A Railroad Roundhouse.
Mid-Twentieth Century-Probably IC Railroad.
A jrd Web Page April 2009
When train engines were built, they were not much more than a steam boiler on
wheels. They probably evolved from the steam engines that were used on boats. If you took a steam boiler and placed
a fire source in the middle, basically you had a train steam engine. Now add a large piston on each side and a
mechanism that would change a circular motion into a back and fourth motion and presto, a train locomotive was born. You had a steam engine, but you also had a mechanical nightmare. What was created was a powerful device that could pull a very heavy load, but a device that would require a lot of maintenance. With enormous amounts of moving parts and chambers that held the steam, there was plenty of places to break. There was a need for a place to take the engine off the main track for repair and this is where the "Roundhouse" was born.
A "Roundhouse" was a large building, mostly circular in design, with one train track entering a "Turntable" and the ability of the turntable to receive the engine, turn the table in such a matter as to line up the outlet track to a side rail where the engine could be placed at a maintenance station. In most cases a steam engine, locomotive, would be "Switched" to the turntable entrance rail and under it's own power would be centered on the turntable. In early years, a group of six or so men would manually move the turntable to line up with an exit rail and the train would exit the turntable and move to a maintenance station. The turntable was outside and the locomotive, after being switched, would enter the "Roundhouse" for the needed maintenance. The explanation of the operation could be compared to a person's hand. Hold your hand up and imagine an engine coming from your arm to your wrist, stopping, and then being switched so as to be able to leave and enter one of your fingers. Basically, a locomotive would be switched in that manner and end up inside a roundhouse at a work station.
A roundhouse was a dirty, dark, and noisy place to work. The work was hard and the place was cold in winter and hot in summer. The repair tools were mostly large and heavy. Coal was always available and there was usually a "Fire Barrel" at each work station. Each work station also had a cleaning device, which basically consisted of a vat with some type of cleaning solution, a basket for the smaller parts and brushes and rags. Train engines were dirty. Mix coal, dust, water, steam, and grease, and you have conditions that will produce a mess. Thus, the cleaning station is needed in about every job.
Central City Roundhouse.
In the mid fifties of the twentieth century, I was able to visit a roundhouse. Owen Drake worked for the Illinois Central Railroad at the Central City "Roundhouse". Owen needed to go to the roundhouse for some reason, probably to get his pay check and he took me and his son with him. I was in awe of the place even with my short tour. In those days, most everything was done for a purpose and the purpose of that trip was not a "Tour", but a necessary trip. His son and I were just along "For The Ride". Regardless, I enjoyed my trip and still have vivid memories of that old and dirty building.
Ah, better not forget the old joke that everyone thought so funny back in the fifties. It seems that a new employee was found dead at the end of his first shift. The new worker was looking for a bathroom and he just walked "Round and Round" trying to find a restroom. Now isn't that funny. Well, it was back in the fifties. For one thing, back then, restroom was almost a dirty word when used in mixed company. Ah, the good old days.
During most of the time that the Central City Roundhouse was in operation, it was visible from the main road entering the city from the East. Highway 62, from Rockport, makes a general left turn now at what used to be called the "Y".
This area is about fifth street. In the fifties, Highway 62, made a general right turn on fifth street, continued on
fifth street for a few blocks and made a left turn on Harrison Avenue for another few blocks and then ran into Second
Street. A right turn on Second Street, cross under the viaduct and you entered "Downtown" Central City. The old roundhouse was in the general area bordering second street and Harrison Avenue.
I don't remember very many people from Rockport working at the Central City Roundhouse. As mentioned, Owen Drake worked
there, eventually retiring. I think that Durwood Maple may have worked there for a short period of time. I am sure there were others, but I can not come up with any more names. Help is needed here if you know of other employees at the old
Roundhouse at Central City.
Thanks for looking and reading. Hope you enjoyed your visit.