One of our drivers, Ralph Niehaus, who had worked for the railroad, explained to me an interesting and sneaky way to activate the red lights and bells at a crossing. I appreciated that information but had no need for it at the time.
As fall approached a few months later, we were informed that a Halloween parade would take place on Southport Road. It would start at Madison, proceed east across the railroad tracks and end at Pine Street. Southport High School’s band was going to participate. This sounded like an ideal opportunity to pull a prank ... so a plan was put into motion.
I purchased a reel-to-reel tape recorder and spent several days rushing to the tracks as a train approached to record the warning whistle. We borrowed a battery-powered spotlight and already owned jumper cables. One of our buses was equipped with a public address system, including an exterior speaker.
As the band crossed the tracks at Southport Road, three things happened: Someone with the proper knowledge activated the red lights and warning bells like a seasoned professional; someone started the tape player; and a person stood in the middle of the tracks while slightly wiggling a large light pointed toward the crossing.
This was only done for about five seconds, but it had the desired effect ... the band vanished, and so did we after shutting off the lights and bells, the recorder and the spotlight. We stowed our equipment and were seated in lawn chairs at the front of our building when the reassembled band, under the direction of Bill Schmadfeldt, came marching past.
We waved and gave him a thumbs-up. We could tell he was certain that he knew exactly who was responsible for the fiendish activity, but he also had no idea how it was pulled off.
It was some 25 years later that I went to Barringer’s Tavern for lunch and saw Bill at the bar. I took a seat beside him and placed my order. After chatting for a while, I said I had a story to share with him.
“It’s about that damned railroad crossing, isn’t it?” he snarled.We laughed long and hard and agreed that there are some things that you never forget.
Shonk is a 1960 graduate of Southport High School, a ’63 grad of Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis) and a retired bus driver from Beech Grove Schools.