Vision of a Future Long Past (Morning on the Interurban)

Image: 1909 Interurban (Union Traction) line in Yorktown, Indiana.  Image courtesy of Ball State University’s Bracken Archives and Special Collections.

By: Yorgo Douramacos

One hundred years ago today the first passenger train of the day out of the Muncie, Indiana Union Traction terminal would have creaked and sparked to weary life well before the sun came up. In the cold dark hours before 5:00 am the crews, driver and conductor would have roused the equipment to life in time to roll out as scheduled at 4:38 am. With eleven planned stops and as many as forty-six more possible with flag-stops and crossings the electric train car was expected to come in to the spectacular steel buttressed station in downtown Indianapolis at 6:40 am. Then as now the sun would only be giving the barest hint of illuminating the horizon as the car made the turn back along its route and got underway at 7:05.

A young man waking up on a farm near Anderson, Indiana; he’d have woken like the Union Traction trains, early, reluctantly, but with an indomitable spark bred by determination and habit. He might have been out doing his chores as the clacking interurban car cut through his family’s pasture, an arrangement that had brought them electricity long before any of their neighbors. Most of whom still did not have it. The track was laid through on the route to and from Muncie around the time the young man was born eighteen years before. And as compensation for the use of his family’s land the company allowed them to feed a line from their electrical supply back to the farmhouse. His parents gave him a hard time for being soft, accustomed to the ease and luxury of electricity.

Maybe they were right. He could wake up and flick the switch to turn on a light on mornings like this when the sun was still three hours away. He’d been doing it all his life. First on his way to school and now, for the last three years, going to work. He’d been able catch the Interurban into Muncie and Alexandria to look for a job when all the places  closer by had told him no. And now everyday he could wake up and get his chores done and then ride the cars into Muncie where he made enough money he might be able to make his own way soon. The rides there and back everyday cost him about one hour’s wage.

  The dreams of his own future were what got him up everyday and motivated those first chilly steps out of bed. He’d have boarded the eastbound Union Traction car into Muncie around 5:50 am, making it with maybe an hour to spare before he was due for the 7:45 am shift change.

He’d get some hot coffee from a vender near the terminal. He’d get a newspaper and watch the sun come up at long last, turning the late winter clouds a brilliant fiery orange. Maybe he was softer than his parent’s generation, maybe he was different. The way he might have seen it though he was just faster, with more opportunity, going more places every day and hopefully getting where he wanted to be in his life very very soon.

Yorgo Douramacos is a researcher and documentary director for the Indiana Crossrails project.


Art of the Piece Part 4: G.H.O.S.T. Busters

Photo courtesy of Ellin Beltz – Creative Commons Share Aline 3.

By: Nathan Wilson

The annual cost of fighting graffiti in California is around 14 million dollars, according to an article in Graffiti L.A.. Due to this growing problem, the General Manager and Chief of Transit Police started the Graffiti Habitual Offender Suppression Team (G.H.O.S.T.).

The team of 20 officers takes on the problem of graffiti on a daily basis. The team goes incognito, takes individuals that they believe are guilty of graffiti, and follows them to spots videotaping them as they commit the crime. Those caught in the act are taken in and can face, at maximum, a $50,000 fine and one year in prison, at minimum, a $400 fine and up to six months in prison.

Make sure to take a look at: for more information.

“You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.” –Albert Einstein

Nathan Wilson is a director and assistant camera operator for the Indiana Crossrails Project.


Art of the Piece Part 3: Graffiti Phenomenon

By: Nathan Wilson

So let’s delve into some history on the phenomenon that is graffiti.

The first markings on the cars were that of chalk to give the arrival and departure times of the cars that were in transit. The markings also gave hints at the weight and contents inside the boxcars. These markings were given in order to assist those in the upcoming towns when the cars came in and needed to be unloaded.

When the hobo lifestyle was found out to be a cheap way to get across the U.S. in the early 20th century, new markings, with meanings known only by those that were in the loop, started appearing on the sides of the cars.

Take a trip to the 1970’s when the early hip-hop movement started and art on the rail canvas blasted off. The eruption of colors, characters, and words enveloped the subway tunnels and got rid of hidden meanings.

Mesh all three subcultures (chalk, hobo, subway) together and you will have a good start towards what we see on the rails today. We are given a mixture of the everyday and the profane. We are given a glimpse at a moving array of canvas on display in all fifty states that has the potential to be seen by upwards of 300 million individuals.

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” –Pablo Picasso

Nathan Wilson is a director and assistant camera operator for the Indiana Crossrails Project.


Art of the Piece Part 2: Where Math and Language Arts Meet

By: Nathan Wilson

I found myself counting the cars as they passed. So slowly as if the conductor was playing a game as to how slow he could go before he made my mother upset from having to wait any longer.

As I counted I found myself reading more than I did that day in class for my teacher. Quotes like, “Is there anyone out there,” “Do you care if I don’t know what to say,” and “love your yard” panned across my line of sight. I wanted to run alongside the cars and answer the questions. The writers were engaging and begged for participation.

As it so happens, I was stuck in the car. Seatbelt snug across my chest, I had no chance at escape. I had no chance to answer the questions that the artists posed as their art traveled across the country. I had to hope that one day the unanswered questions would find solace along their journey.

It’s hard to see the work and not admire the bravado.” –Andy Sturdevant

Nathan Wilson is a director and assistant camera operator for the Indiana Crossrails Project.


Art of the Piece Part 1: A Trip Down Memory Lane

By: Nathan Wilson

As a youth, I found myself waiting for the train to pass on a daily basis. As the five minutes passed and I sat beside my mother or grandmother I was not simply in the car. I was transported.

I found myself in a different world where people could speak their minds and whimsical characters roamed freely. I spent days in class devising ways in which I could become the next artist that would place his art on the ultimate canvas that would travel the world for all to see. I wanted to transport other kids like myself into new worlds.

As it so happens, I was not brave enough to traverse the miles on foot with a couple of paint cans in my backpack. I would simply have to settle for waiting until I was given another chance to view the next part of my own personal inductee into the eight wonders of the world, train graffiti.

“Those who can’t speak, must write.” –Railway Tag

Nathan Wilson is a director and assistant camera operator for the Indiana Crossrails Project.


Masters of Distance

Image Courtesy of Bart Everson.  Used under CC-2.

By: Yorgo Douramacos

Cars, highways, airplanes, buses, trains: we have defeated distance.

Time and space are ours to shape and utilize. Yet we have not expressed mastery over distance. Instead we are satisfied to merely dominate it. Mastery requires elegance, rational, and a sense of having chosen the best option rather than just the most immediate.

What might that look like?

Let me define what I mean. The state of Indiana has a population of roughly 6.6 million. According to the Bureau of Transportation statistics, as of 2012 it also had 5.95 million registered motor vehicles. Each of those vehicles runs daily to conquer the specter of distance. That is nearly a 1 to 1 ratio of solution to problem. That is what I mean by dominance. Each individual must overcome each individual distance and by means of an individualized solution each and every time the problem is encountered. There is no system, no forethought, no mastery.

Mastery means maximizing a solution’s effectiveness to reduce the problem’s impact on the individual. Lifting a weight with just your arms and hands shows dominance. Lifting it with the benefit of a lever and other hands shows mastery.

If highway transit as it is represents a daily reassertion of our dominance over distance, a sort of redundant and hubristic gloating over the body of our foe, integrated mass transit is dominance translated into mastery. Instead of a highway congested with thousands of individuals all lifting a 100% share of the same weight the system becomes a lever and fulcrum with a multitude of hands working to lift the weight together.

Car ownership is wonderful, freeing and destined to be part of any healthy and effective transit system. But the de facto requirement of car ownership is onerous and impractical. The risks of driving are sobering and pervasive. And for a culture that so long ago overcame distance as a barrier to daily life such a blunt and un-nuanced solution should strike us as antiquated and embarrassing.   

Yorgo Douramacos is a researcher and documentary director for the Indiana Crossrails project.


Interurban Rail: The Day the Future Arrived in Indiana

Image © 2012 Ball State University.  All Rights Reserved.  Photo courtesy of Ball State’s Archives and Special Collections.

By: Yorgo Douramacos

Chicago, 1893. The city was electric with excitement and full to capacity with crowds making their way to the Colombia Exhibition, The World’s Fair. The absolute nexus of the commercial, cultural, and technological universe for the space of five months, from May to October; and the crowds kept coming.

Items and ideas that would revolutionize daily life as much or more than Fulton’s Steam Engine, Morse’s Telegraph, and Bell’s Telephone glinted under electric lights.  The Westinghouse Company had been given the contract to electrify the fair grounds and the sleek gleaming generators churned and hummed in every pavilion. The torch-like brilliance of the six hundred acres and two hundred buildings of The World’s Fair declared the wonders of electric dynamism. It was the hubristic shout of a culture intent upon illuminating and motivating the future through the harnessing of an elemental force.

Among the crowds that summer from the busy and expanding, but by comparison, sleepy and rural town of Anderson, Indiana was one Charles Lewis Henry. Anderson was a town expanding at a time when the world itself could often appear to be straining at its stitches, especially at a place like the Chicago World’s fair. Also at the exhibition, showing his own innovations in the realm of electric utility, was former Thomas Edison associate, Frank L. Sprague.

Outside the exhibition hall one could hear steam whistles from trains being rocketed across the country under the power of burning coal. In Sprague’s mind though, following in the paths of similar inventors, locomotion needed to advance and that advance would be powered by electricity. Sprague had worked long and hard developing an electrical engine and had success with an electric train line he had supplied and established in Richmond, Virginia.

Charles L. Henry had electric rail in common with Sprague. With an eye toward connecting the factories recently attracted to Anderson with its potential work force, Henry had worked tirelessly to bring local electric rail service to his town. But as befits a restless mind in a dynamic age, Henry was ready for the next idea. As he puts it, “…it was while I was attending the Fair that I became more and more interested in the Interurban project.”

He had connected his town and, inspired by the size and rambunctious ambition of the Colombia Exhibition, naturally expanded his vision. He wanted to connect towns together. Upon coming back home to Indiana he did indeed begin working to establish an interurban line. By 1898 he would succeed and co-found Union Traction Company.

On June 1st the Union Traction Company made its inaugural run between the towns of Anderson and Alexandria. It was a seemingly prosaic distance of less than ten miles but the sense of leaping an impossible barrier was immense at the time. Distance and the range across which people could conduct their lives had been suddenly redefined. The spirit of The World’s Fair had been brought to Indiana and people rode Union Traction trains for decades thereafter.

Yorgo Douramacos is a researcher and documentary director for the Indiana Crossrails project.


Equality on the Railroad

Photo (CC-3): From Shirley Burman, “Women and the American Railroad.” Photograph by Richard Steinheimer. Used under license with permission of Shirley Burman.

By: Ariel Wagner

Railroads have been offering women jobs throughout history, but not without being unjust. Women could be denied a job simply because of their gender and even denied equal pay. All these hardships would come to an end when one courageous heroine refused to be denied a career because of her gender.

Leah Rosenfeld fought for women’s equality to work on the railroad. She was a persistent advocate for hard work, who dedicated her career to the railroad but also made it her mission to see justice in the network.

In October 1944, during World War II, Leah and her husband were desperate for extra income, so she took it upon herself to complete telegraphy and clerical courses, and went on to work at Southern Pacific Railroad. She worked as a railroad telegrapher and station agent, and in 1953, after her divorce, she began to work mostly in desert areas because most men were reluctant to take these jobs. An opportunity arose for Rosenfeld to be promoted in 1955 in Saugus, California, and although she had ten year seniority she was denied the position. Southern Pacific Railroad claimed that  California’s “women’s protective laws” banned women from lifting over 25 pounds or working for more than 8 hours a day. For eleven years Rosenfeld fought for her application to be accepted, but each time she was deprived of employment opportunities, and the Transportation Communications International Union did not take her seriously. Rosenfeld would not give up so easily.

The passing of the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited employers to discriminate against the hiring of women, Rosenfeld knew this was the opportunity she needed to make her fight known. Rosenfeld worked just as hard, if not harder, as the men on the railroad, and she deserved the same pay for doing the same work. On August 30, 1968 Rosenfeld filed a lawsuit against the Southern Pacific Railroad.

November 25, 1968, with the help of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Leah Rosenfeld finally won the battle against job and wage discrimination, and women were now ensured the same opportunities as men in the railroad industry. Rosenfeld received her promotion and pay increase right before her retirement, but because of her persistence, the railroad industry respected women in the work place.  In 1971, California’s Protective Laws were considered unconstitutional and women now had an equal footing. Rosenfeld’s reluctance and dedication to working towards equality allowed for helping women all over the United States.

Leah Rosenfeld left a legacy that her twelve children can be proud of, and she laid the track for other women to find their place in the railroad. Stereotypes were broken and Rosenfeld won the battle of gender equality on the railroad.

Ariel Wagner is a historical researcher for the Indiana Crossrails project


Alexandria to Muncie : Unraveling Distance

Image CC-A2. Photo by Derek Jensen.

By: Yorgo Douramacos

The way speed dilates distance it stops being comprehensible on a human scale. I once walked from Alexandria, Indiana to Muncie, 15 miles of rural back road. I didn’t have much reason for the trip except that I wanted to make it. I’ve hiked longer distances before through mountains and country. But this was more psychologically taxing. I think because it followed a road I knew from riding as a passenger in cars.

Alexandria to Muncie is about an eight hour walk.

It’s a twenty-one minute drive.

And it’s not just time you lose or gain. Try, next time you are speeding down a back road, to focus on something near your car, or to comprehend the size, color, and shape of a house in the middle distance. It is simply not practical. Speed erases our awareness of where we are.

This is not meant as a reprimand about the iniquity of speed or modern complacency, I merely experienced a familiar road on a 1:1 time scale and found it enlightening (as well as trying).

After about hour five, when you’ve already eaten your packed lunch and changed into the extra socks you brought (food and a change of socks: I cannot stress this enough!), when the open country charm has contracted into stacked rural housing developments and you know the city is close. If you were in a car those landmarks would mean less than ten minutes to go, you go a little stir crazy.

But in my experience the greatest insights occur on the edge of madness.

You accept distance and time as relative quantities and find suddenly you have tremendous power. Relative quantities can be shaped and manipulated. Time and distance can be used and molded like any other material, especially in the age in which we live.

As individuals we can find nooks and patches of slower time in which to hide. As a society we can, if we decide to, create corridors and passage ways that efficiently and responsibly link destinations. Instead of merely seeking to defeat distance we can use it. We have yet to express mastery in this case rather than mere dominance. It requires elegance and a sense of having chosen the best option rather than just the easiest one.

What might that look like?


Yorgo Douramacos is a researcher and documentary director for the Indiana Crossrails project.


Indiana Crossrails

Welcome to the new Indiana Crossrails website and blog!  Indiana Crossrails advocates for the growth and development of mass rail transit in the state of Indiana to include rapid transit in dense urban areas, commuter/light rail to connect large cities to their suburbs, and an expansion of regional/inter-city service.

Please keep checking back for exciting updates, documentaries, photos, and research.