Francesville to Reynolds. 17 miles/215.4 total
Getting a relatively early start--9:30 a.m. I’m leaving from the parking lot of Pearlie Mae’s Restaurant in Francesville, headed toward Reynolds. The temperature is in the high 40s, with a strong wind from the west. Chilly, but I’m dressed for it. Rainy and misty, by turns.
I was going to spend last night in charming (really, sort of) little Francesville, but there was no cell phone or broadband internet access. That won't do. I took a chance and went down to my destination for today, Reynolds, where reception was fine.
One thing about Francesville and these other little towns along U.S. 421 is that you don’t ask yourself, “I wonder what the deal is with this town?” It’s corn and soybeans. And sometimes taters. That's The Deal. And everything else, from restaurants to gas stations to insurance agencies to banks, is in support of The Deal.
I just turned down another offer of a ride. I wonder what goes through peoples’ minds when I turn them down, especially on a day like today, as inclement and unlikely a day for walking as you can get. I probably don’t look like I’m having a good time. (And I don’t know if I actually am having a good time.) They probably think I’m either crazy or afraid to get into the car with them. But I thank them profusely, and they drive on.
When I'm tempted to be critical of the people of Indiana, I have to remind myself that I received NO offers of rides the whole time I was in Michigan. I’m sure the weather has something to do with it, what with being so cold and rainy, but that’s not the whole story. When I lived in Connecticut I walked on weekends for several years from the 90s to around 2002. I probably put 1500 miles on my feet, in all kinds of weather—from sunshine to driving rain to snow and temperatures in the teens. And I was offered, during that whole time, a grand total of ONE ride. Since I got into Indiana I’ve had nine offers in five days. Don't worry, I’m not going to go off on a screed about the virtues of the people in the red states in the heartland. (Hey wait a minute--Indiana was a blue state in 2008, for the first time in many years.) But the statistics do speak for themselves, don’t they? These have been folks of all kinds—farmers in pickups, young shit-kickers in jacked-up cars, a Spanish-speaking couple with a baby. All I want to say is that I appreciate their kindness in asking.
A historical marker: “First Indiana Natural Gas Well. One mile southeast of this marker, gas was discovered in 1867 by G. Bates while drilling for oil at a depth of 500 feet. Gas wells were drilled in 1887-1888; gas piped into Francesville lasted only four years.” So there you have it.
About 6 miles into the walk I cross over from Pulaski County to White County. A mile or so north of Monon (pronounced MO-nahn) is the Whistle Stop restaurant and railroad museum. I take a tour. It’s the largest collection of railroad memorabilia in the world. They’ve got everything in there. Railroad china and silverware; locks; ashtrays; pocket watches; furniture; signs; lanterns--some going back to the days when they used whale oil in them. They have a caboose and a train station you can go through. And a lot more. If I were a railroad nut, it would be a fantastic. I’m not quite there, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
The New Albany and Salem line, started by James Brooks (who named Francesville after his daughter), eventually became known as the Monon line, and changed names a number of other times. Currently it’s run by CSX. It crossed the state from north to south, from Michigan City to Louisville. At one time Monon had eleven tracks running through it.
So most of these towns up and down 421 were built as stops along the railroad, and laid out by James Brooks, including Monon. He gave them names of his choosing, but some of them, like Monon (and maybe San Pierre), reverted to their older place names. Monon is from an Indian word--swift water, or something. Being the president of a railroad in the 1850s was a pretty powerful gig.
At about 8 miles into the walk the sign says “Welcome to Monon. Proud History. Bright Future.” Population is a little over 1700. The main street is festooned with American flags. I’m not sure if this is an occasion, or if they do it just to orient people who may have dropped down from another planet and don’t know what country they’re in. Otherwise, it’s pretty meaningless.
As wonderful and as important as Monon is, or was, it is gone in a matter of a half dozen blocks, and I am at the south end of town, having crossed the railroad tracks. Amtrak does run trough here, between Indianapolis and Chicago.
I must have passed the southern limit of where the meat wagon plied the road yesterday, because the road kill is plentiful today. Here's my first dead deer of Indiana. I see that it's a buck, then when I go to check out the antlers, I discover that they've been sawed off.
Shortly thereafter, I see my first cat road kill of Indiana. Some of you are no doubt saying, “Enough with the road kill, already. Are you obsessed?” You’re right. Forgive me. But I’ll tell you, when you’re doing nothing but walking for hours at a time, it’s a worthwhile diversion, to take your mind off the fatigue and pain.
The Reynolds water tower comes into sight, still a couple of miles off. I hear a train whistle. It’s another long freight train, this time 66 cars pulled by two engines. Finally after 8 miles running as straight as an arrow, 421 takes a turn as I enter Reynolds, which calls itself “Bio-Town.” (That means it was selected to become an energy self-sufficient town, using biodiesel and ethanol, and making power from local animal waste. And maybe road kill, who knows?) I don’t know much more about Reynolds than that, except that I spent the night in the motor home here, in a vacant lot next to a restaurant parking lot, and that I slept well. As I enter town, I find a dime on the side of the road. I take it as a good sign, beyond the value of the dime itself. There’s nothing like finding money by the side of the road. It’s such an unequivocally good thing.
I always relish the moment when I first lay eyes on the motor home at the end of a walk. Because I’m tired and it means I can rest, of course, but also because I always have this nagging fear that it won’t be there—towed away or stolen or taken up by aliens. So when it comes into sight, my heart leaps up.