Editor's note: Peep the Past is a Ball State Daily News series featuring historical events, individuals and topics relating to the Muncie and Ball State communities. If you have any suggestions as to who or what we should feature next, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
While many will say that the Ball Brothers are Muncie’s greatest claim to fame, they probably wouldn’t have ended up here without one key factor — trains.
Muncie boasts a rich history of the locomotive engines, students may find themselves surprised to find out about the city’s largest industry boost.
The first railroad system was installed in Muncie in 1852, with many others following. By 1869, just after the Civil War, Muncie had railroads traveling in every direction. This made it possible for Muncie to develop new industries.
Dr. Francis Parker, a retired urban planning professor and co-writer of the award-winning book “Railroads of Indiana” says that if it weren’t for the railroads of Muncie, the Ball brothers might not have moved here.
He added that during the time when the Ball brothers moved to Muncie, industrial sites were key before bringing on a railroad system.
“In that time, there weren’t really trucks. If you wanted industry, you had to have a way of getting things out,” Parker said. “I think because we had railroads and natural gas, that’s what brought the Ball Brothers here. It made it easy for them to manufacture and then ship their products out."
Although Muncie has a history of industrial railroads, it also has a history of passenger railroads.
From the early 1900s to 1941, Muncie had a line called the Electric Interurban System, which made 17 round trips to Indianapolis every day.
Ball State telecommunications professor Chris Flook says that Greyhound buses replaced the Interurban System, and from that point on, rail was largely used for the transportation of goods and not passengers.
"[Greyhound busses] really changed the needs and uses of trains [in Muncie]," Flook said. "It's much different now than ever before."
Even though the railroad may have disbanded, Muncie is still home to one of two leading manufacturers of locomotive parts.
Parker said that Progress Rail – a railroad maintenance company in Muncie – puts together pieces of a locomotive and then ships them to places like Australia, Saudi Arabia and other big cities across the world.
Even with Muncie's continued role in the rail industry, Parker said that many people often forget or aren't aware of trains' continued presence in the city.
“Basically, I think it’s because most of us don’t ride passenger trains anymore,” Parker said. “Despite the fact that we really are a pretty important locomotive area, it doesn’t affect people’s day to day unless they are stuck at a crossing waiting for a train to pass by.”
While Muncie may not have any passenger trains run through the city anymore, Flook said it is still important to acknowledge their impact on in Muncie.
“It’s a rich history and it’s a rich presence," he said. “People like to trash [Muncie] about being this boring town and if you actually look at the history it’s not.
“We have this rich history. Muncie really was in this area of the west a manufacturing center.”