Drayage On The Monon

I fondly recall afternoons in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s when I accompanied my uncle from the Post Office in Linden, Indiana, to the mail crane on the Monon about 300 feet south of the station and the Nickel Plate crossing. Just before the scheduled arrival of Number 6 my uncle would climb the steps to the small platform and affix the mail bag to the pick up crane. We would then retire to the station platform, place a two wheeled mail cart on the platform in preparation for picking up mail dropped by the northbound Throroughbred number 6 and then exchange gossip with the station agent pending arrival of number 6.

Soon we would hear number 6 whistling for grade crossing south of Linden, then see round the curve past the old elevator moving towards us. First we saw the red and grey F-3’s (later black and gold), then the mail arm catching the mail bag, the inbound mail bag being “kicked off” at the platform, and finally the markers. I was told this all occurred at 45 miles per hour.

One of the first times I accompanied my uncle on his appointed daily round I positioned myself next to the two wheeled mail cart so I could have a good view of the action. My uncle had gone inside the station to attend to some business. Number 6 whistled, rounded the curve at the elevator and hooked the bag on the crane. The red and grey F-3’s were just about even with the cart (and me) when, all within a split second, my uncle huge hands pulled me back as the mail bag whizzed by and into the cart, at 45 miles per hour. Needless to say, I was more careful in selecting future vantage points. Also, I noticed the mail hood operator rarely missed that 4 foot by 4 foot cart which is pretty good when you consider that his arms were busy hooking the mail bag from the crane thus requiring that the bag be literally kicked from the RPO door opening with his foot, all at 45 miles per hour.

My uncles mail contact was all that was left of the family’s once thriving drayage business which began in the early 1900’s with teams of horses pulling wagons. This was during an era when almost all freight, express and mail moved by rail. A considerable network of draymen was established throughout the country to move goods to and from the rail heads.

The term drayage originally was used to describe the function performed by those early rail orientated trucking pioneers. The word has since then taken on a new meaning as draymen now move the piggy-back trailers and containers to and from the loading ramps with diesel powered semi tractors.

By Mont Switzer, originally appearing in The Hoosier Line, Number 17, Volume 2


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