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A View From A Tavern Window

I am relatively sure that the majority of those looking in right now would rather read about memories of working for the Monon Railroad. I wish I could share such memories with you. Since I am not a former Monon Railroad employee, nor was anyone in my family, I will try and describe what the Monon meant to a young kid growing up in Lowell, Indiana during the 1960's. It concerns a family business that was close to the Monon mainline through town.

The family business was started by my Grandfather, John Hepp, in 1932. He opened and ran a pool hall, until prohibition was repealed and America could imbibe once again. His tavern was located east of the Monon Railroad depot, in front of the American Legion Post. Detailed maps and pictures are available on-line at my 1952 Lowell Monon Train Wreck web site, while other information on Grandfather and Dad's tavern are available at my Bygone Places Along The Monon web site. If you have not already visited, I would encourage you to drop in and take a look around.

While I still have some vivid memories of Grandfather's tavern, my most vivid memories are of Dad's tavern, which the family built north of Washington Street, east of the Monon tracks. In 1962, Dad bought the business from my Grandfather. Dad wanted to run a business and was tired of working in the steel mills. In 1963 the American Legion Post decided to erect a monument to those who fought in World War I and helped established the Post. The company that owned the building Grandfather had been leasing from, sold the property back to the Legion, so Mom and Dad decided to invest in building a newer building and with the help of the Legion was able to acquire the land north of the former tavern. The new building sat between the Monon railroad tracks and Cedar Creek.

Dad ran the tavern there between 1964 and 1967. During those three years, the building was one of my most favorite places. Almost every Sunday morning, my brother John and I would help Dad clean the floors. After Sunday School, John and I would run home, changes clothes and run back down to the tavern. Sweeping floors, cleaning glasses and doing what ever Dad told us to do. After the work was finished, then we could have some fun. It was in this building that I enjoyed my first beer. Pabst Blue Ribbon, followed by a Drewrys. While Dad was down in the basement, John and I popped the tops and enjoyed the suds. I'm pretty sure Dad could smell it on our breath, but he never let on. We figured we had "pulled the wool over the old man's eyes."

Often, during summer vacation from school, I would accompany Dad to work in the morning. Our routine was fairly routine. Out of bed at 6:30, wash up and walk to the tavern. We lived on Commercial Avenue, about a block from the tavern. Almost everyday we stopped off at the Hotel for breakfast. This was one of the first hotels in Lowell, Indiana. Originally known as the Schmal Hotel, during the mid 1960's it was no longer offering rooms to the traveler. The upstairs were converted into apartments and the downstairs had been turned into a restaurant by an lady who's first name was Ruby. For the life of me I can not recall her last name. The place featured old home style cooking at very low prices. Many mornings Dad and I would stop for ham, eggs and potatoes. Just thinking of that place starts my mouth watering.

After breakfast, it was time to get down to work. My chores depended on what was done at closing the night before. Normally I would wash glasses and arrange them to dry. If there were not many dirty glasses, helping Dad restock the beer cooler behind the bar was next. Then maybe sweep, or on occasions, mop the floor. By today's politically correct standards, my Dad would probably be dragged into Court for having his 10 year old son in a tavern. To me, I was helping with the family business. It made those few dollars Dad usually gave me worth that much more. Sure, I was spent almost as fast I could earn it, but it was time that my Father and I spent together. During the school year, Dad would already be gone when us kids woke up. Maybe he would get to come home for dinner, if Grandfather or one of his other part time bartenders came in, but many times we did not see Dad much at all during the week. Helping Dad was something I always looked forward to.

The best part of the morning, besides the free Hershey's bars, was when I heard the familiar sound of the air horns of the trains. Dad did not allow me to go outside and watch the trains pass by. He was concerned because of how close the tavern sat to the tracks. The tavern had two pictures windows on either side of the front door. The one on the west side of the building was my favorite train watching spot. Dad had this huge overstuffed chair that sat behind the bar under that window. By standing in the seat of that chair I could watch the morning train rumble by. The ground and building would shake and the horns got louder as the train got closer. My pulse would quicken and I would stand there mesmerized as the locomotives and cars sped past the window. To this day, I still get that sensation when I am out railfanning and shooting photos. What an experience.

The first 14 years of my life, I spent most of it in and around the Monon railroad in Lowell. From hanging out at the depot, climbing on the boxcars and old passenger cars, dropping water balloons and pumpkins on the trains from an old cattle bridge north of Mill Street, or borrowing a Fairmount Speeder and taking a joy ride to Belshaw Road and back. The memories are now vivid and fresh in my brain. It is as if I could close my eyes and once again be standing on that chair waiting for the train to come flying by.

If time travel were ever made possible. Or, the Ghost Of Christmas Past ever paid me a visit and allowed me to go back and visit one place from my childhood, chances are Dad's tavern would be one of the top three. Many wonderful things have occurred in my 51 years on this planet, and some not so wonderful. My brain contains a backlog of memories, people and places that I would love to be able to visit or talk with again. Standing on that overstuffed brown leather chair again, knowing that my Dad is there next to me, young and full of life, and watching a Monon train passing by has to be one of the top three. In the movie Field Of Dreams, Ray Kinsella asks his Father, "Is there a heaven?" His Father answers, "Oh yes, it is the place where dreams come true." I take comfort in knowing that Mom and Dad are both there, standing by that chair waiting for me to one day join them and maybe watch a train or two.

By Tom Kepshire


Riding The High Iron

I have been asked many times why I am so involved in the Monon Railroad Historical-Technical Society. They cannot understand how someone with no railroad background or history in the family became such a train nut. I point to several reasons. Living close to the right of way through my hometown of Lowell, Indiana. Family owning a business next to the mainline, where I spent countless hours watching trains rumble by. Interest in model railroading since early childhood. I consider myself a rail fan and the Monon Railroad is my favorite. My love of railroading started my involvement in the Monon Railroad Historical-Technical Society, Inc.

Unlike many of our members, who worked or rode the Monon frequently, my one and only ride on the Monon occurred in 1963 or 1964. I could not remember the exact year, and neither could my brother John, who also rode along. Our ride happened by chance. On our way down to Monticello, Indiana we stopped to watch a Monon local freight train switch car at the elevator at Pleasant Ridge. My Dad recognized one of the train crew ( Junior Cooper) and was soon over talking with Junior. Mr. Cooper was a friend who more than likely stopped by Dad's place of business when in town. Junior would also give Dad Purdue football and basketball tickets on occasions. Mom, John and I waited near the car while Dad and Junior talked. We watched the train moves cars in and out of the sidings for a long time. Just before the train headed south again, Dad came over and told John and I to come with him. Junior had arranged for the three of us to ride to Monticello on the train and Mom could pick us up near the elevator, south of the depot. From there, we would continue on to Lake Shafer and our family vacation.

For two young boys, this was a chance of a life time. To ride in a caboose was something not many kids back home would have the chance to do. We were disappointed when we learned that we would not be riding in the caboose. Instead, we were put up in the head end rider car, behind the locomotives. Dad and Junior also rode in there with us. To John and I the car looked huge. Very spartan furnishings and quite drafty when moving, but who cared? The main point was that we were right behind the locomotive, which was a BL2. Poor Mom. She watched and waved as her two sons and husband pulled away and headed down the tracks towards Monon and eventually Monticello. To John and I this was better than riding the best passenger train. The rocking of the car as we picked up speed. The noise and power of the locomotive, man what memories. Dad and Junior sat and talked while John and I explored the inside and watched the countryside roll by.

Passing through Monon we slowed down. I remember the engine house and yard we passed through. The yard was full of activity, or so it seemed. Freight cars on either side of us as we passed through. A switch engine near the enginehouse. Crossing highway 421, John and I waved at the people in vehicles waiting at the crossing. We waved to some people waiting for the next passenger train at the Monon depot as we passed by on the line to Monticello. I also vaguely remember the Monon Hotel building. I remember we were startled as we crossed the diamond where the Michigan City line and Indianapolis line crossed, then we headed south. The area east of the depot is different now. The trailer company now takes up land that back then was wooded with houses. I remember a passing siding east of the depot. We rounded a curve and were on our way to Monticello. Not much to see between Monon and Monticello back then, mainly farmland. That did not matter to John or me. The local slowly made its way south. There was some cars to set out and pick up on the north side of Monticello. Do not remember how long that operation took, but do remember the back and forth movement of the train while doing it. The sudden jolt when coupling on to cars and then moving in the opposite direction. To John and I, this was the best part of our summer vacation. Nothing we did at Lake Shafer would come close to this experience.

After the switching operation was complete, we continued south. As we crossed the TP&W/ PRR diamond, Junior pointed out that the ride was almost over for us. We passed the depot and I seem to recall one or two people standing on the platform. It was neat rolling down the middle of the street in town. All too soon we arrived at the elevator south of the depot and the train rolled to a stop. Sure enough, Mom was parked near the crossing waiting for us. As I remember, not too happy either. I'm pretty sure our switching at the RCA Plant on the north side of town had thrown her timetable off. Perhaps Dad forgot to tell her about this stop? John and I climbed down from the rider car and waved to the engineer and fireman in the locomotive. I often wondered if they realized we were back there? Dad and Junior shook hands and we slowly walked over to the car. It was as if we never wanted this to end. Mom was ready to grab some lunch, but we stayed around and waited until the train started heading south. Our last glimpse of the train was as it crossed the Tippecanoe River and continued south to who knows where. As we ate at the Sportsman Club, it was all John and I wanted to talk about, riding the Monon.

By Thomas Kepshire

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