The Rise and Fall of River and Rail transportation in Madison, Indiana.

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Rail before steam

Interestingly enough, transportation by rail was utilized long before steam became a popular source of power. These early railways used horses or oxen to pull the cars. As early as 1809 a “tramrail” on wooden tracks existed in Pennsylvania. By 1826 in Quincy, Massachusetts, commercial use was being made in the granite quarries of transport over laid rails. Even in Madison we have enticing hints as to an early railway connecting Madison to North Madison.

Madison’s Weird Little Railway

On September 20, 1938 an interview by Charles E. Heberhart with Mr. John Pogue appeared in the Madison Courier. Mr. Pogue gave this account, “Mother used to tell me of the system operated by oxen that hauled cars loaded with things up the hill way back in the last century. The oxen were hitched to shafts that turned around a drum and this drum wound up the rope that pulled the cars from the foot of the hill to what was the old State road that went up through the Hitz property and came out on present highway seven, about where the entrance to Cragmont now is.

Strap RailThere was quite a settlement in there then and the old North Madison fairgrounds were just a short distance from the Cragmont gates also.” On September 22nd Mr. Heberhart submitted this interview with a Mr. Charles Horuff, “His father told him of the weird little railway that Mr. Pogue described in his interview. The railway was laid up to the old state road up which cars were pulled by a windlass turned by oxen at one time and by mules at another. It seems the rails were made of wood joined together end to end and that iron sheeting was nailed to the tops on which the wheels moved.

These cars, according to Mr. Horuff’s father coasted down the hill when they had delivered their goods at the top. They had a wooden shoe that fitted on the wheel surface with a long pole, set at an angle of 45 degrees, which applied the pressure to the wheels and braked them. This apparently was an adapting of the crude brakes used on the early covered wagons.” No further information or evidence has thus far been found on what was, perhaps, a railroad in Madison predating the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad by several years. There is, however, no reason to believe there would not have been an attempt to connect the two Madisons at this early date.

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