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Karen Dinsmore
Memories of a NYC RR Train Girl


May 14, 2004
A few months ago Karen Smith Dinsmore contacted me and wanted to know if I remembered her father, Ernest F. (Ernie) Smith, as an operator at Urbana, Wabash or Third St. Marion, IN. After stirring up the cobwebs I could remember him at Wabash. Karen started relating some memories and I wanted to post them on this site. Karen requested that I wait and she would send her memories and pictures. The following jewels are her memories and were well worth the wait for her personal story as well as the wonderful historical way of life at that time in history.
Sit back and enjoy the memories of Karen from early childhood to the present. - Maurice Lewman

Beginnings of My Train Adventures
From the time I was little I had a desire to travel and see new sights. When I was three I wandered up the road to an aunt's house nearly a quarter of a mile away. My parents thought I was in the sand box and never knew until my aunt told them at church she enjoyed having me for dinner. My mother was shocked I had roamed so far from home and even more so that I had eaten two dinners and from then on I was known as the "wandering child". I still have a post card my older sister sent me from camp in August 1943 that says "Have you wandered off lately?"

I was very fortunate to grow up at the height of rail travel, have many relatives and older siblings to visit in far off places, and have a dad who worked for the Big Four as the passes he got provided me opportunities to roam far from Wabash, Indiana and constantly travel by train. Until they took the passenger trains off of the Michigan Division of the Big Four we often took the train to Marion or Indianapolis to shop for the day. Weekends we headed to Elkhart to catch a train to Chicago to visit one of my dad's four sisters or my two brothers who were already in college there when I was in first grade. I spent many summers visiting an aunt at Long Lake north of Chicago and would take the Chicago and Northwestern out to her place.

When I was eight the St. Louis era began as oldest brother headed to St. Louis for seminary and two sisters followed him there to go to college and all three married and settled there. It meant not only heading north to Elkhart to go to Chicago but also heading south to Anderson to catch trains for St. Louis and I spent hours and hours in those two depots. Some of dad's vacations were spent in St. Louis visiting grandchildren and then we used the one yearly foreign pass dad got on the Wabash Railroad. Though the Wabash equipment including the Cannon Ball wasn't as elegant as the NYC RR, it was nice to get on at Wabash and not have to drive to Anderson. One year we took the Wabash Railroad the opposite direction for a change to Detroit to visit dad's brother. When I got into high school dad, mom and I began taking extensive summer rail trips out West and to Mexico City with memorable experiences. Sometimes we stopped in towns like Albuquerque and spent a day and other cities like San Francisco and Salt Lake City two or three days and then resumed the trip.

Dad would often get off the train if he knew it was stopping for more than 15 minutes and look around and sometimes I went too. My mother wasn't happy when we disembarked as she was so sure the train would leave without us. Once when we were traveling on the Denver and Rio Grande the train stopped out in the middle of nowhere and Dad told me to follow him when the train stopped. When we got off the train he told me to look up. We were at the bottom of the Royal Gorge. It was absolutely spectacular. Later I realized how lucky I was as few people would have the opportunity to stand at the bottom of the Royal Gorge like I had. Many years later I crossed the footbridge over the Royal Gorge to get the vantage point from the top but it wasn't as awesome as it was from the bottom.

Southwestern Limited A couple years ago when I had my piano tuned the piano tuner's eyes lit up when he saw the NYC RR logo proudly displayed on my refrigerator and he immediately asked about it. When he learned my dad had been with Big Four for 50 years he said " Oh, I bet you rode the Southwestern Limited. It was always my dream to ride that train." When I told him I had been on it many times plus many other famous NYC RR trains he said I was the luckiest girl in the world. In some respects, I guess I was.


Photo Credit:
NYC Southwestern Limited the premier passenger train on the New York-St. Louis run, seen eastbound in Anderson between 1931 and 1936 led by Big Four J1d Hudson number 6609. Next stop, Muncie. - Francis H. Parker Collection.

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