Thursday, May 27, 2010

Summer Times

One of the things that often strikes me is the cost of growing up.  We move from a child's simplicity to an adult who is full of stress, strain, and the burden of too much information.  From relaxed summer days of fun and few cares to gripes about heat and humidity, the endlessness of yard work, and the ever present journeys to and from our 'real' jobs.  As another summer unfolds in the Northern Hemisphere, allow me to journey back in time to a few fond memories of summers many years ago.  Perhaps it is the lack of adult work loads and stress that makes these memories stand out and seem so pleasant.  

I haven't always been an avid photographer.  My real love for the hobby started in high school, but my first pictures come from the summer of 1990.  As with many summers through the mid 90s, I spent a couple of weeks in Lafayette, IN with my grandparents.  That summer an old Brownie camera was unearthed and film scrounged from a local photography shop.  In general, summer days there were always fun for a railroad buff like myself.  Lafayette sits at an intersection of several significant railroads:  the Wabash, the NYC, the Monon, and even the Nickel Plate.  By 1990, only two were making much noise through the city limits near the grandparent's house.  These were the Norfolk-Southern version of the Wabash and the CSX version of the Monon Lines.  Still, traces of predecessors were everywhere.

One of the best photos taken by the old Brownie camera was of a NW General Electric running one of the few stretches of double track on the old Wabash main.  A recent summer thunderstorm has passed, leaving everything looking clean and shiny.  


While the Wabash was most easily viewed from my grandparent's house, the old Monon lines through town were always of particular interest.  My Grandpa and I would take early morning walks downtown to see what action there might be on this most unusual piece of street running.  Although relocated off of 5th street in the later part of the decade, 1990 still saw trains operate as they always did:  right down the middle of the street.  Speeds were slow and the traffic tie-ups could be quite impressive if a long freight was caught meandering through town.  The old camera again caught some CSX predecessor action that summer:  A Family Lines GE is entering the street running, pulling freight through the heart of downtown Lafayette.

In those days, other predecessor roads were easier to spot in the mix of freight cars.  A GN box drifts down the street somewhere behind the old Family Lines GE.  There's a lot of history in these two old pictures:  mergers, abandonments, corporate struggles, and lost identities...although a child's view through an old point and shoot camera reveals none of those.  It's takes years, travels, and the sights and sounds of abandoned Pacific Extensions to bring all of that into focus.

The old Monon line was also Lafayette's link to the national passenger rail network.  The Chicago to New York Cardinal called there in the 1990s, and still does today.  A couple of summers after my initial work with the old Brownie, I found myself upgraded to a Pentax Spotmatic.  Loaded with film on another Indiana summer day, a trip was made with Grandpa downtown to watch the passenger train through.  On the point that day, another image of the times:  Amtrak's venerable F40PH locomotive.



The cardinal was always an interesting train.  It operated, as it does today, tri-weekly.  On days off, it was substituted by a local Chicago to Indianapolis only run.  Days where the Cardinal called at Lafayette were special because it was the "long distance" train, complete with diner and sleeping car equipment.  I recall several interesting things about the train in those days.  The roar of the F40 is one of them as it continued providing electrical power to the train even during the stop.  The diner exhaust fans and smells of breakfast were another:  the morning schedule into Lafayette put breakfast at just the right time for french toast on 5th street.  I always thought the passengers were a lucky group. 

On many days, the Cardinal would be incorporated with equipment heading to or from Amtrak's main shops in Indianapolis.  As such, locomotives with paint patches, extra passenger cars, even dead heading commuter cars, all saw their way down 5th street at one time or another.  Amtrak's prototype Viewliner sleeping car was another frequent guest on 5th street.  This car, produced by the Indianapolis shops, served as the model for all the subsequent Viewliners purchased for use on the single level trains of the East.  Here, the cardinal slips down 5th street with the Viewliner nestled in to the usual long distance consist.


Of course, the CSX version of the Monon can actually be noted for something else that is quite interesting.  Even after the street running was removed, many upper quadrant semaphores still spanned the single track main south of Lafayette.  In 1990 I had no idea that these were there, but by accident, in the summer of 1998, I found a several beautiful examples.

My grandpa had passed by that time, but a friend and I visited the old Lafayette stomping grounds nonetheless.  Our fortune took us to these old relics, still in service out among the cornfields of the beautiful Indiana countryside.  CSX has been slowly removing these old mechanical signals, but they still evoke a strong reaction from me.  They literally span decades of political, economic, social and world change.

As with many memories, time seems to bring fondness and we are blessed that even those experiences which seemed terrible are oft mellowed by passing years.  As another summer unfolds across the U.S., these are just a few of the old memories that occasionally churn through my mind in the midst of all my responsibilities that take over life's perspective more than they should.  I'm always thankful for these images and memories of another time, and strive to keep a perspective that even in the midst of being a grownup, there are wonderful benefits to a healthy and humble view of life.  

6 comments:

D. Tom Conboy said...

Thank you for sharing this post. I enjoyed reading it!

Oil-Electric said...

Enjoyed your thoughtful post! All of us involved in this hobby experienced a moment of "epiphany" when the size and power of a locomotive - steam or diesel - captured us. I'm sure Sigmund Freud would have an interesting cause/effect explanation for this event!

You were fortunate to witness "falling flags." You successfully captured that intimate relationship between the community and the railroad. Heavy steel on main street - it doesn't get any better! One has to wonder how many pennies and nickles were flattened over the years!

I appreciate the time and effort you expended to bring this to us; keeps you site on my 'Recommended Reading!"

By the way, Leland, as I looked at the first photo - could have sworn I saw "Scout" and "Jem" run across the street!

LinesWest said...

Hi Guys and thanks for the comments - I really do enjoy putting this stuff together, although it seems like I don't always have the time I'd like to update with good frequency.

For today, it's back to work, but I'll think about the next post. Perhaps something Milwaukee related again. Any suggestions?

-Leland

Ole Amundsen, Jr. said...

Thank you for those great photos and memories. "Listening for the whistle of a long gone train" while standing by a lonesome right of way or a weed covered track always gets to the deepest part of me! Hot summer days next to a busy railroad track, with the smell of creosote and hot iron reminds me that all is not lost.

Milwaukee thoughts: just about any photos and commentary are always welcome! Again, thanks for your work. Ole

Oil-Electric said...

Oh! That's a great one, Ole! "smell of creosote and hot iron!" Very good. Then add in a wasp or two ...

Anonymous said...

Amen to that -- the smell of creosote. Lots of summer memories there! Thanks for the thoughts guys,
-Leland