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Special Occasions

For a railroad of its size, the Monon was host to special passenger trains of seemingly endless variety. The Monon ran specials for employees, for railfans, for college students, for football and baseball games and for the Kentucky Derby.


Left: Cold 1963 December morning as IU students wait for
Train #6 to arrive and carry them home for the holidays.
This same scene would be repeated at all the colleges
and universities up and down the Monon.

Right: Train #6 with black and gold units on the point arrive
at Bloomington. -David Schoon Photographs-

With the Monon's strong bond to its on-line colleges (witness the Varsity experiment) "back to school" specials were regular fare on the Monon in the fall, the spring and during the holidays. Football special endured into the final years of the Monon. The more notable of these were the Indiana - Pudue trains of the Old Oaken Bucket games. The Monon's last football special, which operated from Lafayette to Bloomington and return, using C-420 501-502 and coaches of the Monon, B&O, Santa Fe, Grand Trunk and other origins ran in the fall of 1967. That game, played at Bloomington, was one by Indiana Unviversity and sent IU to their first and only Rose Bowl appearance.

Left: Purdue - IU football special arrives at Bloomington,
1949. An RS-2 arrives to move the train to McDoel to be
turned for the return trip.

Right: Football special is separated in two halfs near the depot.
-John Pickett photos-

All railroads operated special trains for the executives and firends of the railroad. The Monon, during the Barriger era, took the art to high form, running "barnstorming tours" to visit on-line shipper, and operating annual "inspection trains" over every mile of the railroad. With shippers, bankers, members of the press, and Monon officials on board, the inspection trains typically departed Chicago in the morning and journeyed to Indianapolis on Day One. That night the train would turn north, to arrive in Michigan City early in the morning of Day Two. By the end of Day Two, the train would have journeyed from Michigan City to Lafayette and from Lafayette to Bloomington, with a turn on the I&L Branch tossed in. On Day Three the train galloped from Bloomington to Louisville, then back north to Orleans and down the French Lick branch. After a night's rest at the French Lick Springs Hotel, passengers again boarded the train on Day Four for the trip back to Chicago.

But of all these specials, there is no doubt of the most famous. That fell to the Hoosier Line's "Derby Special" trains. Each May they funneled towards Louisville Union Station to carry passenger to Churchill Downs and the running of the Kentucky Derby. While the Monon train operated as far north as Chicago, it was the French Lick Springs Hotel, 80 miles from Louisville, that was the favorite haunt for horse players. It was at French Lick that special consists crowded the house tracks the eve before the "Run for the Roses." For the Monon train watchers the Derby Specials meant sightings of the Business Cars, Monon and other roads, and rainbow consists of passenger cars from the Monon to the Atlantic Coast Line.

September 1950. Monon F3 stands in front of the Springs Hotel on the head of a special train. May 1965. Although regular passenger service ended in 1949, chartered passenger service continued. Here a Kentucky Derby Special is parked on the house tracks, the very end of the French Lick Branch.

The long tradition of the Derby trains, on the Monon, lasted until the very end. The last Derby Train, C-420, a coach and business car, operated in May 1971. It was a fitting conclusion to the end of passenger and special trains on the Monon.

-Exceprts from Monon, the Hoosier Line, by Steve and Gary Dolzall-


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