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Big Four and Nickel Plate Depots in Alexandria...

January 30, 2001


The photograph of the Big Four depot in Alexandria is a view looking south. The crossing with the Nickel Plate is about 3/4 mile to the south.

Click for larger image When you enlarge the photo a locomotive is visible just below on the left. This is most likely the engine for the local freight train. This local ran from Anderson to Wabash on Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday. Its return was from Wabash on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday.

The old freight house can be seen in the distance(count the telegraph poles starting at the depot to the fourth and fifth poles).

When the Aladdin Industries and their subsidiary The Mantle Lamp Company of America moved to Nashville, Tenn., the business at the Railway Express Agency fell off to a barely sustainable amount. When Trains 139 and 140 were discontinued the REA office was moved from the downtown business district to the waiting room in the station. Pickup and delivery of express packages was now by highway. The money that came on Trains 139 and 140 for the payroll requirements at the local banks, The commercial Bank and Trust co. and The Alexandria Bank, was now handled through the U. S. Post Office by highway.(Highway Post Offices). Railroad mail was put on the local freight train.

The platform trucks or wagons are still in place when the photo was taken. The one with superstructure on its bed was used for extremely heavy items so that they could be loaded into an express car with less effort. When the Aladdin was still in Alexandria it was not unusual to see 10 or 12 platform trucks stacked high with shipments. At times the number of shipments was so great that it was necessary to unload into the express cars from the highway vehicle.

There were times during wartime that Johns-Manville shipped insulating materials to the ship builders by Railway Express due to time constraints. These shipments could delay 139 and 140 up to 40 minutes. The usual loading time for Express, Parcel Post and U. S. Mail was 15 to 20 minutes.

Prior to the installation of Trains 139 and 140 there were more passenger trains through this station, One The Winnoa Flyer, did not stop here. Some of these trains ran from Louisville, KY, to Benton Harbor Michigan. Each year the Miles Laboratories in Elkhart, Indiana, printed and distributed a calender as part of their advertising. These calenders were loaded into express cars and shipped sealed to the various distribution points. When the afternoon train down from Elkhart arrived in Alexandria there would be four extra headend cars which required blocking the street crossing just south of the station so that the coach would make the platform. The street just south of the station is Broadway.

Because of poor business conditions just prior to World War II a lot of these trains were discontinued to the point there were only two left. This resulted in the introduction of Trains 139 and 140; 139 came down from Elkart in the morning and 140 came up from Anderson in the evening. These two trains made connections with the Bee Line trains in Anderson. There were trains between Anderson and Louisvilee for a while but I am not familiar with them. They operated with trackage rights over the B&O between North Vernon and Louisville. For a while the coach from 139 was put on a Bee Line train for Indianapolis and returned for connection with 140 in the evening. I'm not sure how the express cars were handled in Anderson or the RPO car(which was an apartment car; half RPO and half baggage.

I don't know whether either of the two depots in Alexandria still stand. I know that the Big Four depot in Summitville was purchased by a farmer along with the platform slabs. I don't know if it still exists today.

There was a passing siding just south of Alexandria that ran from a point called Alda. This siding was about a mile long. It terminated at the north end at a location known as Gimco City. Gimco City was derived from General Insulating Co. of America. This plant was served for a long time exclusively by the Big Four. This plant later became part of the National Gypsum Co. and the Nickel Plate laid track, built a bridge over Pipe Creek and served the west end of the plant.

The Big Four also served the Aladdin Industries on a separate track beside the Nickle Plate. Their main deliveries were tank cars of fuel oil for the furnaces in the glass manufacturing plant. These furnaces were fired with a mixture of natural gas and fuel oil.

At one time there was a steel mill just south of Alexandria that was served by the Big Four. Many years ago this was a busy place. Today the old steel mill grounds are occupied by a country club and golf course. Of course the paper mill is long gone and so are all of the tracks, grade crossings and other facilities.

Click for larger image The old Nickel Plate depot has been modified since I last saw it as indicated in the photograph. The view of this building is looking to the West. The door in the east end of the station was added after I last saw it. The bay at this end of the depot was all windows and is where the bill clerk's desk was located. There was no separate freight house for the NKP in Alexandria. The west end of the station building served as the freight house. There was never as much express business at the Nickel Plate as at the Big Four. Although during the war there were some Johns-Manville shipments that went out over the Nickel Plate. These shipments were loaded directly from the highway vehicle into the express car because of their weight. This usually delayed Train 22 about 30 minutes. There was also a water plug and sometimes for whatever reason it was necessary for a through train to take water. In the case of Trains 21 and 22 it took about 20 minutes to fill the tender. The freight trains would stop at a location where grade crossings were not blocked and the engine cut off and moved to the plug.

The signal mast to the west of the depot controls the crossing with the Big Four. The water tank further in the distance was located at the Aladdin.

Trains 9 and 10 would only stop in Alexandria on request. These trains consisted of a headend car, a coach, a diner and a sleeper. These two trains were handled in later years by a single ALCO PA diesel called Blue Birds by the NKP. Just prior to that they drew a small, stoker fired Pacific. Every year, in the late spring, there were carloads of tomato plants shipped by Railway Express. Train 21 would have four additional headend cars and would have one of the Pacifics in place of the usual 4-6-0. When 9 and 10 were dieselized the Pacifics were assigned to 21 and 22 permanently. When a diesel suffered a line of road failure 9 or 10 would draw a 2-8-4 equipped for dual service.

It is obvious from the photographs of both depots that there is no longer a local section gang. The amount of weeds visible attests to this.

The semifore mast in front of the NKP depot is gone. At one time this station boasted three tricks and the ticket office was open 24 hours, 7 days a week. Later this became a daylight job only six days a week. The Big Four, as I remember it, was two tricks and closed on Sundays.

The flag signal for 9 and 10 to stop in Alexandria was a red and a green oil lamp hung from special brackets on the semifore mast. The safest way to insure these trains would stop was to call the dispatcher in Muncie.

The Nickel Plate had a daily local freight train that ran from Muncie to Tipton and return six days a week. There was another local that ran from Frankfort to Muncie and return seven days a week. This second local delivered empties and picked up loads left by local switch crews. The Nickel Plate was the only one servicing Johns-Manville.

Both the National Gypsum and Johns-Manville produced insulating materials known as rock wool. There were several large limestone quarries around Alexandria from which rock was obtained by these two plants. Later thay used steel mill slag shipped in by rail as a prime source of raw material.

Hope some of the foregoing can help you with your pages.

I looked in the white pages and the yellow pages in the computer and note that the nearest NS phone listings are in Muncie and Tipton. The nearest listings for Conrail were or are Indianapolis and Wabash. I guess this means there isn't much left in Alexandria.

Yours truly,

John Reehling

Both of the depots and much of the industry John speaks about is now long gone and only the memories remain of the people and industrial community served by two competeing railroads. - rph

Picture Credits:
Alexandria NYC Station - Mid 1950s - Ron Buser Collection
Alexandria NKP/NW Station - late 1960s photo from the Ron Buser Collection

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