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].

Indiana Railroad Lines

By Graydon M. Meints

Paper, $35.00

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

train route.

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.

The Indiana Rail Road Company: America's New

Regional Railroad, revised and expanded

By Christopher Rund,

Fred W. Frailey and Eric Powell

Cloth, $35.00

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

naysayers.

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