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.