Remembering the Big Four from Trafalgar to Martinsville

On 25 February, 2019, I posted in this blog an article that I had originally written on 19 August 2014 in the Indiana Transportation History Facebook group about the Fairland, Franklin & Martinsville Railroad. Today, I want to look at the end of the railroad, at least west of Franklin, as reported by the Franklin Star of 24 October 1942. Merchants from Trafalgar, Morgantown and Martinsville were trying to save their 89-year old railroad. But the newspaper article brings up more memories and history than it does any real news.

“While merchants of Trafalgar, Morgantown and Martinsville fought hard today to preserve an 18-mile western section of the Big Four railroad from abandonment, residents of cities along the line turned their thoughts to fond memories of gayer days when ‘Old Jerkwater’ was the proud possessor of most of the passenger and freight business between Fairland and the Morgan county seat.” Thus starts the article that appeared on the front page of the Evening Star that day.

Abandonment hearings were held for the section of the railroad on 21 October 1942 in the Franklin City Hall. But the newspaper laments the fact that most of the old timers of the area “unfortunately, most everyone has referred to ‘Old Jerk’ with a touch of laughter, calling it ‘Old Pumpkinvine’ and other names certainly unbefitting to such a fine old institution.”

The first memory shared was that of Tom Sommerville. Sommerville had been a conductor, superintendent and paymaster of the railroad. He is described as “practically the ‘whole show.'” Sommerville had worked on the railroad so long that he was well known by “almost everyone in towns along the line.” One story is related that morning rides from Morgantown to Franklin, a group of men, with Sommerville, would walk to two or three saloons in downtown Franklin. This was after the train had stopped at the Jefferson Street crossing. The stop at Jefferson Street would end with the remark “Well, Ferd ought to be about ready now.”

Ferd Baldwin, the brakeman that would later become conductor, was known to have a vocabulary that would rival a sailor. His description in the newspaper included the words “had the reputation of being the wickedest man in his talk who ever lived, but a pretty good fellow otherwise.” Ferd was a very polite gentleman, unless something on his train went wrong…especially on a cold day.

Once Sommerville thought that Ferd should be ready, he would walk the men back to the station via Water Street. There, they would board the train bound for Fairland, and the trip to Indianapolis. The return to from Indianapolis to Fairland to Morgantown would be repeated that afternoon/evening. No date was described in the telling of this tale. I would have to think that either a) the men made it a ritual to use the Big Four for their journey, or b) it was before the Indianapolis Southern Railway (later Illinois Central, now the Indiana Railroad) made it to Morgantown.

Another story about Tom Sommerville was related by a Mr. Freeman. “Sommerville was one who always had the safety of others foremost in his mind at all times, and Mr. Freeman recalls coming from Martinsville once, ‘bumming’ a ride on a car loaded with pipe. When Uncle Tom finally noticed him at Morgantown, he made Mr. Freeman go back and take a seat in one of the coaches.” It was also stated that “if any of the youngsters wanted to get home, all they had to do was to walk to the railroad and, regardless of whether or not they had the fare, Uncle Tom would always stop the train to pick them up.”

There were times that special trains, especially for basketball fans, were added to the schedule. Several hundred Martinsville High School basketball fans chartered a special train to take them to Shelbyville for what was described as “an important contest.” The train would haul the spectators from Martinsville, through Fairland, to Shelbyville. The train ride home was, apparently, miserable. On a very cold (sub-zero) night, the slow plodding of the train as it carried the downtrodden fans and team back to Martinsville after a sound beating in Shelbyville. The defeat was still in the minds of those onboard the train as it “chugged slowly through Franklin in the wee small hours of the morning on its return journey, the feelings and spirits of the Martinsville supporters at a very low ebb as a result of hte setback and the slow speed of the train on such a cold and disagreeable night.”

The Franklin Evening Star then goes into more of a history of the line.

On 20 January 1846, the State of Indiana incorporated the Martinsville & Franklin Railroad Company. A special act was passed on 13 February 1851, and the railroad opened for traffic on 17 May 1853. At that point, it was operated, under five year lease, by the Madison & Indianapolis Railroad. It ended at the M&I in Franklin. After the lease, the railroad was in such bad shape that on 19 October 1858, it was abandoned due to poor physical condition.

On 19 May 1859, the line was sold at foreclosure. It was conveyed, by deed, by United States Marshall to Franklin Nichols on 28 November 1859. The new railroad, the Franklin & Martinsville Railroad Company, would not be operated during its entire life, stretching from 20 December 1859 to 26 September 1865.

The latter date was when the Indiana General Assembly reincorporated the railroad under the control of General Ambrose E. Burnside and associates, creating the Cincinnati & Martinsville Railroad. The new company would revamp the line between Martinsville and Franklin. On 14 June 1866, the line would be opened between Franklin and Fairland. General Burnside, also in 1865, would propose, and get chartered, the Indianapolis & Vincennes Railroad.

The entire line would eventually fall into the Big Four due to the fact that it was leased when completed to Fairland, to the Indianapolis, Cincinnati & Lafayette Railroad. Or, actually, that company and the people that would end up with the same through receivership.

The property would be sold once again under foreclosure on 9 May 1877 to become the Fairland, Franklin & Martinsville Railroad. It would be operated by the receiver of the Indianapolis, Cincinnati & Lafayette Railroad. The IC&L would become part of the Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis & Chicago Railway on 6 March 1880. Thus the FF&M would be operated by the predecessor company of what would become the Big Four until 7 June 1889. Then it would become operated by the Big Four (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis) Railway.

The lease of the Fairland, Franklin & Martinsville would end on 16 June 1915, when, with delivery of the deed dated 17 December 1913, the ownership of the line would become property of the CCC&StL. One last change of “ownership” occurred on 2 January 1920, effective 1 February 1930, when the New York Central Railroad Company leased the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis. The latter would eventually become absorbed into the former.

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