Central Indiana Rails Aided 1961 Wintry Rescue
Fifty years ago this past February 26, a heavy snowstorm blanketed Madison County and central Indiana. It stranded fans attending the basketball sectional championship game at Madison Heights High School, many of them overnight. There were numerous accounts of rescues throughout the area, but none quite as unusual as the motorists stranded on Indiana 32 west of Anderson. They were rescued by a Central Indiana Railroad freight train.
The old railroad had been a fixture in central Indiana since its formation July 3, 1871, as the Anderson, Lebanon & St. Louis railroad. Fourteen years after its beginning, the railroad was reorganized and named the Midland Railway Company. After experiencing a series of financial reverses and name changes, the railroad was sold, and on March 16, 1903, emerged as the Central Indiana Railway, the name it retained until its demise in 1986.
Sometime before 1912, the rail line started passenger train operations that lasted until 1925. Although the Central Indiana curtailed regular passenger train service, it ran several excursion trains a year using borrowed Monon or Pennsylvania cars. Many of those were weekend baseball specials to Chicago or Cincinnati.
However, it was the local freight service that sustained the railroad in its later years. Initially, it served communities from Muncie to Brazil, a distance of 117 miles, but by 1942 that distance had been reduced to a mere 44 miles between Anderson and Lebanon.
It served the communities of Bloomer, Lapel, Durbin, Noblesville, Westfield, Eagletown, Jolietville, Rosston, and Gadsden. It was on the section of the rail line between Lapel and Noblesville that the 1961 snow storm rescue took place.
Saved By The Train
The storm arrived during the late afternoon on that Saturday and, by night, motorists traveling on Indiana 32 between Anderson and Noblesville found they were unable to move because of the high drifting snow that blanketed the highway. Some found refuge in nearby farm homes while others remained in the vehicles.
The snow presented a problem to the railroad as well. In previous years, the Central Indiana had become stuck a few times, but conditions were not nearly as severe as those confronting the trains on that day. Fortunately for the stranded individuals, a freight train heading west, which was running several hours late, happened along just at the right time to offer assistance to many stranded automobile, truck, and bus passengers.
On the way to Noblesville, members of the train crew stopped wherever a marooned vehicle was spotted along paralleling Indiana 32 and investigated to determine if anyone needed help. The train got into Noblesville about 9:30 at night and started the return trip to Anderson at midnight, bringing nine of the storm victims back to Anderson. The non-stop trip took four hours. Altogether, 60 or more persons were rescued between Anderson and Noblesville. They were thankful they had not been marooned west of Noblesville when they learned what had happened that following Monday.
Weather conditions there were even worse. A Central Indiana train tried to make its way to Lebanon and became stuck in a deep snowdrift about halfway between Noblesville and Westfield.
After failing to break through a heavy drift three miles east of Westfield on that Monday, the train returned to Anderson, and the next day section hands tackled the big bank of snow. Pushing a loaded coal car in front of a Central Indiana locomotive, a 600-horsepower General Motors switcher acquired by the railroad in 1949, they finally blasted through the wet and heavy mass. It wasn't until Tuesday afternoon that the tracks could be opened up and regular runs could be resumed to Lebanon.
The railroad's superintendent, Paul Perdieu, reported that the blizzard was the worse in his 40 years of railroading.
Today, the old abandoned rail bed remains in place predominately in the area west of Lapel stretching almost to Noblesville, with an occasional break revealing where a bridge once crossed a creek or gully. Located immediately south of Indiana 32, the bed is now overgrown, making it hard to see in the summer. However, it reveals itself in winter quite well, particularly when silhouetted against the landscape, and especially when covered with snow.
And when it does, it is not hard to imagine a cold, snowy night in February 1961, when a train suddenly appeared out of the dark with a beam of welcome light from its headlight piercing the blowing snow, stopping to help those who otherwise may have suffered a different fate.
By Stephen T. Jackson, Madison County Historian
Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765) firstname.lastname@example.org|www.andersonmchs.com