Dad's Beginnings and Endings on the Big Four
Dad was born in 1896 in Wabash, Indiana in a home his grandfather had built for his father. In the typical German way, his grandfather also built houses for two other sons on adjoining land. Dad's homestead was a wonderful place complete with large barn with hand hewn beams, a smoke house, chicken house, grape arbor, and black walnut, cherry, apple, and pear trees galore. It backed up to a large woods and Charley Creek which is a creek known to everyone in Wabash as it meanders for miles through the residential part of Wabash and Wabash City Park before emptying into the Wabash River. Across the street were acres of vacant land where a new high school was eventually built in 1914.
At age 19 after training at Valparaiso, Dad joined the Big Four as a station agent in Urbana, Indiana which is a few miles north of Wabash. He spent the next 45 years at the Urbana Depot witnessing the Big Four become part of the New York Central System and the shift from steam to diesel and railroads grow to great heights and then decline. That station was particularly special as he met my mother there when she was riding the train back to Manchester College. Dad was a bit shy around women so after noticing her come home by train several times he got his assistant to ask her if she would go out with him and she agreed. One day after she graduated and started teaching he said to her "When are we getting married?" Mom replied "When you want to." Not terribly romantic but dad was a straight to the point no nonsense sort of guy. Mom had to quit teaching when she got married as it was against the law in those days for a married woman to teach. Dad was seven years older than her and already a fixture in Urbana when they were married in 1925.
When dad saw a job to be done he just did it without a fuss. Once when he headed for the living room with a dust cloth mom asked what he was doing. He noted he was just touching up a few spots. There was never any place to touch up at his depot as it was spotless because the first thing he did when he arrived every morning was to clean. It impressed me that dad not only cleaned the place so beautifully but was so professional on the job and self confident in his interactions with others. Every day there was a constant stream of adults and kids stopping by to chat and Dad was always happy to answer questions or provide a listening ear. It was amazing that no matter what problems arose he always had a knack for solving them without pointing fingers. Away from work dad was quiet and unassuming. When I asked once why I never got a chance to talk at the dinner table as my siblings hogged the conversation he told me that you learn more and become smarter when you listen. When his four sisters visited they talked incessantly and he just nodded like a wise parent so I think he discovered that from experience. Even so he was right.
Whether at home or away Dad very concisely let us know what was expected but when he was older he mellowed a bit and often used his sense of humor when we were getting off track. One Sunday a boy from college I had just met stopped by unexpectedly before my current boy friend was scheduled to pick me up. He lingered and that made dad nervous as he knew my date would be there soon. I don't know if he feared a major battle but the next day in a kidding way he told me that at age 60 he was just too old to have a daughter dating two boys at a time. I got the message and immediately wrote the boy from Urbana I had been dating as I knew I would never be satisfied being a farmer's wife after seeing so much of the country. It apparently caused quite a stir as years later my uncle told me the boy's parents came to the Urbana Depot very upset. I had no idea as dad had never said a word. Dad may have been a man of few words but when he did speak the message was usually profound. He could see that an aunt was using blackmail to get things from my grandma and one day after she bragged about her latest triumph he turned to me and said with great determination, "She will get hers". Years later I was blown away when I heard she was killed by a Big Four train that hit her car close to dad's old depot. I looked up to the heavens and said "Wow Dad, you were right"!
Dad was somewhat of a gambler when we traveled and while it drove mom crazy his adventuresome spirit guaranteed our travels would never be dull. There were times I was sure he had a guardian angel as every gamble ended up being positive in some way. We were traveling to St. Louis once and when a train pulled into Anderson that he had always wanted to ride he told us all to get on. When the conductor saw our pass he told us we would have to get off in Indianapolis except for grandma who was a paying passenger as our pass wasn't good on that train. Then grandma offered him one of her famous raison filled cookies. He took one bite and looked like he had died and gone to heaven. He said "If you agree to feed me cookies all the way to St. Louis you can all stay on this train." Grandma agreed and we all ended up extremely happy. We tried the same thing in San Francisco once but grandma didn't have any of her cookies so we had to get off the train at Sacramento. It was a beautiful sunny day unlike San Francisco that had been cold and rainy so it was ideal for touring and we were so impressed with the beautiful golden dome of the state capital building and glad we got to see the beauty of Sacramento.
In the summer of 1956 mom, dad, and I went to Mexico City. When dad learned the air conditioning was not working on our train and the windows couldn't be opened he suggested we take the next one. What he didn't know the next one was the people's train of early 1900 vintage with no diner and windows that couldn't be completely closed and it would be a two day trip to Mexico City as this train stopped at every village. When we saw the train we were stunned as we had never ridden on such an old train. We boarded the train in a state of shock but what was most startling was that people came on with their chickens and other animals in cages and all types of wares to sell conversing in Spanish a mile a minute. We must have all turned white as a sheet because in the midst of the bedlam a man in the next seat called over to us in English and asked where we were going and gave us some advice. Though it was the craziest train ride we ever had we realized when it was all over it gave us a wonderful prospective of the Mexican people we would never have gotten had we gone on the luxury train.
When we got to Mexico City the taxi driver asked where we were staying. Dad said "Where do you suggest?" When the taxi driver heard dad had made no prior reservations he was aghast and told us it would be almost impossible to find a place that particular weekend. He dropped us off at a nice hotel downtown and wished us luck and sure enough they had one room that had just become vacant. It was miraculous. We headed immediately to a nearby restaurant but since everyone spoke Spanish, the menu was in Spanish,. As none of us spoke Spanish and our stomachs were empty, it wasn't the time to just point to something on the menu so we got up and left and dad asked someone on the street where there was a restaurant where they understood English. A man pointed to a restaurant right across the street from our hotel called Sanborns and we headed there. It was so great to see hamburgers and fries on a menu after two days of starvation. We came to love that place more and more. The next day we were watching a parade when dad started a conversation with a man next to him who spoke English. They chatted all during the parade and dad learned the man had a position in Mexico City with a major protestant church. When the parade was over Dad asked him who offered the best tours. The man said he would be happy to give the three of us an all day personalized tour of the city for $5.00 a person the following day which was a Saturday. It was the best tour anyone could have hoped for as he took us to so many interesting places a commercial tour would never have gone including sites where they made and sold things for a fraction of what they were in stores.