Memories Of Haskells

I worked for the Monon as an operator for 47 years, from June 1951 to August 1997.

An operator was a telegrapher who primarily copied train orders from the dispatcher and passed them to train crews. The Grand Trunk Western Railroad crossed the Monon at Haskells on the Michigan City Line. The operator worked for both railroads under what was called a joint facility contract. The depot was in the northeast quadrant as was the interchange track. The telegraph call sign for Haskells was AK.

When I first worked there in 1951, the Trunk, as we called it, still had steam engines in both freight and passenger service. The local was powered by an old steam teakettle that never made any time but it was just the opposite for the passenger trains. The Trunk dispatcher told me that they were running right at 100 MPH when headed through Haskells. I had no way of checking speed, but I believed him because in order to record the engine number as required by the rules. I had to stand back north of the depot to see it. If I stood on the platform between the depot and the GTW main, I couldn’t have read the number, it came by so fast.

The Trunk freights made regular deliveries to the Monon at Haskells, sometimes as many as 25-30 cars. They would be left on the interchange track which ran behind the depot and continued north parallel to the Monon main. A westbound Trunk couldn’t shove the cars into the track as the engine was in front of the cars to be interchanged. Therefore the cars had to be dropped. The required the engine to get up speed and then apply the brakes briefly to bunch the slack. One brakeman would then uncouple these cars on the fly from the other cars which were still attached to the engine.

The engine would pick up speed again and run past the switch leading into the interchange track. Then, before the free rolling interchange cars reached the switch, the brakeman would line the switch for movement into the interchange track. The brakeman would climb to the top of the cars and set enough handbrakes to slow and stop the cars before they could roll past the switch at the north end of the track leading to the Monon main. This was dangerous work and isn’t done today for a lot of reasons, but that’s another story.

Before the Monon would accept the cars interchanged from the Trunk, they would have to be inspected by a carman. He was a car department employee who had to make sure that the cars had no safety defects and were safe to move. The car knocker at Haskells was Ed Bowmar who lived just south of Haskells. The GTW crews on the local would let him know a day ahead of time and he would have fresh eggs boxed up for them when they stopped for water from the pump located just outside the west door of the depot.

I had it fixed up with the southbound “Owl” on the Monon so that they would pull south of the interlocker and stop. I would lock up the office and place the key in the mail box and ride home to Monon staying all night with Mom and Dad. The next morning I’d ride #48 with Art McBee and his crew back to Haskells. This worked fine until one night when the GTW dispatcher tried to get me and there was no answer. Later on he asked me what was going on and I told him that I had gone home. All he ever said was to please let him know when I did this and I never heard any more about it. I would never had left the depot had I known there was a westbound Trunk in the area. But I always had a hard time trying to find where the GTW westbound trains were because the operator at Wellsboro and the dispatcher would OS (clear) in French and that didn’t help me a bit.

The nights I didn’t go home, I slept in Ed Bowmar’s car shack just north of the depot. I would ride the motorcar to Westville with Ed and while he was checking the Wabash interchange, I would get some breakfast and groceries to tide me over. After a few trips, Ed taught me to run the motorcar and get through the split track derail at Alida. Things went quite well until one morning I forgot about the highway at the south end of Westville and went across it at about 20 MPH. Ed just shook his finger at me and said, “Don’t do that again.” That was all he ever said.

One Sunday a Monon Employees Benefit Association special was running to Michigan City and I was sitting in an old chair leaning back against a stump and as it went by, some rug rats drowned me with water balloons. Not one of my better days at Haskells.

 

By Mahlon “Cookie” Eberhard, originally published in The Hoosier Line, Volume 21, Number 3

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