The Little Engine That Could
Madison Railroad getting ready to celebrate 35th birthday
Saturday, October 27, 2012 5:00 AM
With recorded classic railroad songs accompanying a video, lunch guests of the Madison Railroad celebrated the replacement of two bridges, a milestone for the railroad that will celebrate its 35th anniversary in January.
The bridge replacements were the first in modern times, and were an integral part of a long-term infrastructure improvement program that included rehabilitating the other three bridges on the Madison Railroad's 25-mile short-line route from North Madison to North Vernon. Next up: Replacing 4.7 miles of rails so that heavier railcars can be used, if a grant is approved.
The invited guests Wednesday included representatives of government agencies and railroad customers.
"What we're celebrating is an example of communities working together," Madison Mayor Damon Welch told the other guests in the industrial chic setting of the scrubbed engine house at the railroad's headquarters at Jefferson Proving Ground.
"If you try to do something alone, you will die on the vine," Greg Hicks, president of the North Vernon Redevelopment Commission, said to the others at his lunch table.
The guests were from Madison and its Redevelopment Commission, or TIF Board; the city of North Vernon and the North Vernon Redevelopment Commission; the town of Vernon; the City of Lawrenceburg Regional Economic Development Foundation; the Indiana Department of Transportation rail section; Jefferson County Council and Board of Commissioners; current and former state officials; current and former contractors for the railroad; railroad board members; railroad customers; and the railroad's employees.
Grants and matching funds for the bridges and for the rail replacement Madison Railroad hopes to do came from the Lawrenceburg foundation, the North Vernon Redevelopment Commission, Vernon and Madison's TIF.
The customers included Hilex Poly of North Vernon, Madison Railroad's largest customer, which makes plastic grocery bags and has the largest plastic bag recycling center of its type in the world; Meese-Orbitron-Dunne plastics manufacturer of Madison; Exegistics, an Illinois-based logistics and packaging company that opened a plant this year in North Vernon; and Indiana-Kentucky Electric Corp.
Madison Railroad CEO Cathy Hale stopped the video occasionally to narrate it. The video showed the history of the Madison Railroad, which goes back to 1836, and included recorded songs such as "Boogie Woogie Choo-Choo Train," "Chattanooga Choo-Choo," "London Bridge Is Falling Down," "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "I've Been Working on the Railroad."
There also was live music. Madison city employee and Christian musician Drew Geerts, who won first place in "Madison's Got Talent" during the Bicentennial in 2009, sang an amended version of "Proud Mary" that had the lyrics "rollin' down the railroad" instead of "rollin' down the river," and had Madison references, such as the annual Santa Train.
Hale played a non-railroad song, Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me," and said it was "from my heart to yours" for "how much you have meant to me, how much you believe in me, in us. Everyone in the room has special meaning to me."
Hale recognized several of the guests, including Gary Shook of North Carolina, who is the Madison Railroad's engineer of record. He designed the new bridges.
"He understands when I say 'cheap, cheap, cheap but good, good, good,'" Hale said.
Shook also designed a new logo and wrote a new slogan for Madison Railroad. The logo shows the side of a train wheel and a side view of a railroad, and has the slogan, "Steel Wheels Keep on Turning."
She also recognized Bob Shaw, who is retired from the Algers, Winslow and Western Railway, and said he and Madison Railroad board member Larry Keith "taught me a lot of what I know about railroads."
Formerly known as Madison Railway, Madison Railroad began operating in 1978, and was purchased by the city of Madison from Penn Central in 1981. Hale and Keith worked at the railroad before the city bought it. Keith, who now is an executive at King's Daughters' Health, was a locomotive engineer and a licensed railroad inspector, and on Saturdays he took Hale out to the tracks to teach her about railroads. He also worked on the railroad when JPG was an Army munitions testing ground.
Hale said Shaw has been "my mentor, my rock, my strength."
After Hale recognized them, she said, "You've just seen an exhibit of how and why so much has been done to pull this railroad up out of the mud to what it is today."
For years, Madison subsidized Madison Railroad to keep it running. Hale has been in charge since shortly after the city bought the railroad. The railroad's revenue is from not only operating the line for its clients but also from having clients who use a common loading dock and from charging rent for railroad cars to be stored on 10 miles of tracks owned by Madison Railroad at JPG.
After lunch, the guests boarded two railroad cars to ride out to one of the new bridges. On the way, the two passenger cars went over the Middlefork Bridge, which was one of three bridges that were rehabilitated.
The train stopped on the Big Creek Bridge, which can be seen from the intersection of Middlefork Road and Schmidt Lane about two miles southeast of Dupont.
The bridge it replaced was not the original bridge there, as it is thought that renegade Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan torched the original bridge during Morgan's Raid in June 1863.
The passengers walked along the track, and some climbed down the embankment to get a close look, then got back on the train for the ride back through woods of fall colors and past charming houses.
One of the passenger cars is owned by Madison Railroad and one was loaned by Roger and Cathy Fuehring of F&M Car and Locomotive, which currently is north of Indianapolis, but is moving to Scottsburg.
The Fuehrings are restoring the car to show the splendor of the old railroad cars. They are uncovering the beautiful curved wood covers that concealed the beds by removing layers of paint, including pink. They are adding rich-looking wood to the walls and adding period furniture. The car they own was not a chapel car, but in homage to those that were, they have a collection of pictures and texts about chapel cars in the back of their. Chapel cars - some with towering spires and others with ornate outside decorating - were added to trains during the Gold Rush to try to influence the behavior of the miners, the Fuehrings said.
In both cars, people talked to friends and to people they didn't know, a sort networking on wheels.