Photographing The Monon
One great Monon photo opportunity occurred almost in my back yard in November of 1969. I received a call early one school morning from a rail enthusiast friend who said he had heard on the radio (AM commercial radio that is. No scanners in 1969) that the Monon had wrecked at 73rd and Westfield Blvd. Within minutes I was dressed, camera in hand (now upgraded to an Argos C-4) and on my way to the scene which was only a few minutes from our home. I arrived just in time to see the units and lead cars pulling away from the wreck scene heading south for the yards.
About 20 to 30 cars were piled up. I took a few shots and went on to school. By the time I got out of school that afternoon the Bloomington and Lafayette wreckers and work trains had arrived along with the Hulcher wreck services. Needless to say I spent much time watching the wreck cleanup and shooting many slides. For the next week the Indiana line was ablaze with activity. The line was reopened in about 48 hours and the northbound departed with well over 100 cars, a large train for the Indianapolis line in 1969.
A set of semaphores south of the wreck site just missed being cast into oblivion they survived the wreck and clean up activities. As fate would have it a few months following the wreck, southbound #91 hit an empty school bus at 73rd and Westfield. The train carried the bus far enough to knock down both semaphores. These signals had survived the November wreck but not a careless bus driver, who amazingly survived the accident, if recollection is correct. Even more amazing, within a week or so the semaphores were reinstalled, most likely courtesy of the school corporation’s insurance carrier.)
Adding tremendously to my library of Monon photos and slides were new experimental all daylight schedules undertaken in 1970. Memory is not clear on the departure times, and there might have been several judging by the light position om my photographs during the era but it was a “gold mine” for me. Quite often local work was done in Westfield, Sheridan and other points north. This made the job of chasing quite rewarding. Shots taken during this era are easy to spot since the trains often carried white flags noting their “extra” status.
My pre-college train watching spanned about a five year period. I was able to shoot several thousand color slides and a few hundred black and white variety of Monon and non-Monon train subjects and locations. I always had that tendency not to photograph the familiar. I am glad that tendency was suppressed somewhat when it came to the familiar Monon. If I had to relive, I would have shot ten times what I did. But I am glad for what I did record.
In late August of 1971 I left my home on the northside of Indianpolis to go to college. That was also about the time the Monon was swallowed up by the L&N and life in Indianapolis would never be the same.
On the main line I was fortunate to witness several Monon passenger trains passing, secure a short cab ride in Greencastle, watch a high speed separation while pacing near Bainbridge and spend a third track in Ames Tower one summer night in 1968. Maybe these recollections can be penned at another time?
By John Fuller, as originally written in The Hoosier Line. Volume 18, Number 1
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