From the Family Photo Archives

Posted by George Hamlin
on Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Recently, my friend David Greenberg sent me the picture above, taken by his Father, Harry, in Milan, Indiana (pronounced “my-lin”, accent on the first syllable, as opposed to “mi-lan”, accent on the second syllable).  This small town is in southeastern Indiana, 41.7 miles west of Cincinnati, on the former Baltimore & Ohio’s line to St. Louis.

David’s maternal grandparents lived in Milan. His mother went to the local high school, where her graduating class included 15 students, total; a bit more on the school later. While a specific date for the photo is not available, it likely was taken during the late summer of 1955.

What the photo depicts is an eastbound B&O freight train powered by EMD F3 number 129, in the classic blue/gray/black paint scheme which the railroad’s freight cab units wore when they were delivered, which in the case of the 129 was in the spring of 1948.

The train is seen from the area of the station (note platforms on both sides), near the Main Street grade crossing. It appears that the train is being switched at Milan, as only a few cars in the consist are visible behind the locomotives.

Although only slightly over 1,000 people lived in the town of Milan as of the 1950 census, the October 1956 Official Guide indicates that two trains per day in each direction stopped there. One pair, numbers 233 and 238, provided service between Cincinnati and Louisville (via North Vernon, Indiana), while numbers 57 and 58, overnight services between Detroit and Louisville, comprised the balance of the service.

Thus, it was possible to board a train in Milan, and travel directly to Detroit, including sleeping car service. In addition, 233 and 238, northbound in the morning and southbound in the early evening, offered the possibility of numerous connections, both to other B&O trains, as well as those of the other six railroads offering service at Cincinnati’s Union Terminal. This is indicative of how Milan, and many other small towns once were woven into the fabric of a national rail passenger network, a far cry from the current situation.

By 1955, however, Milan had become more well-known than most other Indiana small towns as indicated by the notice painted on the town water tower at upper left in the photo, which notes that it is the home of the 1954 State Champions, in this case, for basketball. Far greater recognition of this feat would occur In the 1980s, when the film Hoosiers was based on the event commemorated on the water tower.

Turning back to the photo, note that the 129 is displaying a green flag, indicating a following section behind it. A railfan photographer likely would have waited to see what this was; of course, in 1955, it probably would have been easy to ask the station staff what was coming.

I had hoped that the green flag situation would have applied to Harry’s photography with respect to additional rail subject matter, but, alas, David indicates that this is the sole slide in this category.

In any case, a fine work, and by coincidence, taken in a place that thirty years later would receive far more than Andy Warhol’s “fifteen minutes of fame”. I don’t know the duration of the acclamation, but B&O unit 129 will now be able to get some long-missing attention as a result of David sharing the photo with us.

Photo by Harry Greenberg, collection of David Greenberg

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