20,000 Foreigners Hired to Rebuild Railroad in Dearborn County, Indiana

20,000 Foreigners Hired to Rebuild Railroad in Dearborn County, Indiana

20,000 Foreigners Hired to Rebuild Railroad in Dearborn County, Indiana

I have a lot of people that ask me what is my favorite video. After producing over 575 documentary videos on everything from one room school houses to cathedrals, it’s hard to say. Every video project has a unique story but the story I’m going to tell you about will go down as one of my top 5 favorite video projects to date.

This video project all started with this lone stone bridge abutment down on Happy Hollow Road near Bonnell, Indiana. I have passed this abutment hundreds of times over the last 35 years and knew it was from a former railroad alignment in the area but knew little more that that. I started doing some research and discovered a pretty amazing story.

Although I have done quite a bit of research on this subject, I can’t guarantee that everything I’m about to say is 100% correct so if you see or hear a mistake in this video, please feel free to let me know.

In the 1850s the a Railroad Company built a rail line from Cincinnati to Indianapolis. The section from Lawrenceburg Junction, west to Sunman, Indiana was a pretty rugged piece of track. This original line was expensive to maintain and basically followed the West Fork of Tanners Creek up to Weisburg, Indiana and beyond into Sunman, Indiana.

The section of railroad between Guilford and Weisburg, Indiana was relatively steep for a rail line with a grade of up to 66 feet per mile and a total rise of about 506 feet over 11 miles! The grade was so steep that a pusher engine was stationed in Guilford, Indiana to help push the trains up the hill to Sunman, Indiana.

In 1902 the management of the rail line, the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, also known as the Big Four Railroad, realized that by straightening the rail line mainly between Guilford and Sunman, Indiana, they could save over 30 minutes in travel time between Cincinnati & Indianapolis.

A decision was made to realign the track, reduce the grade and build 2 parallel tracks as opposed to just one. After the logistics were ironed out, the work began in August of 1903.

At least 20,000 men were hired to rebuild the rail line. A magazine article later written after the project was completed, described the men as foreigners, ignorant, dirty and quarrelsome. The men lived in tents which held between 8 and 20 laborers. Even throughout the winter they lived in the tents with only small stoves to stay warm. There were six camps strung out over a 9 mile section between Manchester and Sunman. It was reported that many of the men became sick and died due to poor living conditions. The Cincinnati hospitals were filled with victims and train loads of men were removed from the camps each week.

After completion the track, mileage from Guilford to Sunman was reduced from 11 miles to 8.

In some places entire hillsides were dynamited away.

Gorges up to 110 feet deep were blasted through solid rock in order to realign the west fork of tanners creek.

In the 18 miles of reconstruction, the number of curves was reduced from 73 to 16 and the rise was reduced from 506 feet to 380 feet.

The channel of tanners creek was changed at 8 different locations.

More than 2 million cubic yards of stone and dirt was excavated.

A total of 970 tons of cast iron was used in sewer piping.

The most extensive portion of the construction was between Manchester and Weisburg where 3 bridges and 3 deep cuts were made.

The construction was completed in six sections without interfering with the daily train traffic.. and as fast as one section was completed, the traffic was shifted from the old line to the new line.

19 bridges of solid concrete were built by the Moore-Mansfield Construction Company of Indianapolis.

The old rail bed crossed tanners creek 24 times but with the realignment it was reduced to only 16 crossings.

Back to the railroad bridge abutment that started my interest in this video…This abutment dates back to the 1850s alignment. There was another abutment on the other side of the road but that was removed when the new alignment was built.

GPS Location: 39º10’53.2″N 84º59’23.1″W