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A Chance at Progress

By Yorgo Douramacos

Indiana Crossrails came as complete surprise to me. Even before it had a name, its proposed existence shocked me to my core.

Fall semester 2014: I was a thirty-two year old undergrad inching my way ever closer to my long delayed graduation. I was giving thought to what classes I could take to fill out my few remaining requirements. Then someone who knew of my interest in Indiana’s electric rail history told me that an immersive learning project was being planned for the spring advocating for mass transit. “…kind of a train thing, I think.” was what she told me.

I live at a reduced pace from most people. As a thirty-three year old who just this last Saturday graduated college I can say with confidence that I like to take my own time with things. I so distrust speed that I have never had my driver’s license. I took driver’s-ed in the summer of 1997 and immediately decided I would live without that certification for as long as I could.

In my twenties, as I linked my life on foot and through the good graces of friends and family willing to give rides for gas money I became aware of Indiana’s history as a place once extensively connected by regional rail transit. The Interurban rail system that existed from the 1890s through the 1930s (more closely accounted elsewhere on this website) was a like ghostly witness against the notion of positive cultural progress, the idea that mankind changes for the better over time. It taunted me from old photographs and historical documents.

It never occurred to me that other people might care to hear about my obsession with a world connected by accessible transit. I knew that some people in some places had it, but as a slow moving cynic it did not occur to me that the young, energetic and the intelligent might see it as a cause worth their time. As far as I could see everyone drove and no one really cared

Enter Indiana Crossrails. I joined this project not knowing what to expect and what I have found is something I could not have imagined: a reason to be hopeful. I have encountered talented people who believe enough in the cause of mass rail transit to work ever harder and harder to see this project through. I am inspired by their energy and excited for what they will each accomplish in their lives.
Wherever I go next I will likely get there slowly. But if nothing else Indiana Crossrails has allowed me something that will see me through to my next destination, a belief in the possibility of positive cultural progress.

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More Weight on the Bar

This semester has been one of hard work and closure that began with an opportunity, a choice. Chris Flook approached me about working on the Indiana Crossrails project I was immediately in. He knows how to promote a learning environment that not only achieves curriculum set forth by the university, but he also knows how to promote professionalism. These two characteristics made it a no brainer to join him on the journey to advocate for mass rail transit here in Indiana.

The semester began in January with the normal team introductions as well as how we wanted to attack this campaign. There was talk of an interpretive dance, a small theatrical play, and even just taping ourselves playing Train Conductor for a little bit in order to shed light on this situation. In the end we decided that research papers, a commercial series, and a full-length documentary were the best options we had.

In my ethics class my professor is known for asking students to, “put more weight on the bar.” This basically boils down to, what good is going through life by simply doing the minimal to achieve a task? One should want to put as much as they can into a project in order to get as much as they possibly can out of said project. When I faced my senior year and was only getting six credit hours out of the class due to taking three other classes on top of my time at the VBC I was faced with the more weight conundrum. I could sit around and only help with minimal tasks and just work in a small portion of the project, or I could step up and help direct a part of the commercial series. I chose the second option.

After I had made that choice and the teams were set it was time to begin scouting. This project would need to be one that covered exactly what we wanted to cover in order to give a solid argument for mass rail transit here in Indiana. We decided as a team that our journey would need to take us around certain parts of the country in order to show how mass rail transit is helping other states. This decision led the team to: Colorado, North Carolina, Michigan, Illinois and Northern Indiana.

Through the travel process we were able to conduct interviews with CEOs of some of the nation’s leading rail lines as well as individuals that use mass rail transit on a daily basis. The footage bin was immense and it was time to get to work on cutting them into the commercials as well as the documentary. The post apocalypse was upon us.

For the past month and a half a group of awesome individuals have been working on editing the stories, the sounds, the colors, and the graphics in order to make this campaign a huge success. The amount of man hours put into this project is enormous and would have likely cost an actual company close to a million dollars in order to put together something of this quality and pay a team. I would not trade these unpaid hours for anything in the world.

This project has connected me with individuals that I look forward to seeing progress in their future lives. There are leaders in this class that will soon become executives at major communications firms. There are individuals that are breaking down the barriers that Hollywood has set forth in an attempt to keep men on top of the production ladder. There are creatives in this class that I know will continue to develop their skills and blow my minds with what they can create.

As this project now comes to a close there is nothing that I would have rather done in my last semester here at Ball State University. I know that working with this group has only helped to build my soft and hard skills when it comes to production, but it has also helped build new relationships and memories with individuals that will stay with me for a lifetime.

As I walk across the stage on Saturday, I will know that I did do all I could in order to put more weight on the bar when it came to classes. I want to send out a sincere thank you to Chris Flook for being a great mentor and professor as well as the entire team of this project. Without each and every one of you this would not have been the success that it has been and will continue to be.

Now the journey is up to you Indiana. Will you make the transit choice?

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Nathan K. Wilson

Commercial Director

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Rail Transit is the Future

Photo courtesy: James G. Howes

By: Ariel Wagner

Six months ago if you were to ask me about trains I would have told you that I thought they were “cool.” Ask me about trains today and I would begin with a very vehement, “Well, let me tell you about trains!”

I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to work with an exquisite team, Indiana Crossrails. It has been an experience of a lifetime, and I have become very zealous about mass rail transit.

I worked on the project as a historical researcher. My main topics of focus were women equality on the railroad and the military use of rail, primarily during the Civil War and World War II. Understanding the history of the railroad allowed for me to better grasp the impact rail will have for our future. Trains are a part of history AND they are the connection to the future. I never really understood the significance of their existence or how they could benefit my life until I finally listened to the whistle and looked past the clunking metal.

Trains helped fuel the American spirit. They are beautiful, mechanical beasts that showcase man’s imagination. They clunk past with aggression but with magnificent purpose that boosts American pride because man took a simple idea and created a beast of beauty. Trains are fascinating! They should be marveled for their greatness because they are intimidating creatures built by human ingenuity.

If it wasn’t for my involvement in Indiana Crossrails I never would have recognized the allurement and dependability mass rail transit has to offer. Small towns are the heart and backbone of America. Indiana is home to some of the quaintest small towns, allowing for an escape from the malevolence of the city, but they are becoming more like ghosts towns because people are not connected. Rail is the ticket. It can allow for small towns to again thrive because rail allows for an orderly guide in a chaotic life.

This project has TRAINSsformed my perspective on passenger rail. It is no longer just a topic of discussion, but something I am very passionate about. The simplicity, beauty, and meticulous nature of the project reminded me of how fast our world moves. The hustle and bustle, the traffic jams, the constant roadwork has become a norm, but I want the serenity that rail offers. Trains allow for passengers to slow down, to enjoy the scenery, and to remember that life isn’t always about the destination but the journey.

When I became a part of Indiana Crossrails I never knew how much it would affect me. Rail is the future. I am on board, are you?

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Teamwork Extraordinaires: The Kathie Green and Jill Clark Story

By: Cassandra Eiler

April 28 – Tuesday of the final week of the semester…the final week of actively working on the Indiana Crossrails project that has so wonderfully fulfilled my life for the past 4+ months. I’m reflecting on everything that has happened in that time period. A memory from this past weekend comes to mind:

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Naperville, IL – I’m driving the equipment van down a busy street in Naperville. Kathie sits in the passenger seat with the camera, and Jill acts as DJ with the throwback 90s music on her iPod from the seat behind me. Up ahead of us, lights start flashing and the railroad crossing gates lower as the sounds of a freight train fill the air. While most people may sigh impatiently in this situation, the three of us cheer enthusiastically.

“A TRAIN!!!”

Kathie rolls down the window and automatically starts filming. We’re advocating for passenger rail, but at this point, we pretty much love trains of all shapes, sizes, and types.

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I’ve gained a lot of knowledge about mass rail transit, trains, and documentary film this semester. I know the difference between light rail and commuter rail. I know how impactful these transit systems can be in a community. And I know that trusting the director of photography is essential, especially when she’s Kathie Green and knows what she’s doing.

That actually leads me to my main point: how much I’ve learned about people, mainly the aforementioned Kathie Green and Jill Clark – the infamous DP and AC team that has rocked this project. I’ve learned more from these two amazing women in the past couple of months than I could’ve imagined.

Kathie taught me the functions of a documentary production team, the roles of all the members, and the importance of not freaking out with nerves before conducting an interview. Through her example, I saw proper ways to demonstrate authority on set and lead an efficient production team. Considering I practically lived with Kathie and Jill on interview days and b-roll weeks, I picked up information about camera functions, lenses, filters, and lighting just from listening to Kathie teach Jill. Most importantly, I saw how to support and love my team members, how to constantly see the beauty and excitement in the little things – whether that’s coffee, a sign for a nature preserve, or flowing water (seriously, you should’ve seen Kathie at the Indiana Dunes), and how to sleep anywhere. That’s mainly referring to her habit of curling up like a koala bear in the passenger seat of vehicles while I drove at night and then always waking with a start to apologize for falling asleep; at a point, all I could do was laugh at her predictable and unnecessary apology – with as hard as she worked all day, she had to sleep sometime.

In similar fashion, Jill had her own wisdom to unknowingly share. Every single day, without fail, she demonstrated the most positive attitude imaginable. I can almost guarantee that most people have not seen someone as excited to build the camera rig, switch camera lenses, or pull focus as Jill Clark. She jumped – almost literally – at every opportunity to help someone out with any aspect of this project. She navigated and kept the crew alive and sane in Chicago, she had snacks at the ready for Kathie at all points in time, and she set new fashion examples on every set with her flannel shirts and bandanas. I learned an invaluable amount about staying enthusiastic and casually walking down sidewalks for b-roll shots from this irreplaceable team player.

In a few weeks, Kathie will be moving to Arizona to begin her amazing new job as a trail conservation worker, helping to preserve the trails in national and state parks out west. She’ll get to live her dream of being immersed in the outdoors while taking care of the landscape that she so passionately loves. Ball State, Indiana Crossrails, and especially this blog writer will be sad to see her go, but she has brought so much to the Muncie community that I can’t help but feel overjoyed as she begins the next step in her life.

Jill will continue at Ball State for another year, stepping into her own role as a director of photography for a number of projects. I have the very good fortune of getting to work with her in the fall semester, and I’m beyond excited to see how she carries her enthusiasm into this new role. I have no doubt that she will affect the lives of her own ACs in the same way that Kathie has affected ours.

I have already gushed enough about these two, and I could definitely brag about them more, but I’ll let their work on our documentary and commercials from this semester say the rest. I just know that my life – both personally and from a TCOM-related standpoint – has been significantly impacted by these wonderful women.

 

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Indiana Crossrails: A Transit Choice – Screening

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE April 27, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA — Ball State University students at the Virginia Ball Center will debut their documentary, Indiana Crossrails: A Transit Choice on Saturday, May 9, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The premiere will take place at 11:00am in Ball State University’s Indianapolis Center, 50 South Meridian Street. Coinciding with National Train Day, the showcase will include an open house from 11:00am ­ 12:00pm and will conclude with a screening of the project documentary at 12:00pm. The public is encouraged to attend.

Indiana Crossrails: A Transit Choice is the primary component of the Indiana Crossrails project. Beginning in January 2015, a team of Ball State students began working closely with the Indiana Citizens Alliance for Transit (ICAT) and Amtrak to produce an advocacy campaign focusing on the growth and development of mass rail transit in the state of Indiana. The campaign seeks to raise awareness in Hoosiers about rail transit options, including: rapid transit in dense urban areas, commuter/light rail connections between large cities and suburbs, and an expansion of regional/inter­city service. The documentary, supporting research, commercials, and other materials are located on the project website at: http://www.indianacrossrails.org/.

The team also produced a promotional spot for mass rail transit, available at: https://vimeo.com/124356972.

“We wanted to show that advocating for mass transit isn’t championing the use of trains over cars.” said Kiefer Wiseman, executive producer and one of the documentary’s directors. “Our campaign and our documentary show that rail is best when integrated with existing transit systems.”

The documentary was divided into five sections including: the history of mass rail transit, Indiana’s existing systems, economic considerations, the environmental impact, and the future of mass rail transit for the state. Each section had a different director. “We took a different approach with five directors for this film,” said Garret Brubaker, director and lead editor. “There was so much material to cover, we thought it best to divide the research into five manageable sections.” Various teams traveled extensively throughout Indiana, but also around the United States to conduct interviews and acquire digital assets for the project. “We traveled to Utah, Colorado, Chicago, Michigan, and North Carolina to get what we needed. We had to go far because Indiana doesn’t really have much beyond the South Shore Line and Amtrak,” Brubaker said.

Eighteen students participated in the project from a variety of disciplines including Urban Planning, Telecommunications, English, History, and Communication Studies. The project’s faculty advisor Chris Flook felt that “the team understood the positive implications of a system that includes rail. The U.S. is one of the only industrialized nations that doesn’t have a comprehensive transit plan with viable rail options. The documentary poses the question, what if?” Flook added “we were paying close attention to the revised plan that Amtrak, the Indiana Department of Transportation, and Iowa Pacific developed recently. It’s refreshing to see that Hoosier State service will continue.”

The documentary will be published on the project website, along with a series of commercials and supporting research documents: http://www.indianacrossrails.org/.

For any further questions or inquiries, please contact the faculty advisor, Chris Flook, at: caflook@bsu.edu. ###

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Trains as the Future

(photo courtesy of Brandon Wiseman)

By: Kiefer Wiseman

As a child I was fortunate enough to go to Disney World. For those of you who have not been to Disney one of the main forms of transportation between the parks, hotels and restaurants is their monorail. I remember being awestruck by this futuristic machine that took me from place to place. What I did not realize was that this wasn’t futuristic but rather a current mode of transportation that was slowly fading out of public use. Why is that when I was younger I saw that trains were the future, but then took me years again to realize that these same trains are still the future?

I have grown up in Midwest America all of my life. We have plenty to look at such as corn, small shops and if we drive a few miles, the city of Indianapolis. There is one thing that we don’t have to look at, which are trains. Since we did not have trains here in central Indiana I was amazed when I saw mass rail transit being used in Disney. I just needed to be introduced to it.

Mass rail transit is still the future. People just need to be exposed to it. These trains are still futuristic. We can travel at close to a hundred miles an hour while being on our phones, reading books, or just relaxing. Trains can provide Wi-Fi, food, a better environment and introduce us to people we would have never meet if we stayed in our cars. Instead of slowly allowing trains to fade away we need to get people the chance to be awestruck by trains similar to little Kiefer when I was a child. We need to show people that trains are not the past but are also the transportation of the future.

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An Unspoken Language

By: Jill Clark

“Cassandra?”

Cassandra hands me her coffee and throws my flannel over Kathie’s head to reduce the glare on the camera screen.

“Let’s go ahead and put the 50 on.”

I gently swing my backpack off my shoulders. The exterior has two bandannas tied onto the handle, Kathie’s water bottle attached to the back pocket, and the sides are filled with granola bars and crackers. I prep the lens to be put on the camera, and Kathie hands me the 85. I place it in its appropriate case, rearrange my backpack, and check oncoming traffic for the shot we are capturing. Once the shot is captured, I hand Kathie her water bottle without her asking. She takes a long drink from it and hands it back to me while I am conversing with a stranger who has stopped to ask us about our project. Without missing a beat, I grab it and clip it back to the carabineer.

We are on hour 9 of our day, on our first full day in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Walking through the streets of Charlotte and trying not to look like tourists, we get curious looks from passersby as Kathie cradles the camera like a newborn child. It’s been two hours since our last cup of coffee, and the talking and joking has died down. Without saying a thing, I pull out four granola bars and distribute them to our group. Almost immediately, we burst back into conversation. We have picked up our second wind, or maybe our fifth by this point.

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It’s late March in South Bend, but it has already snowed three inches. That’s Indiana weather for you. Dressed in four different layers, we stake our claim outside the South Shore stop, waiting for the 100-year-old train system to make its way through the street.

“Got it.”

Kathie says, as she takes the camera off the tripod. I break the tripod down in seconds, toss Cassandra the van keys from my vest pocket, and we are already back in the car, all without a word.

We arrive back at the hotel, and our rote memory kicks in. I take the solid state out of the camera, and Kathie retreats to dump the footage. Cassandra pulls up the call sheet to assure we’ve captured all we can, and I confirm that all the equipment is present.

At this point, it would seem that we can read each other’s minds. Kathie comes back into the room, Cassandra shuts her computer, and we all look at each other. We grab our wallets and decide where to eat, as if we were communicating by brain wave.

After spending many long days with each other, we have perfected the art of non-verbal communication. As Kathie’s assistant, I can tell when she’s going to need a lens change or a filter adjustment before she asks. Whatever she needs, I am always ready for it. Cassandra knows exactly when Kathie will need the glare blocked from the camera, and I know to immediately grab Cassandra’s coffee when she throws the flannel over Kathie’s head to block the light.

We have spent countless hours filming, running for shots, and capturing time lapses, most done on little to no sleep.  We have consumed numerous cups of coffee, eaten our weight in granola, and have become the experts of carrying large equipment around congested cities. You develop an unspoken language with your crewmembers that allows you to communicate in a flawless manner. At the end of the day, regardless of the fancy equipment we have access to, and the beautiful shots we’ve taken, it means nothing if you cannot read your crew. Communication is the most important tool you can carry, and we have mastered it.

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Side Roads and Lessons in Transit History Pt. 2 – Interurbans and the South Shore

By: Yorgo Douramacos

The South Shore electric rail line out of South Bend Indiana is a persistent anomaly. In a state separated by distances and only connected by roads, roads seeming to encourage travel without offering any help toward that end, The South Shore runs consistently through town, country, parkland and urban center.

Beginning in the late 1880s Indiana was connected by a complex network of interurban rail lines. Modern in many respects, even by today’s standards, these “Interurbans” made it possible to live a modern connected life well not the twentieth century without recourse to a car. For me, having studied Indiana’s transportation history, the legacy of rail connectivity that died out nearly eighty years ago, stepping on to The South Shore feels like rubbing elbows with ghosts.

The Interurbans arose at a time when cars were ascendent, and when the manufacture economy bred a healthy middle class that could afford them. Thus the Interurbans were not long for this world. Their peak lasted only a couple of decades at the beginning of the 1900’s. They were run by private businesses whose only motivation in continuing service was their profitability. Their public utility and community importance would have meant little in the decision to end service.

The South Shore narrowly persisted through the era of rail closures in the 1940s through 60s. And today find themselves as in demand as ever, connecting the northern Indiana corridor with the Chicagoland economic centers. As a result, on a day in March when it had snowed five inches in a few hours, a crew and I stood with cameras ready near a whited-out rail road track with buzzing electric wires overhead. Trying to glimpse the silver streak of the West bound South Shore train. The snow collected on the track pasted us as the train wheels threw it aside. The snow settled around us as a frigid dust cloud in the train’s squealing wake and finally left us with only the buzzing wires over head and the silent snowflakes still falling from the sky.

The electric Interurbans of Indiana’s past still have a legacy. If you go to South Bend, or Michigan City, or Dune’s State Park, or Hammond, or Gary you can catch the train in either direction and look out the window and it’s still Indiana rolling past outside train windows. The connectivity and convenience are both reminder and motivation. What was and is can also become.

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Side Roads and Lessons in Transit History Pt. 1- Canals

By: Yorgo Douramacos

The canal remnants in Metamora Indiana look like what they are. An unfinished idea. Down among the hills that begin just south of the state’s center line, the artificial waterway cuts beside railroads and rural houses. Most of it stands dry and over grown, a mere ditch that’s only recognizable because of signs telling you what was meant to be there. A small portion curls picturesquely beside a walking trail with a gentle stream of water.

In the small restored 19th century village of Metamora the canal still has a bit of life as a historic site and tourist attraction. One of the locks is kept functioning and there is even an old flatboat which is occasionally pulled by a draft horse.

It’s a testament to how far mobility came in a very short span of time early in Indiana’s history. Before railroads it was seen as an inherently profitable endeavor to connect waterways with man made channels. You moved enough earth so as to fill the space with enough water to float a boat and then you controlled the flow by means of enormous doors. All for the sake of moving people and goods in a very limited range of direction and distance. But a limited advance was still an advance and canals were king, particularly in commercial transportation for a brief time between 1825 and 1840.

Indiana’s history with canals was brief and dramatic. A large investment of public funds was procured with the Internal Improvements Bill  of 1836 which began a statewide series of simultaneous canal projects. The endeavor fell prey to national economic distress, internal corruption and general overreach of the project and by 1841 Indiana could not even meet the interest payments to their creditors.

The fallout from the endeavor left an entire political party (the Whigs) permanently unviable in Indiana and caused a radical shift in Indiana’s attitude toward spending on improvements. It was written into a new state constitution that Indiana was not to go into debt.

And true to its principles the state did not invest considerably in either railroads or roads until the age of the highway and the automobile in the twentieth century. The nineteenth century railroad boom was carried out by private concerns as was there electric interurban network of the early twentieth. But with State Highway 52 running busily and well kept beside it one should reflect that the legacy of the canals no longer haunts this state and that Indiana is no longer afraid of infrastructure investment.

Without the fear of old ghosts a lot can be accomplished when possessed by new visions.

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Lincoln’s Funeral Train

By: Ariel Wagner

This week marked the 150 year Anniversary of the Great Emancipator’s assassination. Abraham Lincoln was shot April 14, 1865 by John Wilkes Booth, and died April 15 from his wounds.

The country was grief-stricken as the event shook the country with emotion. The country mourned as it never mourned before. But the national tragedy brought the people together.

It was decided by his grieving widow that he was to be buried in his home state capital, Springfield, Illinois. A train carried Lincoln’s body through eight states with military control the entire duration of the trip. Millions came to pay their respects and look upon their beloved leader one last time. Over 50,000 people paid their respects for the death of the honest man when the train stopped at the Indiana State House. Even more grieved as they watched the procession pass. It was a time for a broken nation to reflect on Lincoln’s life and legacy.

The funeral train consisted of nine cars and the coffin was constantly on special guardianship. The funeral train was decorated with a portrait of the president on the front of the engine with banners and flags to commemorate the nation’s hero while stimulating patriotism amongst the crowds. The train commenced on April 21st and would conclude on May 3rd in Springfield.

Lincoln is an American icon and his spirit still pervades.

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