Once upon a time railroads, railways and Indiana
were symbiotic, connecting communities, commerce and cultural enterprises on
multiple levels within the state, the Midwest and nationwide. Railroads were
built across Indiana to connect east and west coasts, the Great Lakes with the
Gulf of Mexico.
Since 1838, Indiana has been at the crossroads of rail lines,
bringing products of agriculture and manufacturing to market, required raw
materials to plants and passengers to their desired destinations. It's been at
the locus of a coast-to-coast network that intrigued early adventure writers
and action filmmakers, afforded electioneering whistle stops and brought
entertainment companies from big cities to remote locations.
Somehow, the mutualism didn't last; the loss
still plagues us. Somehow, we yearn for a return to what was a less stressful,
leisurely, even more adventure-prone way to get from here to there. How
seriously are talks progressing for a return to an interurban system and
the once lauded Indianapolis street railway?
Two new books published by Indiana
University Press help to bring us into the story of original delight to
successive disillusion and dissolution. While each new title covers a
particular aspect of railroading, both grow from the benchmark historical
overview, Railroads of Indiana, by
Richard S. Simons and Francis H. Parker [Indiana University Press, 1997], and
both are companions with the informative Indianapolis Railways: A Complete History [1864-1953] by Jerry
Marlette [Pioneer Press of West Virginia, 2002].
By Graydon M. Meints
A first flip through looks like it's merely a
listing of stats. Boring. But give it a second chance and you not only become
intrigued by Indiana's as "its own unique scene in the panorama of American
railroading," you reach for a state map to identify where all the action was
when railroads were like veins and arteries in concert with the heart of U.S.
commerce and transport.
Beginning in 1838, some 22 years since
statehood, at one time or another some 435 lines were serving about 2,300
towns, villages and cities in 90 of Indiana's 92 counties (only Ohio and
Switzerland counties had no rails). Spotting on a map the places listed in the
"Directory of Named Places on Railroads" brings one into intimate contact with
the true nature of the state. Because the railroad stopped, a dot on paper
could be a viable place of residence. Mail could be picked up and delivered,
goods of all kinds could be shipped in and out, and people for any reason at
all could be transported to and from. All are equal in viability when on a
When considering the railroads and interurban lines by county, one
wonders why some counties have more rail activity than others. Pretty soon
you're getting involved in Hoosier history, not a bad thing when we're just
four years away from our bicentennial.
By Christopher Rund,
Fred W. Frailey and Eric Powell
One might call this an inspiring story of
determination by a man who went against collective wisdom and thus now is
celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Indiana Rail Road Company, variously
referred to "as a model for the new American regional railroad" and "one of
America's premier regional freight railroads."
Fully illustrated, The Indiana
Road's story begins in 1986, when Tom Hoback and his
business partners bought the down-on-its-luck Indianapolis branch of the
Illinois Central Railroad." Simultaneously a history of U.S. railroad industry
and the biography of Hoback, this is an engrossing
cultural and economic overview of how the aching railroad industry can be
re-aligned as a viable backbone of the U.S. economy.
The chapter titled
"Rebuilding A Relic" takes us into the roll-the-sleeves-up realities of gaining
productivity and a competitive edge that includes bolstering failing
communities within an entire state, not just one ailing company. When human
resourcefulness intersects with natural resources to the benefit of both
humankind and nature, it's time for everyone to take notice. You don't have to
be a railroad buff to acknowledge what's possible to achieve despite persuasive