Photographing The Monon
My Monon train watching days started in 1966, at age 13 during the first week of my new school, Northview Junior High, located on Westfield Boulevard in Nora, just south of 86th Street ( the original terminus of the Monon Rail Trail). What a surprise, while listening to a long forgotten teacher give a long forgotten lecture on a long forgotten subject, I heard a slight rumble and out of the corner of my eye a black and gold streak flashed by. The tracks were located a block or so away from the school. About a five car gap in the tree line adjacent to the tracks gave a brief trained eye view of a passing train. I tried not to give myself away as I studied the fast moving 50 car freight. I had witnessed my first Monon train, southbound #91.
Influencing me during this same school year were several members of the Indianapolis railroad enthusiast community (Railfans of Indianapolis and the newly formed NRHS chapter). I also was given a Kodak Instamatic 126 camera by my mom and dad, I had begun my railroad/ photography “career” which is now in its 33rd year.
I had seen Monon tracks often enough and heard northbound #90 late at night from our new home near Nora, but until that day in my 8th grade class I had yet to witness a Monon train. As I later learned much of the activity on the Indianapolis line took place in the darkness of night and early morning.
I was always fascinated by the Monon, but Monon train watching had a lot of competition. During 1966-71 I was also interested in spending time at IJ Tower on the New York Central’s St. Louis line or watching trains at Indianapolis Union Station or traversing central Indiana and Illinois with rail enthusiast friends.
The fascination I had with the Monon was probably common among us who were devoted to this railroad. I admired how the one round trip per day Indianapolis line had semaphore automatic block signals, good track, clean engines (usually), several open agency stations and, of course, most railroad crossing clearly marked with trademark signs “Monon the Hoosier Line”. As we know there was a obvious company pride. (It is good to see the Monon logo in use today along the Monon Rail Trail.)
I was taking slides and photos at age 17. At this young age I gained an appreciation for the fast charging times in railroading in the late 1960’s. Abandonment’s, mergers, first generation diesel scrapings, tower and station closings and passenger train discontinuances were happening faster number 70’s run through Rensselaer and Monon.
When receiving my state driving privileges and my parents understanding in the summer of 1969, I would get up early on a Saturday morning and check out the Monon. I often drove to Broad Ripple. It could be determined by the position of the southbound semaphore that the southbound had arrived. If both signals were clear, I would proceed north to Westfield Blvd, Nora and Carmel, checking the semaphores and waiting for what likely would be the one and only chance to shoot the southbound. Usually there was no local work on Saturday morning so attempting to chase the train would be a futile effort.I knew even in those days of my youth that the Monon would not be around much longer. I assumed L&N gray or Southern black and white would replace Monon’s black and gold. Most likely semaphores would e cast off and the depots would be leveled. In the back of my mind there was also the unthinkable: the line would actually be abandoned. It was often said “now is the time to get your pictures.”
-By John Fuller, as originally written in The Hoosier Line. Volume 18, Number 1-
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