I grew up in Bellevue, Ohio, a railroad town outside of which you will find Norfolk Southern’s Bellevue Yard. When I was about six and walking to Downtown with my mom and baby brother (who was in a stroller), she insisted we cross the tracks just as a train—all be it a slow one—was heading towards us. I refused, but she insisted, and over the tracks we went. Then my foot got stuck in between a rail and the pavement’s edge and I thought that was it for me. Since I’m writing this, obviously I escaped, but it left me with a lasting memory of just how dangerous trains can be. Another time during the winter our car, a Ford Maverick, got stuck at crossing not far from the one I just mentioned. I begged to be let out in case a train came, but my parents refused. I sat in terror as they managed to push it across to safety. While in elementary school we had to watch horrific railroad safety movies that included such gems as children being permanently blinded by the flares they had found on a caboose, and a family in a station wagon getting boxed in on tracks by traffic as a train sped towards them. Nightmares ensued. These experiences hardened me against the trap of romanticizing trains. Which isn’t to say it erased any interest I might have in railway history. Indeed, I once wrote an
Bellevue is home of the Mad River and NKP Railroad Museum, which I last visited in the 1980s. Not surprisingly, it had expanded greatly since last I was here. Now, for example, there is a gift shop and indoor portion of the museum containing a variety of artifacts, the most impressive of which is the bell from President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train.
The thing that surprised me the most is how it brought back lost childhood memories. Suddenly, for example, I remembered that the museum opened in 1976, the first year for which I have clear and lasting memories. This was the year of the Bicentennial, which inspired towns across America to do extraordinary things for the celebration, such as a parade through Bellevue that went well over three hours.
A quarry, France Stone , once operated within Bellevue’s city limits on its western side. Located across from where Burger King presently stands, trains going to or coming from it once crossed Route 20. These were often pulled by a small locomotive that is now in the museum. Seeing it unleashed another memory: in 1976 the company repainted it with a patriotic red, white and blue theme in honor of the Bicentennial.
The museum takes its name from two railroad companies: the Nickel Plate and the Mad River & Lake Erie. I found surprisingly little online about the Mad River. The only reliable information appeared on the museum’s website, verbiage that was notably plagiarized by someone and posted on the “Mad River & Lake Erie Railroad” entry found on Wikipedia (you’d be amazed much stolen writing appears on that website). The waterway known as the Mad River flows between Dayton and Logan County; it is a tributary of the Great Miami River. The Mad River & Lake Erie, charted in 1832, was established to connect the Ohio River to Lake Erie. Financially troubled, the New York Central Railroad eventually absorbed it. The other railroad to