Column: Remembrances of the Big Four railroad in Zionsville


Commentary by Bob McKnight

I am writing to thank you for the article about the Big Four Railroad. I have lived most of my life very near to the Big Four. My mother and father lived on 6th street between Sycamore and Hawthorne, just 3 blocks east from the Zionsville train depot from about 1938 to 1947. They told tales about me as a child, not wanting to go to bed until they took me up to the Zionsville train depot and watch the Riley come roaring through. The Riley was a train, named after Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley, that ran from Cincinnati to Chicago up the Big Four and came through Zionsville around my bed time. I would only go to bed once I waved at the Riley. That would be in the time frame of 1942 to 1945.

In 1947 my parents bought a 3.5 acre farm on Starkey Road. I remember walking home from school on good weather days and stopping at the Zionsville train depot to talk to the telegrapher at the station. Later several neighborhood kids and I would play along the embankment between the Zionsville train depot and what was known as the Hundred Foot Bridge across eagle creek. (I don’t know why it is called the 100 foot bridge since it is neither 100 foot tall or long).

When I returned from active duty in the Army about 1968, my wife and I bought the house at 320 South 9th Street, which backed up to the Big Four right of way. We could stand in the back yard and look down on the trains. By that time there were only two rails and a siding for the Swiggett Lumber Company which was just east of the old Zionsville train depot area. The siding was still used but in my memory there were few trains running on those rails. By the time we moved to Sugarbush in 1977 most if not all rail traffic had ceased.

In the 1980s I purchased several acres south of the old depot area that abutted the rail right of way to use as a garden. I gardened there for several years before selling the property to the Town of Zionsville for expansion of the sewage treatment plant.

I still reside just a few blocks west of the rail right of way in Sugarbush. The railroad in Zionsville was always the Big Four to me. It may be that the ownership changed over time to Pennsylvania or Penn Central RR which could explain the dates of operation in your article of 1889 to 1930. However, I assure you there were trains along running there well after 1930 to the 1980s .

I thought you might like the perspective of someone who has lived near the Big Four in Zionsville for over 76 years.


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