Standing like a sentinel at the entrance to the Hoosier metropolis, a sign on Boulevard Station proudly proclaimed, “All Trains Stop Here.” Never mind that there were only four or six passenger trains daily on the Air Line from Indianapolis to Chicago. For the little kid in the days of the Great Depression, this was the window to the world.
Boulevard Station was located at the Maple Road, now E. 38th Street, crossing adjacent to the southwest corner of the Indiana State Fairgrounds. (I never did understand the name, sine the only “boulevard” was Fall Creek about a mile away crossing the Nickel Plate.) It was a neat, well kept, single story brick building with baggage, waiting rooms and a small station agent’s office. There was a parking lot and a small greensward. To me the station was gigantic. But then again the snows were deeper then too.
Indulgent parents and relatives took me on my first train ride from Boulevard Station when I was only three years old. Years later, I left for war from the same platform. Unhappily, I have no particular recollection of either event. However, I do remember other good times there.
As a three year old, the family was fond of telling how I was frightened by the “big black”, and its whistle, imploring “whoo-whoo-no mommie!” Quite different from the thrill experienced during grade school days watching the Hoosier Limited come flashing across E 42nd Street after just departing Boulevard Station.
Boyhood pals and I would ride our bikes over to the Polar Ice House in the hot, humid Hoosier afternoon, enjoy a really cold grape Nehi or Bierleys Orange and then marvel at the commanding whistle and the high stepping Pacific at the beginning of the race to Chicago. It just doesn’t get any better.
The station itself was on a sweeping curve, the southbound to the Indianapolis Union Station. Since the curve was super elevated, boarding and alighting from the train with an arm load of baggage required some finesse by both passengers and crew. Tangent track began just north of Boulevard Station, so the engineer was not wasting any time when the train reached the crossing at 42nd Street, which was guarded by flashers and gates. I never saw anyone foolish enough to try and beat it.
In early years, a siding into Boulevard Station permitted the spotting of a Pullman on the grounds. Passengers could board and retire in the late evening and awake in Chicago, having been picked up by the Midnight Special. That was my first introduction to the interior of Mr. Pullman’s Palace, and what a jewel it was. My full length mirrored reflection at the wall where the aisle was off-set for the bedroom startled me out of my wits. There was nothing that fancy at our house.
Then there was the first streamliner. With a crowd of hundreds on the Boulevard Station platform, bright and shiny in red and grey livery, she drifted in from Chicago. No, the air horn did not exude the power of the “big black”, but our beloved Monon had come of age and taken her place alongside of the Super Chief at Dearborn Station.
That evening, a stranger asked me if the crowd at the station had gathered to see a movie star. With understandable Hoosier pride, I answered quickly “no! It is the Monon streamliner’s first run.” He shook his head and walked away. Obviously, a stranger with no romance in his soul what so ever and I felt sorry for him.
The ramblings would not be complete without mention of Mr. M.O. Benefiel. For years he was the agent at Boulevard Station. Like my uncle Bud Lynch who was agent for the Pennsylvania in Frankfort, he also accommodated the youngster who loved trains and those who still do.
Later years have been kind. I have traveled in and out of Grand Central Station, Pennsylvania Station, Chicago Union Station, Dearborn Station, Illinois Central Station, Cincinnati Union Station, Los Angles Union Passenger Terminal and San Diego Santa Fe Station on the Southwest Limited, The Jeffersonian, The James Whitcomb Riley, The Starlight, The Super Chief, The Hi-Level El Capitan and the San Diegoan, all in their hey days. There are no pictures, only memories.
But none compare to Boulevard Station on the Hoosier Limited.
- J. Mark Rhoads, originally appearing in The Hoosier Line, Volume 15, Number 2. -
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