only are corporations subject to corporate income tax at both the federal and state levels, but any earnings distributed to shareholders in the form of dividends are taxed at individual tax rates on their personal income tax returns.

To avoid double taxation, you can pay the money out as salaries to yourself and other corporate shareholders. A corporation is not required to pay tax on earnings paid out as reasonable compensation, and it can deduct the payments as a business expense. The IRS, however, has strict limits on what it believes to be reasonable compensation, and varying the amount of compensation each year to reflect what would have otherwise been profit for the corporation can amount to waving a yellow flag in the face of the IRS.

It is possible to file for incorporation without the help of an attorney, saving $500-$1,000 in start up costs, but the process is likely to take some time to accomplish, and there is also the risk that you might miss some small but important detail in your state’s law. Generally, you must prepare a certificate or articles of incorporation with the proposed name of the corporation, the purpose of the corporation, the names and addresses of the parties incorporating, and the location of the principal office of the corporation.

The corporation will also need a set of bylaws that describe in greater detail than the articles how the corporation will run, including the responsibilities of the shareholders, directors and officers. You also need to state when annual stockholder meetings will be held; and other details important to running the company. When your articles of incorporation are accepted, the secretary of state’s office will send you a certificate of incorporation.

Once you’re incorporated, be sure to follow the rules of incorporation required by state law, and to follow your own articles and bylaws. If you don’t conduct business according to these strict rules, a court can pierce the Corporate Veil of Protection, and hold you and the other owners personally liable for the business’s debts. Be sure to keep accurate financial records for the corporation, showing a separation between the corporation’s income and expenses and that of the owner(s).

The corporation should also issue stock to its shareholders, hold annual meetings to elect officers and directors, and file annual reports. Be sure to keep minutes of these annual meetings, and any interim meetings of the Board of Directors, and get them typed and entered into the official records of the corporation.

S Corporation

The IRS subchapter S corporation is more attractive to small-business owners than a standard corporation because of some appealing tax benefits while still providing the liability protection of a standard corporation. With an S Corporation, income and losses are passed through to the shareholders and reported on their individual tax returns. As a result, there’s just one level of federal tax to pay.

Owners of S corporations who don’t carry inventory can use the cash method of accounting, which is much simpler than the accrual method. Under this method, income is taxable when received and expenses are deductible when paid. Tax law changes brought about by the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996 have made S corporations even more attractive for small-business owners. In the past, S corporations were limited to 35 shareholders of common stock, but in 1996 the new law increased the number of shareholders to 75, making it possible to have more investors and thus attract more capital.

S corporations do come with some downsides. For example, they’re subject to many of the same requirements corporations must follow, which in my experience means higher legal and tax service costs. These corporations also must file articles of incorporation, hold directors and shareholders meetings, keep corporate minutes, and allow shareholders to vote on major corporate decisions. These costs, legal and accounting expenses are similar to those of a standard corporation.

Even after you settle on a business structure, remember that the laws that make one type of business organization favorable are always subject to change. Reassess your form of business from time to time to make sure you’re using the one that provides the most benefits, and in all cases, get outside advice from a specialist about the ideal form to take.

I recommend your Secretary of State’s website, and Entrepreneur.com’s Tax Center as excellent resources for preliminary research into these complex topics. You may also visit the Internal Revenue Service website to download information on this topic. Download forms 17, 334, and 583.

Posted in Consulting, Technical Writing | 1 Comment

Entrepreneurial Overview

In the job market of the early 21st Century, when job engagements tend to last an average of less than four years, the likelihood of serving a single employer until retirement is in swift decline. The global business model, enhanced by rapidly developing technological advancement, has fueled a dramatic shift in how employers market their products and services today.

This dynamic in job morphing leads many former corporate professionals to consider starting their own business, where they can better control their own job security, financial success and quality of life. This shift to self-reliant entrepreneurship has created a burgeoning service-oriented industry, and inspires thousands each year to consider taking the big step.

There are many benefits enjoyed by the self-employed in terms of a stable income, sense of accomplishment, partnering with a spouse, and often creating a family business legacy, by including children or grandchildren. The range of business opportunities is truly unlimited. Consulting in your field of expertise or interest, purchasing a franchise, starting a new business, or buying an existing business, can lead to great satisfaction and personal achievement.

The United States today is home to nearly twenty five million small businesses. Most are in the service sector, and the proportion of women-owned small businesses in approaching fifty percent. We think of America as a country of huge corporations, when actually only one percent of U.S. businesses have more than five hundred employees and the Fortune 500 companies account for less than 5% of the workforce. Micro-businesses, with one to four employees, are the largest job creators today, and were far less impacted by the most recent recession by readily redeploying workers rather than jettisoning them altogether.

When considering whether to start your own business, there are two recommended initial steps to determine whether self-employment is right for you. The first step is to assess your values and beliefs in the work place, and how those transfer into operating your own business. DBM clients have access to the Self Employment Profile, which will help you understand how you could fit into the world of entrepreneurism. Whether you use this tool, or another, it is essential that you gather data about yourself to help you understand your transferable strengths, and perhaps more importantly, where you need support.

The second key step to making this transition is to have an understanding of the time it will take to research, evaluate, research, and then research the market as broadly and as inclusively as you can, identify your niche. Research the market with target of ten or less opportunities. Narrow your search to the three that look most promising, and research those until you identify the one opportunity you choose to pursue. According to the Small Business Administration, successful small businesses spend six to ten months planning their business before taking it to the marketplace. Startups that plan for four months or less usually fail within the first two years.

A thorough understanding of risk associated with your business is an essential part of the planning process, and will help you decide which kind of legal entity your new business needs to be. Sole proprietorship, partnership, Limited Liability Corporation, or Full Corporation are all possibilities. Perhaps it will make sense to start your business as one form of legal entity and then, at some milestone, move it into another form determined by your milestone, which might be volume of business or increasing risk associated with your growth.

The factors to consider in making the decision on the proper legal entity for you business are many, but most of us focus on two key elements; taxes, and liability. Taxation as a sole proprietor, and in most cases a partnership, are fairly simple. At the end of your business year, usually the calendar year, you simply determine your annualized profit or loss and report it on your federal and state tax return where you pay tax on your profits.

As a corporation, your business will have more stringent tax reporting schedules, and for a profitable small business, can result in paying taxes twice on your earnings; once as the corporation, and then again on what you take out of the business as salary. In my own experience, I have learned that the best way to make a Subchapter S Corporation to work for me is to have someone else, an accountant, handle all the tax reporting requirements, which frees me up to focus on the task of growing my business and delivering good service quality.

A corporate structure traditionally has expressed limited liability protection for the owner-officers, often referred to as the Corporate Veil of Protection. However, when the courts find “fuzziness” between corporate assets and owner assets, the Veil of Protection is pierced and owner assets are “attached” to the corporate liability, often resulting in the owner-officer exposing and losing all private assets as well.

The Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) is a relatively new addition to the type of business entities recognized by the U.S. government. The LLC is not available in every state, as some states are still struggling with how to structure this type business entity. The attraction of the LLC is that it provides more protection for the operators of the business from liability than a sole proprietorship or partnership, but doesn’t have the strict taxation rules of the full corporation. It is important, however, to investigate what limitations of liability are in your state’s definition of the LLC, and also how the rules of business have been defined.

Because corporations protect the officers’ personal assets in a litigable action against the company, if the officers have acted in good faith, it is only the assets of the corporation that are at risk in a legal action. This isn’t true in a sole proprietorship or partnership, as the assets of the individuals operating the business will be at risk.

Determining what your present and future risks are going to be in your business will help you make decisions about the type of legal structure you need for your business, and the steps you must take to ensure you are personally protected in case of legal action. This is a good time to make use of other resources to help you make these decisions. Look in your area for a Small Business Development Center sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration (Canada Business Service Centre in Canada). You’ll find these located in proximity to universities, and offer detailed advice and research resources to help you understand more about your options.

If you haven’t explored one of these SMDC (or CBSC) resources to date, you will be delighted with the information they have available to you, including, in many locations, SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives). Most services are free at these locations, and those that have a fee attached are usually much less than you would expect to pay a consultant. You can find the location of the Business Center or Service Center near you by going these organizations’ websites: Small Business Administration is http://www.sba.gov and Canada’s Business Centres Network is http://www.cbsc.org.

According to the Small Business Administration, one of the common characteristics of a successful small business is that they use outside advisors to help identify all the dynamics that need to be part of the planning process. These outside advisors may come from a number of business sectors, such as a commercial banker, a business broker, a franchise broker, a small business attorney, CPA, commercial insurance agent, and other successful business owners. The benefit is that you will get feedback on your ideas to help guide your decisions in those critical startup years.

Another key element to success in your start up business is networking. Yes, networking! Getting out in the business community to expand that circle of folks who know you and your business. Face to face meetings are best, of course, closely followed by memberships in chambers of commerce, business associations and professional networking groups.

One of the reasons you will spend six to ten months planning your business is that it will take that long to do your market research. It is essential that your thoroughly understand the demographics and make up of your potential customer base. Much of this information can be obtained through resources like SBA, libraries, the Internet, associations, interviews with prospective clients, and business networking. The goal is to understand your target market as well as possible.

Our search page for entrepreneurs provides excellent tools to help you begin this process of investigating going into business for yourself. Ranging from links to Self Employment Assessments to Entrepreneurial websites, you have the resources at your fingertips to begin successful business planning. To expand your knowledge and comfort level further, you should plan to spend a day at a Small Business Administration “Small Business Development Center,” or Canada Business Service Centre, to explore the myriad services available to small business and entrepreneurs.

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Joe Line

My parents and their families lived and worked in Hannibal, a bustling river town located on the Mississippi River an hour or so north of St Louis. It was the boyhood home of Samuel Clemens, known to the world as writer and humorist Mark Twain, who learned to pilot steamboats on the Mississippi. Hannibal was already an important river town by the year 1859, boasting over 1000 steamboat landings annually.
1859 is also the year the first railroad to cross the state of Missouri was completed from Hannibal on the Eastern border to St. Joseph on the Western edge, north of Kansas City. The Hannibal & St Joseph Railroad was completed when lines being built from either side of the state met in Chillicothe, Missouri, on February 13, 1859 with great fanfare, marking the beginning of an important era in the history of the river town now turned railroad hub.Construction on the railroad originally started during an 1846 meeting at the Hannibal office of John H. Clemens, father of Mark Twain. After land grants and financing had been arranged, track work was started in 1851 from both cities. Bonds from counties along the route, along with the donation of 600,000 acres in land voted by Congress, paid for construction.

In 1860, the Hannibal & St Joseph Railroad began carrying westbound Pony Express mail across the state on a test basis, to win a contract from the postal service. On the very first test the messenger carrying the mail from Washington and New York missed a train connection which made him two hours late leaving Hannibal. However, men of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad met the emergency with one of the most famous “fast mail” train rides in history.

In preparation for the high speed run, the main track was cleared of traffic all the way from Hannibal to St Joseph and all switches were aligned for the main line and spiked in place. No one was allowed to cross the tracks for half and hour prior to the train’s scheduled arrival. Station Agents telegraphed reports of the train’s progress as it passed their location. Engineer Addison Clark made history that day as he high-balled the locomotive, “Missouri,” pulling one coach, the entire distance for a run that was to stand as a speed record for 50 years.

The H&StJ railroad shops constructed the first railroad post office car for sorting mail while the train was en route to its destination. The mail car was a converted baggage car that made it possible to expedite the transfer of sorted mail to the Pony Express, and won the “Joe Line,” as it was nicknamed, a much coveted mail contract from the U.S. Postmaster.

The “Joe Line” shops also built the first railroad locomotive manufactured west of the Mississippi River. It was a 34-ton locomotive named the Colonel Grant, in honor of the army colonel who was assigned at that time to protect the railroad and Pony Express mail during the American Civil War. In Civil War years, the majority of Hannibal citizens favored the Confederate cause, but the city was occupied by Colonel U.S. Grant’s union soldiers throughout the war due to its importance as a railroad center.

At that time nearly all that portion of the State of Missouri through which the railroad ran, was in a state of rebellion against the United States. For some months previously, armed bands of rebels had committed frequent depredations on the railroad by firing into trains, burning bridges, trains of cars, and station-houses, destroying culverts, and tearing up the track.

Over the years, the lively river traffic and the continual expansion of railroads combined to bring great prosperity to Hannibal, and by the 1940s it had grown into a good sized industrial center, with factories of many types located along the Wabash Railroad and Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad that followed Bear Creek, a major Mississippi River tributary, through town.

Seasonal flooding of the Mississippi River and Hannibal’s creeks caused heavy damage to the railroad properties, and the factories that lined the tracks. The flooding also eventually caused the closing of the Burlington Northern roundhouse and shops which lay in the Mississippi River flood plain in Hannibal. Through trains still pass through Hannibal regularly, but the days of being a railroad town are now long gone.

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Clickety Clack

Steam engine with cabbage stack
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.

Louisiana Purchase

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.

Heavy Traffic

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.

Ohio Canals

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 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.

Whitewater Canal

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.

Railroad Modeling

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.

Whizbang Doflingus

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.

WVRR Recollections

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!

Trainman Training

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.

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Cardinal Radio Script

Partial script from a marketing video produced by Larry E Vaughn in the mid 1990s:

Cardinal Radio Marketing Video

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Story of the Front Door Glass

This is a Christmas story written for my granddaughters, who were visiting us at our bed & breakfast during Christmas week, 1999. I had designed and created a new stained glass window for the front door, and kept it secret until morning when we opened gifts, at which time I read this story.

The Story of the Front Door Glass, by Larry E Vaughn

Front door glass

There once was a kindly, bespectacled, old Grandfather Elf, named Eugene, who lived happily with sweet Grandmother Elf, Marie, in a big gingerbread house on a country lane. Eugene loved Marie very much. And, he loved the old gingerbread house on the country lane. They were especially happy when their children and grandchildren came to visit the big gingerbread house.

But, Eugene was troubled. Christmas would be coming soon, and he had no money to buy Marie a gift. Eugene wanted a really special gift to show Marie how much he loved her. But, he looked through all his pockets and found nothing but a few coins. He looked under the rug in the parlor, where he sometimes hid money for special occasions, but found nothing. He looked under the big rocking chair, but there wasn’t anything there, either. He even looked in his best Sunday suit! But, alas, there was nothing there either.

“Oh my, oh my,” he thought. “I need some money! But, where can I get enough to buy my sweet Marie a really special gift.” He thought really hard. “I know,” he shouted out loud, “I’ll get a job!.”

But, Eugene couldn’t find a job any where. Santa’s workshop already had all the elves they could use, and it seemed no one else had work for a grandfather elf to do. So, after looking and looking, Eugene started to walk home, feeling very sad. On the way home, he stopped to rest in the shade under a large tree, across from the home of an mischievous old leprechaun named O’Haley.

O’Haley saw the sad old grandfather elf resting under the big shade tree in front of his house, and saw that Eugene looked very, very sad. O’Haley felt sorry for Eugene, and thought to himself, “I’ll bet Eugene would like something cool to drink. I’ll take him a glass of nice, cool water.” O’Haley filled up a big glass with fresh water, and took it to Eugene. Eugene was very grateful, and said, “Thank you Mr. O’Haley. This water is most welcome.” O’Haley asked, “Eugene, why are you so sad?” Eugene replied, “Because I want to give Marie a very special gift for Christmas, and I have no money. I have searched every where, but can’t find a job to earn some money for a gift”

O’Haley replied, “But, Eugene, don’t you know that a gift you make with your own hands, is a better gift than any you can buy with money? Why don’t you make something special for Marie? Maybe something real special. I’ll bet she’d really like a beautiful stained glass window for her front door! It would make the front door very pretty in the mornings when the sun shines on your house, and she would receive the gift of beauty every morning.”

“But, I don’t know how to make stained glass windows!” replied Eugene. “That’s not a problem, “ said O’Haley. “I can give you the knowledge. But, I want something in return.” Eugene was cautious, because he knew leprechauns can play mean tricks.

“What is it you want in return for this knowledge, you mischievous old leprechaun?” asked Eugene. O’Haley laughed, “Don’t worry, Eugene, my days of playing tricks are pretty much over. I’ll make a trade. I will give you the stained glass knowledge, if you give me your secret recipe for shamrock muffins.”

Everyone knew that Eugene’s shamrock muffins were the best in the land, and he had kept his recipe secret for years. But, now, Eugene quickly wrote down the ingredients and gladly gave the recipe to the old leprechaun . O’Haley jumped up and down with joy, laughing loudly, and began to disappear in a puff of smoke.

“What about my knowledge!?” shouted Eugene. “Here it is,” replied O’Haley, throwing a pinch of magic dust on Eugene. “This looks a lot like Magic Reindeer Food,” Eugene thought to himself. As O’Haley disappeared into his puff of smoke, Eugene thought he heard very faintly, “Hee hee! Don’t get cut on the glass! Hee hee, haw haw haw!”

All of a sudden Eugene realized that he knew how to make stained glass windows. The perfect design for Marie’s favorite purple flower made of colored glass popped into his head. It would be a beautiful in the front door! And, Marie would be able to see it every day. This would be a really special gift!

So, Eugene took the few coins he had in his pocket, and went to the colored glass store, and bought pieces of pretty colored glass to make Marie’s favorite purple flower. The colored glass was very expensive, and Eugene only had two coins left when he left the store. “But”, he thought to himself, “Marie will be so happy with the new front door glass, I would have gladly spent ALL my coins to make just what she would like.”

When he got home, he tried to remove the old faded glass in the front door to make a pattern for the new colored front door glass with the purple flower. As Eugene gently lifted the old glass, he heard a loud “snap!”, and saw a crack in the glass go all the way from one side of the window to the other! This was terrible! How would he ever explain to Marie how the glass got broken, without ruining his surprise?

Eugene thought and thought. He knew he would have to make another new window glass for the door! But, he didn’t want to give away his secret surprise, because he didn’t want to ruin Marie’s Christmas. Besides, making a new window would take several days. And, you have to be really careful not to get cut. Eugene decided to leave the old cracked glass in the door, and hope that Marie wouldn’t notice it right away.

Then he hurried back to the colored glass store, to buy more glass, to make a new window for the front door. “How much glass can I buy with just these two coins?”, Eugene asked.

“Only this old white glass,” the shop keeper told him.

Eugene looked at the glass. “Well, it isn’t very pretty,” he thought to himself, “But, maybe I can make a window that will be nice enough for now, and then I can replace it with the beautiful purple flower glass on Christmas eve. Then Marie will really be surprised!

Eugene worked and worked, through the evening, and all night, trying to make a pretty window design out of the old white glass. He was hoping to have the white glass window ready to put in before Marie found the broken glass in her front door. But, before he could finish, he heard Marie shriek, “Oh me! Oh my goodness! The front door glass is broken! Come quickly Eugene!”

Eugene was worried. He didn’t want Marie to know about the secret front door glass with a purple flower design he was making for her. But, he didn’t have the window of old white glass ready, either. Oh, my! What a terrible fix!

Eugene said, “What’s wrong Marie?”

Marie pointed to the front door glass and said, “It’s cracked all the way across! It’s such a big glass, I’m afraid it will fall out and hurt someone. We need a new window right away!”

Eugene didn’t like telling fibs to Marie, but he knew that he would give away his secret surprise if he didn’t answer carefully. “I’ll go see O’Haley,” he said. “Surely he still has a trick or two up his sleeve. Maybe he can fix the glass” So, Eugene went carefully out the door, and headed to O’Haley’s house, where he found the old leprechaun stirring up some frosting to put on the shamrock muffins he had just made from Eugene’s recipe.

“O’Haley,” Eugene began, “I need another favor from you, but I have nothing left to trade.” “Sure, me boy!,” the old leprechaun smiled, “And, this time it won’t cost you anything! The shamrock muffins are truly delicious! They will make a wonderful gift for my grandchildren. I’m making some for all of them! What is it you want?”

“Well,” Eugene started, “I need for you to help me keep a secret from Marie.” He then went on to explain the broken front door glass, and his plan for the two glass windows he was making; one to replace the broken glass until Christmas, and the secret front door glass with a purple flower. O’Haley agreed to help keep the secret, and chuckled, “This is as good as some of the old tricks I used to play as a young leprechaun! It’ll be fun!”

Eugene returned home and told Marie that O’Haley said he would help out with repairing the broken front door glass. It would, however, be a day or two before the repair could be made. “Oh, dear me!,” Marie said. “Well, I guess that will have to do. I will have to tell everyone not to come for a visit. That no one will get hurt by falling glass.” She picked up the welcome mat, from outside the front door, and hurried it off to the storage room.

Eugene rushed to his workshop and worked all the rest of that day, and through the night, to finish making the front door window made of the old white glass. Later that day, after Marie left to go to market, Eugene took the old, cracked, door glass out of the front door, and carefully threw it away, so it wouldn’t cut anyone. Then he installed the new window, made of old white glass, just as Marie returned.

Marie liked the new front door glass, and was once again looking forward to having visitors. She cheerfully hurried off to the storage room, gathered up the welcome mat, and placed it cheerfully just outside the front door.

Eugene then went back to his workshop, and worked and worked on the beautiful stained glass window with the purple flower in the middle. When it was all completed, he held it up to the light, and was amazed at its beauty. “This is beautiful,” he thought to himself. “Marie is going to be very pleased!” He then carefully wrapped it in a blanket, and took it to O’Haley’s house, where they hid it until Christmas night.

Late that night, after Santa Claus had visited all the elf’s homes, filling stockings and placing gifts under the trees, Eugene went to O’Haley’s house and got the stained glass window wrapped in a blanket, and took it home. He quietly installed it in the front door, and tiptoed off to bed, with a big, happy grin on his face. “Marie will be very pleased,” he smiled to himself.

On Christmas morning, Eugene found a gift for himself under the tree. A big, fuzzy, warm, scarf to protect him from the cold wind. But, there was no gift for Marie under the tree. She pretended that she really didn’t care, and told Eugene how handsome he looked in his new fuzzy scarf. Eugene said, “Oh, my! Look up there high in the tree!” There was a little white envelope just barely peeking out of the boughs near the top of the tree. Eugene said, “I wonder who this could be for,” reaching up to rescue it. Eugene handed the card to Marie, and said, “Merry Christmas, Marie. I love you very much.” Marie said, “Thank you, honey. I love you, too.” She then opened the card, and read it aloud. “To Marie: here is a gift to bring you joy every day the year; your favorite purple flower, in the front door glass. Love, Eugene.”

Marie was just getting ready to ask what it meant, when the sun rose above the trees, and sent a brilliant ray of light through the front door glass, which made a faint purple flower on the floor in front of Marie. She was very surprised, and looked toward the front door, where she could see the new front door glass all lit up in the sunlight. It was all aglow with dazzling colors, pretty patterns, and her favorite purple flower right in the middle!

Marie couldn’t have been happier, and said to Eugene, “This is the best present I’ve ever gotten!” Now I can see my favorite flower every day, even in the winter!” Eugene smiled, very grateful that he had been willing to give up something that was special to him, that secret recipe, to be able to give something very special to Marie.

And, they lived happily ever after, in the glow of that favorite purple flower made of colored glass.

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