Working on an audio version of a post has been an education because I’m not a trained speaker or sound technician. As an experiment in trying new things on the blog this year, it’s been fun but at the same time a lot of work.

While learning the process, I developed a profound level of respect for those who do, or have done, serious podcasting. There is a definite craft to producing a quality recording that you actually want to listen to. If it seems easy from the outside, it’s because really talented people have worked long and hard behind the scenes to make it look that way. You can wax poetic all you want about how the tools for producing audio and video are cheap and widely available now, and that’s true, but there is much more to both crafts than you would think. The tools are just that, tools. To do quality work still takes crafting a vision and the ability to tell a story coupled to the skill of bringing both together into a finished product. That is what separates wannabes (like me) from the pros.

That said, I think this audio post came out okay for a first effort, and I hope you’ll enjoy listening. I’ve included a transcript of the narrative for those who might like to read along.

My hope is that by presenting ideas in different formats, they will have more impact because some learn best by hearing, others by seeing, and still others by reading. The goal is to help you become the modeler you want to be. I think it safe to say that we all want our layouts to be as realistic as possible. Regardless of the theme we choose, we want believable operations, models and convincing scenes to run them through. Yet, getting to that goal isn’t as easy as we’d like it to be. It takes work, skill and knowledge to understand what’s important versus the trivial.

Starting next week, comments will be open again or you can join the conversation now over at Google+. Enjoy.

Regards,
Mike

Context and Depth Transcript
December 31, 1846, a Thursday, dawned wet. An incessant rain began falling that morning and wouldn’t let up until Friday afternoon January 1, 1847. The old-timers had seen this before and knew what might be coming but no one could know how bad it would get over the next thirty-six hours of unceasing rain.

By Thursday evening, the river had overflowed into the stock pens on the southern edge of Cambridge City, washing away an untold number of hogs, even though the majority of the herds were saved from the oncoming water.

Friday morning dawned with a number of residents abandoning their homes, with one house being carried off completely, leaving the unfortunate family to wonder about their future.

Swollen Whitewater River Brookville, IN 04/2011

Although receding, the Whitewater River is out of its banks at Brookville in April of 2011 because of heavy rains. The railroad is to the left in this photo and the shingle plant is behind me.

Up and down the river, little was spared. Highway bridges were washed away or their abutments seriously undermined, rendering them impassible to traffic. And as in the past, the adjacent Whitewater Canal suffered greatly at the hands of the flood.

Quoting the Cambridge City newspaper: The Reveille:
“This great work of the White Water Valley is in a state of ruin! The whole country must feel it soon in every branch of its trade and industry.” The article continued:

“The damage to the White Water Canal cannot at this time be correctly estimated! The damages to the company will perhaps not be less than fifty thousand dollars- while the injury to the county and Merchants &c will be considerable.”

Along its length, numerous aqueducts of the canal were damaged or destroyed. The canal banks were breached repeated along with considerable damage to the timberwork of many of its 56 locks.

The canal was repaired and eventually reopened to traffic but service was short-lived. Subsequent flooding later in the same year wiped out the repairs, leaving the northern segment in Wayne County closed until September of 1848.

The handwriting was on the wall. More flooding in the following years would exhaust the finances of the company and the canal filed for bankruptcy and service was stopped for good in 1853. The canal lay dormant for ten years until the rights to the old towpath were sold to the Indiana and Cincinnati Railroad, which began laying track and commenced rail service in 1866, opening a new chapter in the transportation history of the region.

My story of that great flood was excerpted from the January 2014 issue of The Hoosier Packet, the publication of The Canal Society of Indiana.

While interesting, how does it relate to model railroading? Two words: context and depth.

Through the sweep of history, the reasons for the existence of the line I model became known. The businessmen of the nineteenth century didn’t undertake such works for fun; they needed reliable transportation for their wares. And while greatly reduced in volume, such needs are still present to this day as the ongoing existence of this line demonstrates.

The story of the canal and the railroad that followed also show the march of new technology overtaking the old. By the time the canal opened for business in the late 1830s, it was already obsolete. While the pace of change may have been much slower in the 1800s, it’s still a familiar story to our ears in 2014.

History such as this brings the line to life for me. Yes, I can go and see trains in action today, but knowing the saga of how the line came to be and the influences over its construction adds a layer of understanding that mere observation doesn’t reveal.

While I don’t have room to model a stretch of open track on my layout, if I ever decided to include a portion of such track, I would include many visual clues along the right-of-way like mud caked grasses and lots of downed trees as evidence of a recent high water event. A scene where the embankment was reinforced with riprap and new ballast would add a depth to the modeling that I wouldn’t have thought of had I not been aware of the relationship between the railroad and the river.

I’m fortunate that so much local history has been carefully preserved and made available and I’ve been constantly surprised at how much I’ve discovered about this obscure little piece of southeast Indiana railroading. My modeling is better informed and my appreciation of the area I live in has deepened immensely. How about you? What story from history could your layout tell?

I’m Mike Cougill from the OST Publications blog.

Thanks for listening.