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The Monon and Pennsylvania Railroads provide jobs

From the newsletter archives

The Monon and Pennsylvania Railroads brought more to Wanatah than just passengers and freight-they brought employment. One hundred years ago if you didn't farm there was a good chance that you worked for a railroad. With the Monon Railroad paying one dollar and twenty five cents a day people tried to get a job with the Pennsy because they paid one dollar and thirty seven cents a day.

We laugh at that pay rate now but quite a few German immigrants took railroad jobs for a few years and saved enough to buy a piece of land and get started farming.

Some of you remember when they were running 70 trains a day through Wanatah. They even hit a peak of 80 trains in one day. Seventy trains a day — that is about one train every 20 minutes and that is big business.

The Pennsylvania Railroad, at its peak, controlled about 10,000 miles of track and was the largest private employer in the U.S. with 250,000 employees. Many of those jobs were right here in Wanatah.

The coal docks just east of town were manned 24 hours a day to supply coal and water for the steam engines until Diesel engines became common place in the early 1950s. The gate tower was manned for two shifts a day until automated gates were installed. The pumping station at Hog Creek had people working 24-7 until wells were installed at the coal docks and the pump house was torn down. Ticket Agents and baggage handlers worked at the Depot downtown. Also two section gangs worked out of Wanatah. There was also someone on duty all day and all night in the interlocking tower where the Pennsy crossed the Monon Railroad. In the winter time the section foreman was also responsible for keeping the snow swept from the switches. All the signal and switch lanterns had to be cleaned and fueled with kerosene each day. Before automation the Railroads were labor intensive.

The Pennsylvania railroad provided a lot of jobs for our town people. One of the reasons that jobs on the Pennsylvania railroad were so in demand was that the Railroad had the first modern private pension plan, established in the year 1900.

Pennsylvania Railroad's flagship passenger train, The Broadway Limited, traveled through Wanatah running between Chicago's Union Station and New York City's Penn Station. Although the Pennsylvania Railroad crossed the county in other places the line through Wanatah was the main one linking New York and Chicago.

In 1916 The Pennsylvania Railroad began using the slogan STANDARD RAILROAD OF THE WORLD. It set the standards that other Railroads aspired to achieve. The Pennsy operated from 1846 to 1968 when it merged with its rival, The New York Central Railroad to become the Penn Central Transportation Co. which declared bankruptcy June 1, 1970.

After it went bankrupt The Penn Central Lines were divided between Conrail and Amtrak.

After Conrail was disbanded our local tracks went to Norfolk Southern and then to CSX. CSX still owns the tracks but gave a twenty year lease to Rail America, which is the owner of many short line railroads incuding the CF&E. That is the Chicago Fort Wayne and Eastern the rail line presently using these tracks.

The Monon Railroad also employed quite a few people in the early days of the twentieth century. They also had a water tower just south of town which was a six foot wooden tank and the water was pumped by a horse going round and round. In 1890 that was moved into town replaced by a brick tank and a small building to house the pump. Their depot was just north of The Pennsylvania Railroad crossing, with a freight warehouse just behind it Passenger trains stopped here twice a day to accommodate passengers and freight trains stopped to load and unload freight. Many local people enjoyed Sunday excursion trains to Michigan city. The Monon Railroad also had a section gang working out here. The early locomotives burned wood that was purchased from local farmers for 75 cents per cord. During the Civil War large quantities of food and military supplies were hauled by the Monon Railroad. In 1865 the Lincoln funeral train passed through Wanatah on the Monon Railroad.

Like so many things of our past, the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad and the Monon Railroad are nothing but history.

The Monon Railroad had a very expensive derailment here in 1967 dumping many carloads of brand new Pontiac automobiles along the rails including 30 Pontiacs into Hog Creek by my backyard. But I think the most notable train wreck within the town of Wanatah, occurred in July of 1915 on The Pennsylvania Railroad. There was a construction working on a school in Hanna and it being a hot July day they had worked up quite a thirst. After work some of the workers borrowed the boss' Buick touring car and took the Old Yellowstone Trail to Wanatah to have a few cooling beverages. As they left the tavern laughing and joking and maybe slightly impaired they missed the railroad crossing on Hotel street and wound up on the railroad track. They were feeling no pain and kind of poured out of the car and decided they could just lift it of the rails. The problem was that this wasn't one of those light cars of that era but a heavy, low slung Buick touring car. They tried and tried to lift and move the car but couldn't budge it.

Just west of the crossing on the porch at the Wanatah Hotel sat a couple of borders trying to cool off after a hot day. After watching for a few minutes they ambled over to help. Even with their combined strength they just couldn't lift that car. Just then there was a faint whistling sound and as they looked along the tracks they could see a headlight and it was getting bigger all the time. They tried and tried to move that automobile but couldn't. They didn't know that the train coming at them was held up in Lake County by a train wreck and the engineer was trying to make up for lost time. That headlight kept getting bigger and the whistle kept getting louder as they desperately tried to move that auto. At the last minute they jumped aside barely escaping the collision. As I said that wasn't one of those light Model T Fords that the cow catcher on the front of the engine would have flung to the side. Well that low slung touring car lodged under the cow catcher and the pilot wheels started chewing it up. Pieces were flying, sparks were flying and down the rails it went. It cleared the Depot and the crossing to the east, managing to stay on the rails, past the gate tower, past Schultz's Main Street Garage and then the engine left the rails spinning around on the street, and landing on its side facing the opposite direction. Also the first six coaches of the nine on the train left the tracks but remained upright. The front coach shot across The Yellowstone Trail and came to a stop just inches from the Jutroske house.

The engineer and fireman were scalded and it took a while to find the badly bruised baggage man and the express man underneath all of the baggage. The injured men were taken to Dr. Mayfield's office and he tried to ease their pain while the station agent telegraphed Valpo to send the local engine to take the injured there were they could get better care. As soon as the tracks were cleared and the rails spiked back into place the injured men were taken to Ft. Wayne to a more modern hospital. It was a miracle that no one was killed.

According to a newspaper article about the wreck they stated that was the first time a train was wrecked by a automobile.


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