Monday, January 30, 2012

The Burlington Northern & Santa Fe

Looking at what today appears because of the original brick to be an an uppity Morton Building, it’s almost impossible to detect Chariton’s 1940s “moderne” Burlington Northern & Santa Fe depot inside that metal siding shell, its flat roof topped by pitches and gables. I wish I had a photo of the original version, but haven’t located one yet.

This was quite the building in its time, erected in 1943 on the footprint of the old (and larger) 1870s depot and hotel at a cost of $30,000. State of the art.

Go around to trackside, however, and the tell-tale bay of the ticket window still extends eastward.

The new depot reflected changing times. Its predecessor’s second story was a hotel offering weary travelers about 30 rooms, but those rooms had been unused since 1923 when the Hotel Charitone opened on the square.

The original contained two waiting rooms --- one for women and one for men. By the 1940s, it had been decided that men and women could wait together.

There also was a large and elaborate restaurant in the old depot, needed in the days before passenger trains incorporated dining cars. Now all that was needed was a lunch counter at most.

I arrived at this depot once as a child, during the three years (primary through second grade) spent at Dry Flat School. Parents had driven all the Dry Flat scholars into and around Des Moines on an annual excursion. I don’t remember anything about that.

Then we were put aboard a south-bound passenger train in the evening for the return trip to Chariton. I can’t remember whether we left from Des Moines, or were driven down to the depot in Indianola (the 33-mile branch line connecting Chariton and Indianola was closed during 1961). Our chauffeurs then drove back to the depot in Chariton to pick us up. I vaguely remember the trip.

I do remember getting sick in Linden Allard’s car on the drive from Chariton to Russell --- he smoked, didn’t roll the window down and my stomach wasn’t up to it.

I think some of the paving around the current depot, now used entirely for administrative and maintenance purposes --- passenger trains don’t stop in Chariton any more --- must date from the 1870s depot.

The BN&SF tracks through Chariton are heavy-duty and need to be. Hundreds of cars roll through every day, hauling Wyoming reduced to chunks of coal eastward, headed west empty later on. Standard freight trains roar by at other times.

Amtrak’s California Zephyr passes through twice a day, west-bound and east-bound, but the nearest stops are Osceola and Ottumwa.

I don’t recommend standing for any length of time between the BN&SF tracks, but if you do and look southeast, the effect for a variety of reasons related to perspective is mildly surreal.

The courthouse (right), which appears to be some distance to the west of the steeple of First United Methodist Church (left), actually is due south and a short distance east. Which proves, I guess, that you can’t always believe what you see.

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