SIDNEY – Published author and local railway expert Scott D. Trostel gave a presentation discussing the history of rail and interurban transportation within Shelby County and Sidney Thursday night at the Ross Historical Center.
This talk was part of a larger series being held to celebrate the bicentennial of Shelby County in 2019 and of Sidney in 2020. This event was sponsored by Peggy and Steve Baker, hosted by Rich Wallace and included 25 people in attendance.
Trostel began his talk with a question: Why does transportation history matter? His answer was that railways and other forms of transportation were absolutely critical to the development of this area.
Prior to the railroads being laid in Shelby County, much of the land was a vast wilderness, which made getting basic goods difficult. Most bulk transportation took place through the canal feeder, which was quickly obsolete once railroads were laid down with highways eventually taking passenger transport off the rails.
Three major railways were discussed throughout the talk: the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad, the Western Ohio Railway and the D.T. & I. (Dayton, Toledo and Ironton) Railway. All three of these railways played important roles in advancing the transportation and economy of the area. Reducing travel drastically, as well as enabling the transportation of goods both in and out, were both great benefits brought on by rail.
The first railway of interest was the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad, built in the early 1850s without much recorded detail of construction.
Trostel theorized that a team of Irish immigrants made up the labor force, and the railway itself probably featured iron rails, which were an emerging technology at the time. Iron rails were much safe than earlier technology such as wood on top of wood ties with metal stringers on top. These earlier rails were very unsafe and even led to multiple fatalities as they would rip through the bottom of train cars.
Trostel’s reasoning about the use of iron rails stems from findings of stringers in Logan County but none in Shelby County. The Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railway actually ran right through town with a station where the fire department is today.
Getting this railway to go through Sidney was troublesome, though, with difficulties eventually being removed as construction began in the late 1850s through Sidney.
The second railway mentioned by Trostel was the Western Ohio Railway, which ran trolleys right through Sidney. This railway was protested by the citizens of Sidney with legal proceedings forcing construction to wait until 1902.
The third railway Trostel discussed was the D.T. & I. Railway, which was built to transport freight, especially as the demand for Ohio coal increased. At its height, the railway was transporting 500 cars of coal a day with 40 tons of coal per car and 40 cars per train.
The D.T. & I. Railway was constructed by Italian immigrants in the 1880s. One interesting story from this time was a worker strike that took place as workers were forced to walk to work right alongside the train they were building tracks for. Workers wanted to ride the train to work so they went on strike, and the company gave in to their demands.
This new peace was not to last as on the first trip with the workers one car derailed, causing injuries and one fatality. The workers became angry with the train crew responsible for the accident so they formed a mob and went after the crew, who hid in Jackson Center until the action died down.
Over the years, D.T. & I. faced some financial troubles and was on the brink of shutting down when it was contacted by Henry Ford, who wanted help building a drawbridge. When Ford found out that he could buy D.T. & I. for less than the cost of his bridge, he chose the railway instead and dedicated it to transporting materials from his facilities in Michigan.
Ford became the president of D.T. & I. in 1920 and was said to travel on the railway occasionally, as he had a sister that lived in Xenia and was known to stop for dinner with her in Bellefontaine.
One of the last parts of the talk focused on historical pictures of railways, bridges and stations from around the county. One fascinating subject of these old pictures was the construction of the Big Four Bridge that showed the construction process, as well as a look at the Sidney area many years ago.
Trostel wrapped up his talk with a question-and-answer session, fielding questions from a few members of the audience with a demonstration of knowledge and his love of the subject. This love stems from early childhood memories of watching trains pass through Sidney with his family, his early inspiration for the work he does now.
For more information on future events, visit https://www.visitsidneyshelby.com/ or the Bicentennial page on Facebook.
The writer is a summer intern with the Sidney Daily News.