Bloomington High School Revisited

For those of you who desire a little bit of Monon content: In the Early 1960's it became very apparent that "Our Dear Old BHS" was needing more and more repair and that Bloomington and Monroe County had grown to the point where two high schools were needed. In 1963 ground was broken for BHSS (South). I was a senior in the spring of '64 and in the high school band. We went to the ground breaking ceremonies, played the school song and went back to school. I remember at the time looking west over McDoel Yards from the hill east of the yards thinking it might be a nice place to watch trains in and about the yard. For decades "Our Dear Old BHS" had sat immediately adjacent to the Monon. In fact, there was a passing track that ran along the west side of the school where, at one time, coal gons had been spotted and emptied to fill the boiler that heated the building of the very large campus complex.

All day long switchers, locals, passenger trains and mile long freights pounded up and down within 100 yards of the classrooms. If you had a class on the west side of the main building, you could figure on having at least one five minute break an hour as one train or another would drown out even the loudest most determined teacher. It was great! About 2:30 in the afternoon, one of the fast freights (72??) would leave McDoel. You could faintly hear the two short blasts signaling release of brakes and even more faintly from a distance of the better part of a mile, the unique sound of a set of 4-5 F-3's begining their run for Lafayette. You could hear the change in throttle notches as the train set out. Everytime the engineer changed a throttle or transition lever position, the engines made a different sound. We all new what was coming. The first grade crossing was Grimes Lane. Grimes lane was a very busy east/west street at the very north end of McDoel. there were at least three sets of tracks that crossed there. RCA was a block west of McDoel and frequently people getting off work or trying to get to work would be cut off by either switching or a fast freight tieing up the intersection. As the train got about 100 yards north of the old yard office he would start to blow for Grimes Lane. The signal for a grade crossing is two longs a short and a long. Like every telegraph operator has a "fist" (uniquely identifying characteristics particular to each operator and only discernable to others with such differences) * each engineer has his own unique way of blowing the horn. Sometimes slight differences for different types of grade crossings. Long, slow deliberate blasts for heavily trafficked streets. Quick, short toots for side streets and lanes, but always depending on what the engineer saw in front of him.

The next street north after Grimes Lane was Allen Street. By the time the engines were approaching Allen Street you could really hear them coming. Allen Street usually only deserved a cursory set of quick blasts. Not much traffic on Allen. The next street north was Dodds Street. The crossing at Dodds Street needed a little more attention. Dodds Street sat next to the end of a 500' long stone mill. The stone mill blocked the clear view of traffic, particularly coming from east. Close calls were frequent at Dodds Street. A block north of Dodds was First Street. The west edge of our campus was between First Street and Second Street. As a train approached First Street they were getting serious on the horn. Kids in the vocational shopson the west side of the campus would be as few as 20' away inside their classrooms. The sound and vibration was awesome. You would thing the engine was going to burst through the classroom wall. The buildings were almost a solid wall up against the right of way until just south of the gym. There was a well used foot path that crossed the tracks going to a couple of small restaurants where some students would go for lunch, maybe a quick smoke if they imbibed, and maybe a quick shot at a pin ball game. Second Street could be a dangrous crossing. Kids, cars and crazies would dash across risking their lives trying to get to the otherside of the tracks. As a train charged north a funny thing would happen, the sounds of the horns would almost die. The gym had a dampening effect on the horns. They would almost disappear. From that point on life could return to it's normal, boring drone in the classroom. I can say that growing up almost within arms reach of the Monon never did us any harm. For those of us who loved trains, it was a brief and plesant digression.Vicariously imagining being in the cab of the lead locomotive blowing that horn.


When the new BHS opened it was called BHS South (BHSS). They sat up high on a hill overlooking McDoel Yards, but they were isolated and insulated from the Monon. BHSS took our school colors, our school song, our mascot, and our legacy, but they didn't have our Monon.

- George I Carpenter III -

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