My Memories Of The Monon
For many years now I have watched my brother Thomas as he traveled from one part of our state to the other visiting sites along the Monon Route. When my mother became ill Tom and I spent many hours sitting in one hospital waiting room after another and our conversations would eventually turn to his latest travels. From Chicago to Louisville I sat spellbound as he told of all the bygone places he had actually visited that I had only heard or read about. But most of all I was proud of his accomplishment; something I had always wanted to do but with the constraints of my job had never been able to find the time to actually do.
Now before you stop reading the article please let me explain that even though I was never a railroader, I like my brother, consider myself as a child of the Monon. We grew up in Lowell, which as most readers already know is located at milepost 44.8 of the First Subdivision. My grandfather John Hepp owned a tavern which sat directly east of the Monon depot. My father Edward took over the tavern when my grandfather decided to retire, and after several years dad built a new building in fall of 1963 directly east of the main line at the Washington Street crossing. My grandfather lived at 117 W. Commercial Avenue (State Rt. 2) which was less than one hundred yards west of depot and Commercial Avenue crossing. The house Tom and I grew up in (along with our sisters Carol and Donna) was located at 154 W. Commercial Avenue which was about two hundred yards west of the same crossing.
As kids my brother and I used to spend a lot of our free time in and around the main line and industrial spurs in town. One of the spurs curved to the northwest and ran behind the long gone Cunningham Fuel Oil and Coal Company where my Great Uncle Joe worked. This spur came off the main line just north of the Washington Street crossing and judging by the landscape had at one time continued on until it terminated behind what, back in our childhood was Holly’s Grain and Feed Company. The other spur came off the main line south of Oakley Street and provided rail service to Globe Industries, which back in the day was considered as being on the south end of town. About a half mile south of the Globe complex was a small wooden bridge where the tracks crossed a creek. About a quarter mile north of the Main Street crossing was an old wooden cattle bridge the connected two pastures that the main line ran beneath. Between Commercial Avenue and extending to the south of Oakley Street was a siding track where cars in transit were parked as the locals set out or picked up. Just north of Oakley Street was a small MOW shed where the Monon normally kept a “Speeder”. This was the real life train set that my brother and I grew up with…..virtually right in our own back yard!
We would stand for hours on end watching the locals switching cars, rush to the crossing to watch the passenger trains stop at the depot, or stand on top of the old cattle bridge and watch the trains pass below our feet. Much to what I’m sure was to the consternation of the train crews we would ask all kinds of questions about railroading whenever the opportunity presented itself. We would also occasionally climb up on top of the box cars on the siding and walk down the row, jumping from car to car pretending that we were actually working on the crew that day. When we were in elementary school Tom and I spend many summer nights sleeping over at grandpa’s house listening to the sounds as the engines switched cars well into the wee hours of the morning. To this day the sound of a locomotive horn in the distance or the rumbling of a slow moving freight has a hypnotic effect on my mind. Maybe that’s why I now live less that a half mile away from the CSX line that runs through Wheeler.
Through his business dad got to know many of the men on the train crews. One fellow he knew was named “Junior” Cooper. Although I never knew his real first name or his official title with the Monon, Junior invited Dad my brother and me to take a ride south one Saturday afternoon. I was about nine or ten at the time. We rode in the rider car which was being pulled that day by BL2 #36. We rode all the way from Pleasant Ridge to Monticello where Mom was waiting for us. The breeze through the open door was exhilarating, as was waving at all the people along the way. Oh what a thrill it was for me to pretend that I was a part of the train crew as the local slowly rolled down the rails. I became especially fond of the BL2 units and today an HO scale #36 and caboose occupy a place of honor on the mantel in my family room as a reminder of that glorious day.
I was present at the depot on September 30, 1967 when the last passenger train made its final station stop. The high school band played several songs while the train sat next to the depot for the last time. Years later I was on a business trip in Indianapolis and happened to walk into a toy train store in the old Union Station. I saw a book on the shelf entitled “MONON ROUTE” by George W. Hilton. As I thumbed through the pages looking at the photographs my heart skipped several beats when on page #277 I saw a photograph taken that historic day. I immediately recognized many of the faces in the crowd as friends of my parents or kids I went to school with but there in the foreground was my father, with my sister Donna on his shoulders. A photograph I never knew existed! Having lost dad shortly before Christmas of 1976 by the time I purchased the book and left the store my eyes were moist with tears.
John Kepshire, Wheeler, Indiana
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