Trains were constant part pf a little girl’s life

Though I am neither male, nor a model builder, nor a former employee, my interest in the Monon is personal.

I spent the first 13 years of my life in Bloomington’s old Seminary Square neighborhood. Our home was between Rogers Street and Monon Street (originally Railroad Street).  We were close to McDoel Yard, so trains were a constant part of my life without my child self realizing that all the activity was occurring because was a division point.

The significance of McDoel in itself makes the case for assigning the Monon an important place in Monroe County history, along with the famous Gentry Brothers Circus. (The circus is also fading into oblivion as county history is constantly being rewritten.)

Certainly nobody now living would remember these men, as they occupied the house at the time it was built, circa 1906-08.However, this might make an interesting item for the Question and Answer section of The Hoosier Line. How many roadmasters did the Monon have? Surely they didn’t live in every small town along the line. Were they located mainly at division points? Is there any record of the Calahans and their years of service?

One old Bloomington railroader whose name may be familiar to some of the surviving former employees is Hassell “Hap” Chambers. He lived to the age of 98 and spent about 28 years (roughly 1939-1967) as a switchman on the Monon. He also happened to be the widower of my grandmother’s sister, Jessie, and a next-door neighbor during my childhood.

One of my earliest memories of Hap is his helping my mother and me onto the back of the northbound passenger train when we almost missed the train, and our vacation to Lake Michigan.

Everett Chambers, Hap’s father, was also an employee of the Monon for several years and lived in the same part of town, just around the corner and up a block or so on Rogers Street.

In addition to the Calahans and Hap and Everett Chambers, I suspect there were several other railroading families living in, and forming the backbone of, what are now Bloomington’s oldest historic districts. These were the neighborhoods in proximity to the railroad; many railroaders were able to walk to work. By the way, my grandfather Charles M Flynn, was a conductor on the “other” railroad, the Illinois Central. The Monon was my railroad because I grew up beside it, actually enjoyed the sounds coming from McDoel Yard at night, and formed the habit of running down the street in the evening to wave at the people in the dining car of the southbound passenger train.

By Laurel Sparks, as written in The Hoosier Line, Volume 22, Number 3

 

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