Louisville & Nashville slant-nose E6 No. 777 rests in between assignments at the "10th Street Roundhouse" outside Louisville, Kentucky, during September 1966. While long-distance passenger trains were quickly fading from America's railways, Louisville remained a busy hub well into the 1960s hosting the trains of L&N, C&O, PRR, and Monon.
Memories of Louisville
By Ron Flanary /Photos by the author
At the corner of 10th and Broadway in Louisville, Kentucky, stands what was once the undisputed hub of transportation for the city and the surrounding region — a veritable gateway to the world. Opened for service in 1891, the classic Romanesque structure reflected building styles of that period. The stub-end terminal featured a six-track-wide, 450-foot-long trainshed to protect patrons from the elements. For most of its service life, Union Station served trains of the Louisville & Nashville (its owner), the Pennsylvania, the Monon and —beginning in 1963 — the Chesapeake & Ohio.
Typical of many urban areas around the nation, Union Station wasn't truly "union." Several blocks across town along the Ohio River was Illinois Central's Central Station. In addition to the IC, the station was served by the Baltimore & Ohio, New York Central, Chesapeake & Ohio and Southern. Most of Central's trains, however, were locals, plug runs or stub-end operations to main line trains elsewhere. Union Station was always the "big show" in Louisville.
An eastbound IC train arrives at Oak Street Yard in Louisville behind a pair of "Green Diamond" Geeps on August 10, 1963.
Consistent with other areas of the nation, Louisville's rail service declined from a high of 60 daily scheduled trains in 1922 to just 13 in the early to mid-1960s. With the beginning of Amtrak on May 1, 1971, the only train serving Louisville to make it into the national system was the South Wind, which became the Floridian just a few months later. Amtrak continued to use Union Station, until 1976, when the weary Floridian departed for cheaper and more "modern" quarters south of the city at the ill-fated Auto-Train facility. By 1979, the Floridian was axed, and Louisville had no passenger service.
Although the trainshed was dismantled in late 1973, the station building itself became the object of local preservationists. Through these efforts Union Station was saved and renovated in 1979 and 1980 as the headquarters for the Transit Authority of River City (TARC). It was a beautiful piece of work, and the station looks much the same as it did during its heyday. The only problem is that the trains are long gone.
Teen time trains
My personal interest in Louisville's Union Station was a direct result of my fondness for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. As a teenager during the early to mid-'60s, I rode L&N trains to Louisville on several occasions to photograph or just watch the still-significant passenger operations there. No, it wasn't the show one could see in Chicago or even closer cities such as Cincinnati, but the variety of Louisville's trains was a compelling argument to spend time there.
Even from my first photographic mission to Louisville in 1962, there was a sense that the end of passenger service was within sight. Each month brought more train-off announcements all across the nation, and Louisville surely couldn't be excluded for long — and it wasn't. But in the early 1960s, Louisville Union Station was still active. There were no more doubleheaded Pennsy K4s on the Florida Arrow, mixed trains to the Bardstown Branch or connections via the Lebanon Branch to Corbin. The 10th Street roundhouse had long since been razed, and even the bright blue and silver livery of L&N's original 1946 Humming Bird had fallen in favor of standardization. There were still some gems listed on the train board, though, even as the privately-operated passenger train was in its final throes.
Louisville & Nashville
The big player was still the L&N, which operated seven daily trains through Louisville. The flagship of the railroad was the Cincinnati-New Orleans Pan-American, Numbers 98 and 99. The Pan was inaugurated by frugal L&N in 1921 and even operated all-Pullman from 1925 to 1933. By 1963, the Pan was running about 13 or 14 cars, including ample head-end traffic, coaches, a diner-lounge and a Pullman — more or less your standard meat-and-potatoes passenger train of the time. It was a day train in each direction between Cincinnati and Birmingham with the south end to and from New Orleans overnight.
The Pan's running mate on the same route was the nocturnal Humming Bird (it was a day train in each direction between New Orleans and Birmingham and overnight on the north end). The Bird had been unveiled as one of two postwar streamliners (the other being the St. Louis-Atlanta Georgian, operated in conjunction with corporate partner Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis) in an era when just about everybody's road purchased lightweight cars and E7s to woo the traveling public to the rails.
Although the L&N's public timetable listed the Bird as a "Coach-Pullman Streamliner," my first encounter with southbound No. 5 was a little disappointing. The train was basically a night-time version of the Pan-American, with a heavyweight diner and plenty of head-end traffic. South of Birmingham though, the Bird's appearance improved considerably, and the "streamliner" moniker might have been accurate.
Another train of note still on the schedule was No. 1, the erstwhile Azalean out of Cincinnati, and its northbound counterpart No. 4. Time was when this train was a heavy doubleheaded limited operating all the way to New Orleans. By the '60s, the old Azalean operated no further south than Montgomery, running a short while behind the Humming Bird and making many more local stops. It was usually a string of head end cars and a rider coach or two. Unlike the other L&N trains, Numbers 1 and 4 were frequently powered by boiler-equipped Geeps and FP7s to supplement the normal contingent of two E-units.
My selection for the best train serving Louisville was the interline South Wind. The L&N operated this train between Louisville and Montgomery, with Pennsy handling the Chicago to Louisville leg, and Atlantic Coast Line taking the train from Montgomery to Florida. Until the Florida East Coast strike in 1963, the Wind had used the FEC from Jacksonville to Miami. Louisville & Nashville 15 and 16 alternated every other day, with the northbound arriving mid-day, or just after the southbound Pan, and the southbound arriving off the Pennsy around 4:20 in the afternoon on alternate days. The Wind, which alternated with IC's City of Miami to provide daily Chicago-Miami service, was a fine train in every respect. Even though the off-season (summer) consist was shorter and lacked the leased Northern Pacific dome operated during the winter (when the Wind had upwards of 20 cars), Nos. 15 and 16 were all lightweight, including a baggage car which was also usually streamlined. There were cars from all of the train's sponsoring roads, as well as some outlanders at times. Power was provided by pooled ACL and PRR E's, operating all the way from Chicago to Jacksonville and back (and to Miami after the FEC strike). The L&N contributed no power to the pool except cases of engine failure or other emergencies. My faith in the passenger train was always buoyed by the South Wind, and she became one of my favorite photo subjects at Louisville.
The northbound Monon Thoroughbred gets underway from Louisville for its all-day trip to Chicago on August 8, 1963. The baggage floats on the right are loaded with express shipments for L&N train 4, due in shortly from Nashville.
The Monon still ran its Numbers 5 and 6, the Thoroughbred, in and out of Louisville on the run to Chicago. The "Monon," as the locals called the train, was usually a couple of baggage cars and two ex-Army hospital cars which had been converted to coaches during the John Barriger era. Powered by an F3, it was a smart little train, even in 1963. It was a typical daytime train on a run of a little over eight hours, departing each terminal in mid-morning and arriving early evening. In October 1964, however, Monon restructured the Thoroughbred's schedule to favor the north end of the railroad, where there was still traffic potential. The new schedule put No. 5 into Louisville at 2:10 a.m. and NQ 6 out at 6:30 a.m., so my encounters with the "Monon" were less frequent.
In the midst of a torrential summer downpour, the Florida-bound South Wind has just arrived at Louisville behind two beautiful Pennsy E8s on August 9, 1963. L&N crews have replaced the PRR personnel that brought the train down from Chicago, and as soon as the units have their boiler water and fueled topped off, the four EMD prime movers will rev up for some fast running down the L&N main stem all the way to Montgomery, where ACL will take over.
The Pennsylvania Railroad
The Pennsy contributed one other train to the show besides the South Wind: the overnight Kentuckian to and from Chicago, Numbers 94 and 95. This train arrived from Chicago shortly after 7:00 a.m. and departed each night around 11:00. Number 94's departure was always interesting. The PRR crew would bring the road unit (usually an FP7) over from their engine facility at 14th Street. The engine would head under the trainshed, and the L&N station switcher would then add the consist — usually a baggage car, an RPO, a coach and a sleeper. The Kentuckian, as was the whole Pennsylvania Railroad by 1963, was a bit tattered. The F-unit's Brunswick green paint and the cars' Tuscan red was always a little the worse for wear.
On August 10, 1963, the Louisville section of C&O's George Washington is seen loading mail, express and passengers before its afternoon departure.
The "Little George"
The newest tenant at Union Station in 1963 was the Chesapeake & Ohio. That year, Chessie's Road vacated the IC's Central Station on the Ohio River waterfront (the last regularly scheduled train to use that facility), switching Nos. 21 and 22, the Ashland-Louisville section of the George Washington to L&N's Union Station. The "Little George" reflected the well-managed property that was the C&O in its prime. The normal consist was an E8, a baggage, RPO, two coaches, a diner-lounge and a Pullman. If the train was longer, two E's, or an E and FP7 were used. The C&O Lexington Sub from Ashland to Lexington was hampered by several heavy grades in both directions, a contributing factor to its abandonment under CSX a few years ago.
Between trains, the regular station switcher, SW1 no.14, puttered around shuffling cars and making up cuts to add to incoming trains. This pioneer from L&N's earliest diesel days (built in 1941) had been assigned to the same job for a number of years. Juxtaposed with L&N's slant-nosed E6s (built in 1942), the elderly switcher was a study in antiquity, even in the '60s — a time when the E7s, E8s and FP7s were simply regarded as normal "modern" power! Other train movements around Union Station were transfer runs between L&N and Pennsy, plus L&N yard jobs working the nearby Oak Street yard.
In between runs, L&N E-units stand at the fuel racks outside Louisville Union Station during June 1964.
The L&N always stationed a pair of protection Es at the "l0th Street Roundhouse" (by then, just a crew shack and two servicing tracks). The road units on all L&N trains (except the South Wind) were cut off and taken to the "roundhouse" for water and fuel or to be exchanged for the protection units in the event of problems or the need to swap out units for 30-day inspections at South Louisville Shops. Most through trains had a 20- to 25-minute station stop. With the 14 working feverishly to switch out head end cars and the servicing of the road units, activity at Union's south throat could be intense during these periods. Union Station's adjoining coach yards were generally full of extra equipment. One could find such gems as heavyweight Pullmans, office cars and stored clerestory-roofed coaches.
Within walking distance of the station, trains could be photographed at other junction points. All through L&N trains to or from Cincinnati (as well as the C&O trains beginning in 1963) took a short-cut across the "A" Street cutoff — a bit of street running for the passenger trains. At TJ Tower, all trains used the wye to make a reverse move into the station (except the South Wind, which was interchanged directly with the Pennsy without changing direction). Monon trains came onto the L&N at K&I Junction, about a mile north of the A Street junction. The southbound train took the south leg of the wye at K&I, then backed to Union Station. The bright blue, yellow and white Fairbanks-Morse switchers of the Kentucky & Indiana Terminal also darted around here and there. Of course Louisville held a good many railroad treasures in those days, but Union Station was the best show.
On a hot, humid summer night, Union Station was a sensory smorgasbord. A nearby brewery emitted strong odors of mash. It smelled like a huge loaf of freshly baked bread. Outside the 10th Street Roundhouse, a pair of freshly fueled and watered E-units idled the night away — ready to be awakened at a moment's notice.
Around 9:40 a loud-speaker near the crew shack would come to life: "Number 5 leavin' A Street — Number 5 leavin' A Street." Within a few minutes the crossing bells, red lights and gates on Kentucky Street would be activated by the crossing watchman. The southbound Humming Bird's kerosene red and yellow markers would appear out of the darkness, with the conductor standing in the rear vestibule, his hand on the back-up whistle and emergency brake valve. The cars rolled by — Pullman porters turning down the beds, the diner crew finishing up for the night, coaches filled with folks headed to the Southland, postal clerks working in the RPO and, best of all, two L&N E6s with their four V-12s running in and out of synch as only Es can do. The smell of diesel exhaust and the feather of steam from the generator vents and the solid sound six-wheel trucks thumping their way over jointed rails, turnouts and frogs would wash over you. Blended with the mash from the breweries, it all came together as a wonderful experience that will regrettably never be repeated.
Louisville Union Station in the decade of the 1960s was a great place to get your hair cut, order a meal at the Union News Company Savarin Coffee Shop or just watch the comings and goings of people through the three sets of double doors marked "TO TRAINS." The building is still there, but those same doors (with the same message painted even to this day) now lead to a parking lot. Only through photographs and memories can later generations know what it was like when the Pan-American, the South Wind or the Thoroughbred beckoned outside under the trainshed — waiting to take Louisville's passengers to just about anywhere in the world they wanted to go.
This article originally appeared in the February 1995 issue of Railfan & Railroad.