MY AFTERNOON AT THE SHOPS YARD OFFICE
My parents lived in Lafayette from 1952 to 1963. I attended St. Lawrence grade school in the north part of Lafayette. The school was on N. 19 th Street about 8 blocks from Monon Shops. We could hear the noon whistle at the shops from our school.
I would often ride my bike over to the shops and look through the fence at the activity going on there. My favorite place was the transfer table where occasionally I would catch them moving something. I remember the transfer table made a lot of noise as it moved on the rusty rails beneath it.
One spring afternoon in 1956, after school, I rode my bike over to visit my friend Joe near St. Lawrence. Joe wasn’t home that afternoon, so looking for something else to do I started riding toward Canal Road. It was a cloudy afternoon, but I didn’t think much about the weather because I had train watching on my mind. I wanted to ride out and watch the Monon yard action from the beneath the U.S. 52 (bypass) bridge. I had never ridden out that way before and when I got to the bypass bridge I watched for a while and then decided to get closer to the action. I walked my bike down to the yard office to see if an old family friend was working. At that time the yard office was at the end of a bridge over what had been part of the Wabash and Erie Canal at one time. The building was old and small sitting next to the tracks.
I was looking for Ira Tyner because I knew he worked in the yard office. I was hoping Ira could get me a ride on the switch engine that was sorting cars at the north end of the yard. I didn’t know it at the time, but that yard engine was number 18. It was one of a kind on the Monon because it was the only H10-44 Fairbanks Morse switch engine on the roster. The Monon had only purchased 3 FM engines and the other two were larger H15-44 units usually assigned to locals.
I found Ira working in the yard office. He was surprised to see me and introduced me to the other guys that were working with him that afternoon. It took a little while to get up enough nerve to ask Ira if I could get a ride on the switch engine. He seemed a little surprised at my request, but said yes. We went out to trackside and waited for an opportunity to get the attention of No. 18’s crew. I climbed up the steps and into the cab. I had hoped that I might be able to sit in the fireman’s seat like I had on a recent, though brief, visit to the cab of a Wabash switch engine. To my disappointment, there was an old wooden chair sitting between the engineer and fireman facing the door of the engine. That was to be my observation position for my ride on No. 18. There was a box car coupled next to the engine and that was the extent of view as we moved back and forth switching cars in the yard. This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but I was riding a train and that was fine with me.
I hadn’t been paying much attention to the weather, but did notice that it was getting dark and a little foggy. When my ride was over Ira was waiting for me at the yard office. It was more than a little foggy by that time and Ira told me that he had called my parents and they would be coming for me and my bike. Remember, I had been going over to visit my friend Joe and that was where my mother thought I had gone. She was relieved when Ira called about my Monon adventure, but I was in trouble for changing my plans without permission. I remember walking my bike up the hill from the yard office to where my dad had driven our car in the shops complex. Although I got in trouble for my unauthorized adventure, I had a Monon memory that I have cherished more than 50 years later. Long live the MONON.
-Robert L. Gibson Jr.-
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