Anyone who lives in Troy is familiar with the trains that sound their horns as they chug through the city each day. Many of us who live far enough away from the tracks have become almost immune to the sound. Actually, on a cold winter’s night the sound of a train in the distance has an almost romantic feel to it. It’s like the past reaching out to tap you on the shoulder.
The trains that go through Troy these days are all freight trains, but it wasn’t always that way. A century ago, passenger trains and interurban rail cars were a regular part of Troy’s landscape.
I bring this up because I spent Thanksgiving visiting my daughter and her family in Denver, where trains have once again become an important part of the city’s transit system. The city’s light rail system has become a great way to move people around a city that has way too few roads to handle its heavy automobile traffic.
Back in the days of the interurban, many small towns and large cities in Ohio were linked by the electric railcars. There was a line between Troy and Piqua in the late 19th century and in 1901 a line made it to Troy from Dayton. There were a lot of little companies operating the lines and you could go in all directions from Troy.
Ever wonder how Stop 8 Road in Dayton got its name? It was Stop number eight on the line. Midway Park between Troy and Piqua was a big recreational stop on the line. Orville and Wilbur Wright reportedly road the interurban from Dayton to Huffman Park to test out their newfangled flying machine.
Students at Ohio State University (this was long before they added the pretentious “The” to the name) could hop on a train and come home for weekends or holidays.
The arrival of the automobile and the bus, along with the Great Depression, killed the interurban. These commuter train lines slowly died out, although some of them might have been helped into an early oblivion by the “General Motors Streetcar Conspiracy.” GM and other bus companies were involved in buying up old streetcar lines and replacing them with bus routes (which, of course, featured gasoline-burning buses manufactured by auto companies).
The interurban was gone long before I made an appearance in Troy but I remember passenger trains running through town. My parents moved to Troy in the late 1940s and for a while my dad took a train to Dayton every day to work. My oldest brother tells a story about taking the train to Cincinnati to see Reds’ games. The train would pull into Union Station, next to Crosley Field, and he and his friends would go to the game then hop back on for the ride home afterwards. Well, most of them did. He says some of the older “fans” never saw the game — they spent their time drinking on the way down, stayed with the train and drank through the game, then made sure they got the final score and game details from the guys who actually went to the game so they could tell their wives all about the game when they got home.
I even remember taking a trip to Lima on a train with a friend of mine for his birthday. I was maybe in the fourth grade at the time. It was a big thrill, especially the part about going into the dining car and getting snacks.
Those days are long gone, at least around here. But in places like Denver, the train once again is important for more than just hauling cars and coal and other things around. The downtown train station has been restored and is a real marvel, with restaurants, shops, a hotel and lots of visitors. It kind of makes you yearn for the old days, when the train station in Troy was a vital place instead of the sorry looking shell it is now.
No, we’re not Denver and it’s unlikely our area could generate enough usage to bring back any kind of passenger train. After all, they went out of business here for a reason. Cars are just way to convenient. And I suppose having train tracks running through the streets in the middle of town could be a bit messy these days.
I guess I will just have to be content with riding the train when I visit my daughter — and listening to those mournful train whistles on those cold, snowy nights.
David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.