A Trip On The Monon

“Monon” was a word and trains were toys, until a father took his three sons to Chicago. Well do I remember that business trip as I was one of those three sons.

Delphi in the early 1950’s was the known world to my nine year old twin and our seven year old brother. Going to Chicago seemed beyond belief. Our sisters had spoken of street cars and mounted police, but what could it possibly be like.

The significance of the day only became apparent when suitcases were packed, and mother checked again for clean ears and clothes and everyone wearing socks. Soon we were at the station where Dad had been many times before, but now it was us.  My eyes wondered and I saw a man behind a cage selling tickets and another in an office with all kinds of signals. “Did he really know where the train was?” A wagon with big wheels was a baggage cart, and pushing it was a man with a black hat, trimmed with a shiny visor. Tacked on the wall were posters one of which advertised White Sox baseball.

My brothers and I were nervous and shuffling. “Would Dad be able to take care of us without Mom? Would she mind doing chores and watching our cats and dogs?” Gazing we looked down the tracks all the while longing to see the train. Suddenly, a dot, a baying whistle and colors of red and gray. It was upon us and with a defining roar of enormous might it came to a stop. A man in black, little wooden steps, people getting out, and “all aboard!”

We climbed into the door, blinked in the dark, bunched together down the aisle, and nudged into our seats. We pressed against the windows while things outside began to move. How fascinating that we could see the engine as it curved down the track to Monticello. How the fields and tress began to look familiar even though I’d never seen them like this. Faster and faster and the cars picked up rhythm and roll.

But then pure fright! We were on the Wabash River Bridge, and there was no railing! My brothers and I huddled and froze fearing that if we moved an inch, the train might topple into the river. Even looking was dangerous until Dad leaned forward would smile and dare us to look again. We did and enjoyed the thrill although genuine relief did not come until we reached the other side.

Now to watch people. Suits and dresses on various adults the former looking important and the later looking grand-motherly. Then a chime and a “call for dinner in the diner.” Like ducks behind our Dad, we waddled along the aisle and braved the rattle and roar between the cars. One more door to open, and behold the sight of tables, linen cloths, and black men wearing white. The food was good, but all those manners made us decide we liked mother’s cooking better anyway. Back to our seats with a stop in the rest room and wondering “where does it go after you flush the toilet?” Also, they used Boraxo like the old ranger advertised on Death Valley Days.
The fun of raiding the rails! “Clicky-clack” is the usual cliché, but I always found the sounds more like “boom-boom, boom-boom.” Speeding by were farms like ours, trees of green, and cars that couldn’t keep up. “Was it true the engineer didn’t have a steering wheel and only followed the track?” My oldest sister, a tom boy, had assured me this was true.

Soon the open areas ran out and everyone seemed to live in houses that went row-on-row. “Where did the kids play baseball?” Darkness slowly enveloped and what magnificent mirrors the windows became. The train seemed to cross a million miles of track and I wondered “how does he know which ones to follow. Won’t he get lost or crash?” But the rhythm and rhythm were reassuring and I sat back content to watch and ride.

Finally Dearborn Station and a kaleidoscope of people, colors, sound and policemen with long sticks. “Did they use bats like we did in little league?” Never found out as they were always at a distance and wore them in their belts. Chicago of course was a city to behold. And another story to tell. But it was only a city. It had no whistle, it was not red, it did not roar and it couldn’t cross a bridge with no railings. After all there was only one Monon.

By Arthur Politz, originally published in The Hoosier Line, Volume 18, Number 3



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