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Roger Hensley

Page Updated

  Railroads of Madison County
John Reehling

Of Alexandria, NKP, NYC, Union Traction and more...

April 30, 2000

Dear Mr. Hensley:

Last weekend while looking for New York Central items on the Internet I came across your web page, Railroads of Madison County. Since my home town is Alexandria, Indiana I spent the best part of Sunday afternoon reading the information in your page.

After my time in the U.S. Air Force I went to work for the New York Central at Collinwood, Ohio, in the research laboratory June 1, 1958. From there I moved to New York as Mechanical Engineer. From New York to Philadelphia with the Penn Central as Senior Mechanical Engineer of Passenger Equipment. Then to Conrail as Senior Mechanical Engineer of Cars and eventually as Manager of Car Engineering for the system.

During my 32 years on the railroad (I left Conrail February 28, 1990 on early retirement with substantial inducements) I had opportunities to do things that few people have had a chance to do. I even fell heir to inspecting old steam locomotives to determine whether it was safe to move them on their own wheels. These were engines with a cold boiler.

Alexandria NKP/NW Station 1960sI noted with interest the photograph of the old Nickel Plate depot in Alexandria. My father was the Railway Express agent in Alexandria and I spent a lot of time at the Nickel Plate Depot and the Big Four depot. When I interviewed with the NYC I used Nickel Plate Train No. 10 to go to Cleveland. I also used this train to go to work for the NYC on a pass issued by the NYC.

I used NKP Trains 21 and 22 to travel back and forth to Lafayette when I attended Purdue University. I also used Trains 9 and 10 between Frankfort and Alexandria after 21 and 22 were discontinued. I also used NYC Trains 139 and 140 on occasion.

The last time I saw the NKP depot was in the early 1960's. I had been in Elkhart and rode down to Alexandria on Train 75. (This was when the freight trains on the Big Four were still identify by number. Later they were identified with the Prefix MD, for Michigan Division, and a number.) I got off at the junction and walked up the NKP tracks as a thunder storm erupted. I stood under the overhang by the operators window until the storm stopped. Unfortunately by then there was only a day trick and the depot was closed. At one time this station was open 24 hours a day and the Big Four station was open for the first and second tricks.

I enjoyed your article on the Union Traction Company. I had an uncle who worked for them. I still have his controller and switch keys on a square key ring as well as some uniform buttons, both white and gold brass. There are two white brass buttons which say conductor. The other buttons are marked UTC Co. on some and UTC of IND on others. I barely remember the interurban cars but I do recall having ridden on them to Anderson. Unfortunately my better memories of these cars was when they were sold to various people for restaurants and chicken coops. I remember seeing them detrucked and loaded onto flatbed trailers on South Harrison Street in Alexandria. The cars were hauled to this location by a steeple cab motor and when the carbody was loaded on the truck their trucks were drawbar connected to the motor and pulled back to Anderson.

After the interurbans and the street cars were gone I clearly remember seeing city buses in Anderson lettered Indiana Railroad. I don't know when the old freight house in Alexandria was torn down. I do remember the freight trains coming up from Anderson at night with a steeple cab motor pulling them since they went past the house which was at 608 South Harrison Street. I remember my father saying that at one time there were street cars in Alexandria, some of which went to what was then known as Scott's Addition. For years Harrison Street had ruts from where the old cross ties were placed. Where the street was paved the ties were left in place and it gave the gas company fits when they wanted to lay a new main.

NS Connector The new connection between the Nickel Plate and the Big Four is of interest in that there always was a connection. Where the new connection is now there was a track that formed one leg of what amount to a wye. There were two derailment on the diamond, one from an NYC freight broadsiding an NKP oil train during wartime and the other when a Westbound NKP freight suffered a broken wheel and started to derail at the switch just East of the NKP depot. The general derailment did not occur until the car with the defective wheel hit the diamond. In the process a local freight train in the clear just West of the depot was side swiped, derailing a truck under the one car with the engine and clipping the corner of the caboose.

During emergencies such as above both legs of the wye were used to allow the NKP local (the one from Muncie to Tipton and return) to get the engine to the other side of the derailment so that the Aladdin, Johns Manville and the National Gypsum could be switched. The local that got clipped was the one that ran from Frankfort to Muncie and return that pedalled empty cars and picked up loads. The local from Muncie was basically for switching service.

I haven't been back in Alexandria in a number of years. Although retired I am still associated with the railroads. I do contract work for the Association of American Railroads for the design and construction of tank cars. I do private consulting for owners of various passenger cars and some locomotive. I am a trustee of the New York Central Historical Society. Our web page is

John R. Reehling

Here are some other things that you may be interested in.

Along the lines of the electric railway facilities there was an electric switching operation at the old Stillwell gravel pits. This was or may still be located to the SSW of Orestes, Indiana. The company was later acquired by the Western Indiana Gravel Company.

They used a motor that consisted of a glass and wood enclosed control station. The foundation may have been a stripped down box motor, but, I really don't know. It was used to haul open top freight cars through an overhead loading tower and to move the loaded cars to a connection with the NKP just West of Orestes and retrieve empty cars for return. I saw this several times when you could go fishing in any of the several large gravel pits. Not only were SC hopper cars (self clearing) loaded but there were gondola cars, both standard (GA) and drop bottom (GB) filled with gravel. The GA and GB are AAR Mechanical Designations for gondolas.

As I recall a lot of the NKP track was ballasted with gravel and cinders. Today most ballast is crushed trap rock.

One of the steam locomotives that called the Michigan Division home was NYC 3001, a Class L3a Mohawk. This locomotive presently resides at the museum in Elkhart. It was saved only because Alfred Perlman gave it to his friend at the Texas and Pacific for static display since the T&P had scrapped all of there engines. It was modified to make it look like an oil burning engine. When it became an eyesore due to vandalism and neglect it was sold to the people in Elkhart and brought back North. It suffered additional damage when the jacket was removed to get rid of the asbestos. Someone burned the stay bolt caps and other items during the removal process. The estimated cost for restoration to full service is 500,000 dollars.

The only other Mohawk still in existence is an L2d at the museum in St. Louis. This one got saved by a simple fact that after it served as a stationery boiler for the engine house at Selkirk, New York, the shop forces hid it from the scrappers.

The name Mohawk for the L Class locomotives (4-8-2) comes from the Mohawk River in New York as does Hudson for the J Class locomotives (4-6-4) from the Hudson River and Niagara for the S Class locomotives (4-8-4) from the Niagara River, all a part of the Water Level Route.

John Reehling

Picture Credits:
Alexandria NKP/NW Station - late 1960s photo from the Ron Buser Collection
NS-CR Connector under construction at Alexandria, Oct 17, 1998 - Roger Hensley Photo

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