For my Dad, Dale W. French(1922-2003). Seen here, second from right.
A Sightseeing Trip through Sullivan, Illinois by Dale W. French
I graduated from high school in 1940. It was at that time that my dad decided it was time for me to know what a “real” job was. Having worked for the Illinois Central for over twenty years, his obvious choice of a “real” job was as a fireman on a locomotive. However, I landed a brakeman job instead out of Mattoon, Illinois. It was in this job, before taking a break from the railroad to go “see” Europe for three years that I got the chance to “see” Sullivan, Illinois in way that few have.
My main assignments were working the old Peoria, Decatur, and Evansville. It was on one of these runs in the Fall of ’41 that I would start several years of “sightseeing”. We had departed Mattoon, gone through Lipsey, Coles, and Allenville before crossing the trestle over the Kaskaskia River just to the Northwest of Allenville. From the river on we started going up a grade that wouldn’t level out until after the diamonds at Sullivan.
At Sullivan there use to be a collection of tracks to the East of the diamonds for working the railroad’s customers there. Being so many years ago, I don’t exactly recall how the situation occurred. But the crummy had been set off to the side and there was a Pennsylvania Railroad gon that needed to be cut off the rear. The plan was to give the gon a shove down the main towards Allenville. I would ride it past the switch and apply the hand brake. Then the rest of the cars could be spotted, and the gon would be put back onto the train and away we’d go towards Bethany.
The plan started off well enough. After passing the switch, I tried to apply the car’s brakes. No luck. The first instinct was to try to apply the brakes again, but again, no luck. After a moment it became clear that the car wasn’t going to be stopped without the help of the locomotive. So the next instinct was to jump off. However, by this time the car was going a pretty good clip, and speeding up. So the second instinct was quickly replaced a third instinct - to hang on for dear life!
This was reinforced when I became clear that we, the car and me, were now going through a road crossing. This Pennsylvania gon and I were getting to be very good friends as I hung on with a good grip. By now the rest of the crew must have figured out that I was in trouble. However, it would be several more harrowing road crossings before the locomotive was able to catch up, and somehow gently connect to the gon to bring us, that good ole friend the gon and me, to a halt. Thank goodness for experienced engineers, or I would have been rolling all the way past the Kaskaskia River. And perhaps I would have missed out on some sightseeing in Europe on the Government’s plan. But that is another story.
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