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Passenger Conductor Memories

We had many passenger specials from Chicago to bring people from all over the country to French Lick where companies held national meetings. In October, 1959 I recall working a Jewel Tea Company special which had sixteen Pullman cars and two diners. The longest passenger train I ever worked. They had four units to handle this train and it was truly an impressive looking thing. It certainly would be interesting to see if Amtrak could put that many car together for a special train like that.

Contrast this special with the Tippecanoe, our Chicago to Indianapolis train. In late 1958 the Tippecanoe had just a mail car and a coach, the remnant of a once beautiful and prosperous train. I can’t say that I was every happy or pleased to go on this job. It always seemed to be a sad occasion. It was difficult watching an old friend die, knowing all the while it was not going to be much longer.

I did have a chance to work one troop train in June 1956 that had fourteen cars and 295 revenue passengers. Soldiers traveling from Ft. Knox to Chicago and then up to Wisconsin from there. I do believe that this was the last of the troop trains for the Monon. This was another time and another era that will probably never again happen in our country as the day of the troop trains is long past.

Even the regular assigned passenger trains #5 and #6, The Thoroughbred as the Passenger Department like to call it, they had their moments of interest. The older passenger conductors had warned me of things to watch out for with the traveling public. Things I should remember, One of the first things I was told was to be courteous, to be trusting and don’t be foolish. Don’t think that everyone will come running to you with their ticket or always know where they are going.

Sure enough, in spite of asking people their destination when boarding a train, more than once I would find people boarding a Louisville or Indianapolis train out of Chicago only to discover they were suppose to be on the train for St. Louis that had been parked on the adjacent track at Dearborn. We would put them off at the first stop and let them find their way back to Chicago. Then there were those special few who, no matter how many times you would yell “All Aboard”, you would still find them on the train helping Grandma get settled as the train left town. And they too would have to be let off at the next stop.

Then, of course, there were a few tricky ones who would try almost anything to see if they could get away without having to pay for a ticket. The ladies who would see the conductor collecting tickets and suddenly decide that this was the right time to go to the rest room where they would wait. It was always a difficult thing for me to do but I was told beforehand that one of the hazards of my job would be to follow them to the rest room. So, I would do precisely that. I’d hit the door with my ticket punch, yelling ticket please. Wait a minute and then repeat it again. After another moment or two I would finally come face to face with a very shocked individual on the other side as I unlocked the unlockable door and sweetly said, “ticket please.”

I don’t think that trick was every tried more than once by the person who was caught. One time when I was passing through the coach, I passed and electrical locker, a cabinet full of switches controlling all of the electrical equipment in the car. It was unlatched and so I naturally closed it. I started to walk away and thought, you know, I never noticed that being unlatched before. I walked back and opened it. There was a college student squeezed inside and once again , I simply said “Ticket Please.” I now wish I had just slammed the door and went on my way and kept it closed.

By Jim Strother, as originally written in The Hoosier Line. Volume 13, Number 2


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