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Tracks Through Time: The Trains of 1970s Bloomington

“Monroe County Courthouse”: A northbound Amtrak “Floridian” makes a station stop in Bloomington. We are looking eastward along West 6th Street, with the iconic Monroe County Courthouse beyond. The building just behind the train now houses Janko’s Little Zagreb. The date of the photograph is October 16, 1977. | Photo by Richard Koenig

Photographer Richard Koenig spent his formative years chasing trains along the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad and the Louisville & Nashville line — better known as the Monon — in and around Bloomington. Though Bloomington was never a bustling railroad town, its businesses and residents have relied on the railroad since the 1850s. Limestone Post gets a historic look as Koenig, now professor of art at Kalamazoo College, revisits images he captured of those railroad lines using a Minolta SLR camera with Kodak Kodachrome 64 color film and Kodak Tri-X black-and-white film during the mid- to late 1970s.

I grew up in Bloomington and became interested in railroads when my family moved near the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad (ICG) line on the east side of town in 1972.

Later, after learning to drive, as I ran around with my friends, we would often chase trains on the ICG. This railroad is a well-built and modern railroad. Constructed in the early part of the 20th century, it is known as the Hi-Dry for its high bridges and “fills,” or filled in low areas. We were drawn to the fabled spots along the route, such as the two high trestles, Shuffle Creek Trestle near Lake Lemon to the east and Tulip Trestle (also called the Richland Creek Viaduct) near Solsberry to the west, as well as to a tunnel that goes under North Tunnel Road in Unionville.

The other line in town, the Louisville & Nashville (L&N), originally the Monon in these parts, was interesting in other ways. It is quite a bit older, constructed in the 1850s, so it has a completely different feel. More organic in nature, this railroad snakes back and forth, close to the ground, following Clear Creek to the south toward Harrodsburg and on to Bedford. Another charismatic aspect of this line is that it hosted passenger service for a time in the late 1970s — Amtrak’s Floridian.

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The Illinois Central Gulf line became the Indiana Rail Road — which is still active today — while the L&N was abandoned (for the most part) and is now a popular bike path, some of which is the B-Line Trail in downtown Bloomington. Looking at these images today, some 40 years later, I’m still interested in the railroad equipment and structures, but perhaps more so in the context and surroundings of the railroad. Perhaps I’m simply being nostalgic, but I’m intrigued by how things have changed — or not — in and around Bloomington since the mid- to late 1970s.

Photo by Richard Koenig

Southbound Extra, Shuffle Creek Viaduct

This train, on the Shuffle Creek Trestle near Lake Lemon, is on the Illinois Central Gulf branch to Indianapolis. Due to high bridges and fills, the line has historically been referred to as the Hi-Dry. This light train was sent south from Indianapolis, on January 28, 1978, to clear an accumulation of snow from the cuts.

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Photo by Richard Koenig

Caboose Hop

Here a locomotive still painted for the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Railroad (GM&O), a line that merged with the Illinois Central Railroad (IC) to become Illinois Central Gulf Railroad (ICG) in 1972, pulls a caboose through the tunnel in Unionville. The “train” is headed southbound, toward Bloomington.

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Photo by Richard Koenig

From the Main Drag

The Illinois Central Railroad, prior to the merger with the GM&O, painted their locomotives the solid black scheme seen here. This photograph, taken during the fall of 1979 near North Walnut and East 12th streets, provides a nice inventory of automobiles in use at the time, along with a business or two along Walnut.

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Photo by Richard Koenig

The Hi-Dry

This southbound train is seen just east of Solsberry, from a bridge carrying State Road 43, with semitrailers being carried “piggyback.” The train is headed for the famous Tulip Trestle (also called the Richland Creek Viaduct), located west of Solsberry, on October 13, 1976.

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Photo by Richard Koenig

Bicentennial Unit Comes to Town

The bicentennial unit of the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad is leading a northbound freight train over Tulip Trestle — one of the longest viaducts in the world, built in 1906 — west of Solsberry on February 2, 1976. Many railroads painted locomotives in creative red, white, and blue schemes at that time to commemorate the bicentennial of the country.

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Photo by Richard Koenig

Limited Visibility

A southbound train — a Louisville & Nashville (L&N), which was the former Monon mainline between Chicago and Louisville — is seen just north of Bloomington where Vernal Pike crosses over the line utilizing a timber bridge just west of Curry Pike. This shot was taken on a snowy day, January 9, 1977.

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Photo by Richard Koenig

Limited Clearance

This image was made looking northward along the L&N as it crosses West 6th Street in downtown Bloomington. In the shot, one can see Hays Market, Le Petit Cafe, and Johnson Creamery beyond. The space available for the train, between the restaurant and the market, is narrow, indeed, but works fine for today’s B-Line Trail. The silos in the background stood near where The Banquet Table now sits in Showers Plaza. The photograph was taken in the summer of 1983.

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Photo by Richard Koenig

Amtrak Floridian Boards

This southbound Amtrak Floridian was shot near the center of Bloomington. The Monon previously had a wonderful limestone station at this location, where the drive-in bank is seen. The station had long been demolished by the time of this image being made in the mid- to late 1970s, when passengers had only the use of a tiny cinder-block structure for shelter. The building behind the train to the right is now The Tap Brew Pub; the one to the left is Graham Plaza.

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Photo by Richard Koenig

Southbound Floridian

Here we see a southbound Amtrak Floridian, crossing South Rogers Street at Clear Creek. E9A number 408 (formerly of the Milwaukee Road, numbered 201C and later 31C) is in charge of the train this day, March 30, 1977.

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Richard Koenig
Born in 1960, Richard Koenig received his BFA from Pratt Institute. In 1998 he received his MFA from Indiana University and began teaching photography courses at Kalamazoo College, Michigan.

 His work, Photographic Prevarications, was shown in six one-person exhibits in as many years (2007 to 2012). In the summer of 2010, he began working on a long-term documentary project called Contemporary Views Along the First Transcontinental Railroad. 
These bodies of work can be seen here. Richard is also working on several “memoir” projects where the mining of negatives, made in Bloomington, Indiana, and Brooklyn, New York, will be utilized.
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