The Beginning

The history of the railroad in Indiana began in earnest in 1838, when the first steam train traveled from North Madison to Graham's Ford, carrying Governor James Wallace, legislators, and other dignitaries on an 8 mph, 15-mile inspection trip.

In 1832 the Indiana legislature had chartered eight possible railroad lines. None of these charters were realized as, due to the recommendations of the Committee on Canals and Internal Improvements, state funds were committed mostly to the building of canals. By 1848 approximately 1,015 miles of canals linked Indiana to the eastern seaboard.

However, in 1836 Governor Noah Noble signed into effect "An Act to Provide for a General System of Internal Improvements," which authorized borrowing up to the amount of $10,500,000 for projects which would include extending and completing the Wabash & Erie and a new railroad line from Madison on the Ohio to Lafayette on the Wabash via Indianapolis.

The completed Madison line provided an important lessons to inexperienced American railroad builders: the grades were too steep for standard locomotives, necessitating the use of 8-horse hitches to haul cars up the grade. Down-grade trips were even more problematic, the grade allowing a dangerous build up of speed which often resulted in derailment, injury and death.

Water Tower and Steam Engine at Vandalia
(Bass Photo Collection, Indiana Historical Society)

Train and Crew at Union City, Indiana
(Bass Photo Collection, Indiana Historical Society)

Early locomotives averaged 15 mph for express and 10 mph for freight. Trips across the state could run between sixteen and 35 hours, not high speed by today's standards, but easily beating wagons and canal boats. The first locomotive to run in Indiana was the four-wheeled Elkhorn, a British manufactured engine. It was not suited to the demands of the American landscape and was quickly replaced with the 4-2-0 locomotive design by the Baldwin Locomotive Company. Indiana's second and third locomotives, the Madison and the Indianapolis, were of this manufacture.

Growth of the railroads was slow during the 1840's. Railroads were originally backed by State Initiative as a way to link waterways and transportation for crops to eastern markets, making Indiana's interior farmland more useful. Crops could be shipped via the Ohio and Wabash Rivers to Lake Erie and the Erie canal, cutting down the cost of shipping.

However, economic problems slowed investment of public money, and in the late 1840's there was barely 100 miles of track in the entire state. By 1847 public financing had given way to private companies. Growth was rapid after this changeover; by March 19, 1851 the Indiana Sentinel reported "two hundred and forty-five miles of railroad in Indiana and it was expected that five hundred miles would be in operation by the end of the year."1

The Growth Years

In the 1850's the railroad became the central impetus of Indiana's development. The bulk of new construction during that decade was in east-west orientation, providing connections for western travel. In 1856 Indianapolis was connected with St. Louis. In June of the next year a grand excursion from Baltimore to St. Louis celebrated the linking of the two cities via the "American Central Route."

The years following the Civil War saw Indiana's railroads providing increased service for passenger transportation, plus delivery of fuel and raw materials to support Indiana's growing manufacturing businesses. Improvements during this period included standardization of track and compatible wheels, couplers and brakes, which permitted interchange of cars instead of unloading and reloading freight.

The advent of the railroad was like providence for many young men in Indiana. They turned to it for employment in a field that fed thier imagination with the "romance of the rails." Although Railroad companies standardized operating rules during this time, for labor it was a time of struggle for fair practices, punctuated by strikes. The 'romance,' however, stood up in the harsh face of reality, as many continued to be employed by the railroad their entire lives.


The First Union Station, Indianapolis ca. 1853
(Bass Photo Collection, Indiana Historical Society)
Although the first railroads were intended as feeders to water transportation via Ohio River, Wabash, and Erie Canal, it soon became evident that the railroad could serve a much larger purpose. During the next two decades the railroad industry grew at a fast pace. By 1861 railroads were linked throughout the state, providing connections to the west via Chicago and St. Louis. Two years later 71 of Indiana's 92 counties had rail service. During this development, Indianapolis emerged as a major hub for rail traffic, and the first major city whose growth was due to and dependent on railroads.

In 1830 the largest city in Indiana was New Albany, with a population of 2,079; Indianapolis, located in the center of the state without easy access, was barely considered a village. The first train did not arrive in Indianapolis until 1847. But by 1850 Indianapolis' population had come close to that of New Albany. Due to the advent of the railroad, the capital's population easily passed all others in the state after that date. In 1849 the Indianapolis newspaper, the Locomotive had advocated that Indianapolis be called "The City of Railroads."2

By 1850 the city was the hub of seven railroads. This success was greatly due to the Indianapolis Union Railway, which provided links to other carriers. Another reason was the opening, on September 28, 1853, of the first Union Station in the country. This innovation allowed passengers and freight to transfer in one facility, rather than transferring via wagon to other locations in the city, a typical practice in other major cities. By 1870 Indianapolis' Union Station was handling over one hundred trains a day. In 1888 a new Union Station, of Romanesque design, replaced the original building.
The New Union Station, Indianapolis ca. 1890
(Bass Photo Collection, Indiana Historical Society)

The Monon

In the period after the Civil War many Indiana lines were bought by larger entities. In the 1890's big systems like the Lake Shore & Michigan and the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis emerged. Throughout this time of takeovers and alliances, the Chicago, Indianapolis & Louisville Railway, known commonly as the Monon, remained entirely a Hoosier entity. It was chartered in 1847 as the New Albany & Salem Railroad and in 1859 became the Louisville, New Albany & Chicago. It was the first to connect the Ohio River and Lake Michigan, carrying northbound coal and other commodities until its acquisition and closing in 1971.

The Legendary Wabash Cannonball

The Wabash Cannonball Trail ran on the two lines originally established by the Wabash Railroad. The southwestern leg was built in 1855, making it one of the oldest rail lines in northwest Ohio. The Cannonballs were known as the super trains of their time. They were equipped with smokers, parlor coaches, and Pullman Palace Sleeping Cars.

During the Depression rail travel fell off as the cost was prohibitive to most travelers. The mid-1940s found the Wabash line struggling to rebuild passenger service. The Wabash Cannonball was too famous to let die. Through cash investment many of the famous runs were re-instituted or upgraded during the post-war period. On February 28, 1950, the name was reinstated and the new Cannonball's route took it from Detroit to St. Louis.

But automobiles and super highways, and finally, jet planes brought the decline of rail travel; on April 30, 1971 the Cannonball rode into legend, making its final run from Detroit to St. Louis. The poet writes: "Did the famed Wabash Cannonball Engine run on these lines? On a hot shimmery, summer day, look down the trail and listen for the jingle..."3

The Wabash Cannonball
Author Unknown
(Public Domain)
Sequencing by Garry Allen

Click for Music!

From the great Atlantic Ocean
To the wide Pacific shore,
From sunny California
To ice-bound Labrador,
She's mighty tall and handsome,
She's known quite well by all,
She's the 'boes' accomodation
On the Wabash Cannonball.

Listen to the jingle,
The rumble and the roar,
As she glides along the woodlands,
Through hills and by the shore
Hear the mighty rush of the engine,
Hear those lonesome hoboes squawl,
While traveling through the jungle
On the Wabash Cannonball.

This train, she runs to Memphis,
Mattoon, and Mexico,
She rolls through East St. Louis
And she never does it slow,
As she flies through Colorado,
She gives an awful squawl,
They tell her by her whistle
The Wabash Cannonball

Our eastern states are dandy,
So the people always say,
From New York to St. Louis
And Chicago by the way,
From the hills of Minnesota
Where the rippling waters fall,
No changes can be taken
On the Wabash Cannonball


Now here's to Boston Blackey,
May his name forever stand,
And always be remembered
By the 'boes throughout the land,
His earthly days are over
And the curtains 'round him fall,
We'll carry him home to victory
On the Wabash Cannonball


From the great Atlantic ocean
To the wide Pacific shore
From the green ol' Smoky mountains
To the south lands by the shore
She's mighty tall and handsome
And she's known quite well by all
She's the regular combination
On the Wabash Cannonball.


Father & Son

George W. Faust
Engineer, C St L&P,
Harry R. Faust
Indianapolis & Pennsylvania

This page is dedicated to the following men and women in my family
who earned their livelihood working for the railroad:

Amos Milroy Allen; (Illinois); Railroad Worker
David A. Byers; (Indiana); Engineer
George W. Faust; (Maryland Pennsylvania & Indiana) Engineer, C St L&P RR (IN)
Harry R. Faust; (Indiana & Pennsylvania) Engineer; Brotherhood of Railroad Engineers
Silas Harmon; (Indiana) Laborer
Wesley S. Harmon; (Indiana) Laborer
Clarence M. Knauss; (Indiana) Brakeman 1885; Fireman ID&S Ry 1886 IB&W 1887
Miles Dana Knauss; (Indiana, Illinois and California); Engineer-1885; Fireman D&S RR-1888
Miles D. Knauss; (Indiana & Wisconsin); SSDI indicates RR benefits
John McCabe; (Missouri); Railroad Clerk
George P. Reilly; (Missouri); Railroad Clerk
Mildred L. Scheidig; (Missouri); Bookkeeper for Railroad
Edward D. Sheets; (Indiana) Fireman
Charles M. Tackett; (Indiana); Laborer
John Simpson Tackett; (Indiana & Idaho); Railroad Car Inspector
Kelso Edward Tackett; (Indiana); Section Hand
Raymond Rule Tackett; (Illinois); Railroad Car Inspector
Joseph Elmer Wagoner; (Indiana); Engineer, Monon RR
Lee Omer Wagoner; (Indiana);Railroad Worker
Stephen Douglas Wagner; (Indiana) Laborer
James H. Weidenhammer; (Pennsylvania) Brakeman
John Jacob Weidenhammer; (Illinois) Laborer
William C. Weidenhammer; (Illinois) Brakeman

Farmer vs. Railroad

In a chapter of his book on local history about Eugene Township, Indiana (1963), Harold L. O'Donnell writes about the Chicago and Eastern Illinois (C&EI) Railroad coming to town, and he discusses the danger it was to livestock.

"Livestock in the early day were a constant source of trouble between the railroads and the farmers. Stock would be killed and it was, of course, always the fault of the railroads. In one case a farmer had a hog killed by a train and since he believed himself to have some ability as a poet, wrote the railroad claim agent as follows:

My razorback strolled down your track,
A week ago today.
Your #29 came down the line,
And snuffed his life away.
You can't blame me; the hog you see,
Slipped through a cattle gate;
So kindly pen a check for ten,
The debt to liquidate.

He was surprised a few days later to receive the following:

Old #29 came down the line,
And killed your hog, we know;
But razorbacks on railroad tracks,
Quite often meet with woe.
Therefore, my friend, we cannot send,
The check for which you pine,
Just plant the dead; place o'er his head;
'Here lies a foolish swine.'"4

1Ared Maurice Murphy, "The Big Four Railroad in Indiana,"
Indiana Magazine of History 21 (Jun-Sep 1925) p. 121
2Jacob P. Dunn, Greater Indianapolis (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co. 1910) p. 143
3Northwestern Ohio Rails-to-Trails Association, Inc. Wabash Cannonball Trail, Sept. 2001
4From a history of Eugene Township (Indiana) by Harold L. O'Donnell, 1963

Indiana Railroad Resources & Links:

Simons, Richard S. and Francis H. Parker, Railroads of Indiana (Indiana University Press, 1997)

Indiana Railroads - Dedicated to All of the Hoosier State's Railroads,

History of the Wabash Line (Northwestern Ohio Rails-to-Trails Assn.)

Indiana State Historical Society

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