Monon and Wabash in Lafayette
After graduating from Gloversville, N.Y., High School in 1950, I was off to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., to pursue an engineering career.
I attended a pre-class orientation camp at Battleground, Ind., the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe. William Henry Harrison, who later became the president of the United States, defeated the Indian tribes led by Prophet.
Battlegound, where the orientation camp was held, is a small town, seven miles north of Lafayette.
The town was bisected by the Monon Railroad mainline. The very same Monon ran down the center of Fifth Street in Lafayette.
My first night in town was spent at the Lahr Hotel in the town center on Fifth Street. The Monon woke me up several times operating freights past the hotel.
I remember sitting at the open window at the end of the second floor hall watching the freights go by.
The Monon also operated a daily passenger train (Chicago-Louisville) through Lafayette. It made the station stop at 1:50 p.m. northbound, and 3:45 p.m. southbound.
After orientation and starting classes, I made several friends. As students, we were always looking for cheap places to eat.
One of these was a tavern in Lafayette, (Bane’s I believe), which had a Friday night fish special. We often went there. The tavern was located next to the mainline of the Wabash Railroad near the passenger station.
The busy Detroit-Kansas City mainline was home to several freights each day. In addition, it was also home to the famed Wabash Cannon Ball, the same train popularized in song by Roy Acuff. The Lafayette station stops were listed as 2:05 p.m. eastbound, and 11:47 a.m. westbound.
The eastbound train sometimes arrived a little late, coinciding with supper time at the tavern. I could watch the trains around my fish dinner.
The Cannon Ball was hauled by E-7A EMD passenger diesels in the colorful blue and grey paint scheme of the Wabash.
An example of the same attractive paint scheme can be found on a freight F7 at the Nickel Plate & Mad River museum in Bellevue, Ohio.
The cars were of the classic heavyweight design, typical of the early 1950s, ending with an observation parlor car.
The observation car had an open porch with a brass rail. Included in the consist was a dining-lounge car (with radio), and chair cars with reclining seats. There was a drawing room in the observation parlor car.
The train was a classic out of railroad’s golden era, although with a modern diesel at the head end, rather than a Wabash Pacific or 4-8-4.
In the wake of the song’s popularity, the Wabash Railroad named its express run between Detroit and St. Louis as the Wabash Cannon Ball in 1949. The train was discontinued in 1971 with the coming of Amtrak. However, the train was named after the song, not the other way around.
If class time permitted, I would drive across the Wabash River from the campus, to Lafayette, to watch trains and eat supper. The photos below were taken with my Kodak Duoflex 127 camera in 1952-1953.
Article and Photographs by Richard Jacobs