A Meet At Greencastle

In the early spring of 1970, I was among a trio who departed from our Indianapolis homes to document and photograph some of the railroad in Western Indiana. Our first stop was Greencastle. We inspected the former New York Central and Pennsylvania main lines. All was quiet.

We then crossed the Monon rails just south of the curve that brought the Monon past their depot and the Monon Grill. Much to our surprise, a northbound Monon train bearing white flags was inching its way toward us.

Just south of the street crossing the train came to a halt. A hand stuck out of the cab and motioned us towards the lead unit, Alco C-420 #510. Asked if we wanted to ride a few blocks to the depot where the crew was going to get a cup of coffee (possibly the Monon Grill), we did not hesitate to climb aboard.

The crew advised us that they had some time to kill prior to a meet with a southbound train at the Greencastle siding. It was a short but exciting jaunt as the five Alco engines crawled the several blocks to the depot platform where we disembarked.

We obtained a time estimate for the meet from the crew, thanked them for their hospitality and walked back to our car. We then drove north of the Monon’s Greencastle siding to the overpass where the NYC crosses over the Monon’s main. I stayed on the overpass to photograph the southbound train from above as it approached the siding.

A few minutes later, the northbound extra crept around the curve on the siding from Greencastle and stopped just short of the switch. One of our trio decided to walk to the north end of the siding to photograph the meet from #510’s catwalk. Not long after that the southbound train with #504 in the lead appeared bearing green flags. We lamented that the practice of carrying flags would probably disappear following the takeover by the Louisville and Nashville or Southern, which we surmised would happen in the not too distant future.

Following completion of the meet, we hurried back to the car to give chase to the northbound. We were underway in time to pace the train for a short distance on a country road north of Greencastle. Upon slowing down for a “T” intersection prior to a turn east and a jog back north, we heard an application of the northbound’s brakes.

We then speeded east and back north. To our shock and surprise, the fast moving train had separated! It was quite a sight. Two sections of the train were speeding along with about five car lengths separating them. We paced the broken train for maybe a mile as the train’s speed gradually decreased.

When the head end of the train came to a stop, we watched as the rear section approached at a slow but unsafe speed. It was obvious that there was going to be a collision. A farm field separated us from the point of the pending collision. We watched as the string of hopper cars approached the stopped forward section. We thought we were about to witness a derailment. It seemed like an eternity as the moving cars approached their appointed stopping point. With a loud crash the two sections hit. Coal shot up from the loaded hopper cars creating a black cloud, but all the cars remained upright and on the tracks.

We wondered if the rear end crew was okay since the abrupt stop would have certainly sent them into a wall or onto the floor. We crossed the field arriving at the point of impact just before the rear crew arrived. Fortunately they had been in radio contact with the head end. When the head end reported that they had stopped, the rear end crew bailed out of their still moving caboose avoiding what could have been some serious injuries.

A broken knuckle on a Southern hopper was the culprit. Considering the distance from Greencastle to either the Lafayette Shops or Bloomington, it seemed that a knuckle repair could take some time.

By John Fuller, as written in The Hoosier Line, Volume 20, Number 1

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