The Chicago Railroad Fair

I am sure that most of you know that in 1948 and 1949 Chicago hosted a two year railroad fair on the shores of Lake Michigan. The Director Of Special Events for the Fair advised the railroads that he was getting man y inquiries as to why the fair had not selected a queen of the Railroad Fair. So he put the wheels in motion by asking each of the railroads to select a young lady to come to Chicago to compete for queen of the Railroad Fair.

Each young lady was to be known as Miss whatever railroad she represented, like Miss Monon, Miss New York Central or whatever. Another stipulation was that each girl was to be accompanied by her mother.

When Monon management received the letter, they decided to participate and sent circulars to all the offices throughout the system outlining the procedures to be followed in nominating girls to compete for Miss Monon. Four girls were selected, two from Chicago and two from Lafayette.

On girl from Chicago was a key punch operator and the second, Vivian Mertes, secretary to the Treasurer. In Lafayette the other girl was a comptometer operator in the accounting department and myself. I had just been in the job in the traffic department in the building at 5th and North Street that now houses the Civic Theater. I had just bid for that job but I formerly worked at Salem Street in the office of Superintendent of Car Services. There were about 10 people in that office and they were the ones who nominated me. There were three judges, the Mayors of Lafayette and West Lafayette and the Assistant Dean or Women at Purdue and they chose me to be Miss Monon.

At that time there was passenger service between Indianapolis and Chicago with a stop in Delphi. So the morning that we were to leave, my mother and I went to Delphi to board the train known as the Tippecanoe. The Monon sent a photographer with us and our picture was taken as we boarded the train.

On our arrival at Chicago we were met by two Monon officials, Mr. Pfister and Mr. Schram. They took us to the Empire Room at the Palmer House for lunch. Well I had never been to Chicago and don’t think I had ever ridden a train before. I can’t tell you how special I felt. I felt like I was the queen already and we hadn’t had the contest yet. It was really a thrill. After lunch they took us on an extended tour of Chicago and it was a thrilling experience for me. Afterward they took us to the Stevens Hotel where we stayed.

That night we hard the rehearsal for the queen contest. Vivian Meyers was asked by Monon officials to entertain my mother that night during the rehearsal even though we were competitors for Miss Monon. Mother had a ball. They went to dinner and an ice show at another hotel and they became the best of friends. Vivian was a really good sport about it.

The contest was to be the next night, but it rained that day. Since it was to be held out of doors, we couldn’t have it so it was postponed until the next night. Well that just pleased me to death because I got to be off work another day and got paid for it besides. I didn’t care if it rained several more days, but unfortunately it didn’t, so the next night they had the queen contest.

Well, I did not win but I was not disappointed because I had a wonderful time any way. So the following day we returned home. Oh I might tell you that Miss Chicago Northwestern won the queen contest. Back in Lafayette my head was in the clouds for many days after that because it was a really thrilling experience for me. I was one of the highlights of my life.

  

Left: Baltimore and Ohio #25 The William Mason . Right: W&A RR #3 "The General" of Civil War fame.

Daily, throughout the Fair, the various railroads participated in a pageant “Wheels A Rolling” which traced the evolution of railroad in the United States from their beginnings to modern times. Featured were replicas of some of the earliest trains. The story line included actors in period costume, cowboys, Indians, all moving on and off the stage throughout the show. Near the end, Monon’s fabled Number 81 resplendent in red and grey moved on stage as a symbol of the future of railroad travel for years to come. For those of us who love the Monon it was a highlight beyond compare.

At the fair there were many things to see and do. A narrow gauge train, probably from the Denver Rio Grand, named “Cripple Creek” and “Tincup” carried passengers from one part of the fair grounds to another. Various railroad displayed some of the massive steam power. Others had rolling stock. The Rock Island for instance brought a vintage dining car. The Monon, not to be outdone brought famed Box Car #1 and distributed fliers chronicling its travels following construction by Pullman Standard. Exciting days to say the least.

 

 

Marilyn Basler Bernard, originally published The Hoosier Line, Number 16, volume 3

 

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