If you live in the Lapel or Fishersburg area, at about 7 a.m. every day except weekends you will hear a train whistle.
This is to warn everyone in the area of train movement. A locomotive is leaving Lapel’s Owens-Brockway glass facility with empty rail cars.
The cars are pulled to CSX South Anderson rail yard. That’s where the train will hook up other train cars, filled with “soda ash, sand and recycled glass.”
These products will be pulled back to the glass factory in Lapel, where they will be used in making glass beer bottles.
If you are a beer drinker, there’s a good chance your beer bottle came from the Lapel glass factory.
This town has a long history of glass producing factories.
It started in the 1890s.
The Woodward family bought a lot in the northeast section of Lapel and started the first glass factory.
In 1894, Oliver Shetterly and Luther Lee built the Shetterly mill.
In addition, the Wilcox Glass Factory (1895) and the Lapel Exchange Bank (founded by David Conrad in 1898) opened Lapel Bottle Factory Inc (1899) and employed 150 people.
One of the reasons for so many glass products in the Lapel/Fishersburg area was the location of gas wells in this area. Gas was cheap for the operation of the gas furnaces, necessary for melting the soda ash and sand for glass products.
Through the years, these glass factories were merged with other glass producers.
In 1950, Sterling Glass closed and sold out to Brockway Glass.
In the 1960s, Brockway Glass expanded and was employing about 500 people. Its production of glass bottles increased to more than a million bottles in a year.
Owens-Illinois Glass later bought Brockway’s stock and took over the operation.
Today, Owens-Brockway produces approximately 2½ million glass beer bottles every day.
Wiley Brown is owner and operations manager for Central Indiana & Western Railroad, which operates rail services on nine miles of track between Anderson and Lapel.
Brown and his assistant, Jake Garvey, are responsible for keeping Owens-Brockway supplied with the materials it needs to keep production going — sand, soda ash (see related box) and recycled glass.
“I took this operation over in 1997, and have been at it ever since,” Wiley Brown said. “I inherited the train operation from my grandfather, Ron Brown; and my father, Mark Brown. They bought this railroad in 1986 from Conrail. The railroad was in bad shape back then, and we had to repair the tracks for operating.
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“Presently, we have four engines. At one time, we transported grain from the Lapel elevators to ethanol plants. Today, semis are hauling grain from those elevators.
“At an auction in Beech Grove, I was able to buy the Amtrak Mail Car you see located in downtown Lapel. I plan on restoring the old mail car and using it as an office. I am presently operating out of my garage, and it would be nice to meet inspectors and others calling on me at the office railcar.
“It will also be used to store items needed in our operation,” Wiley added.
Responding to the question of whether there had been any unusual experiences while operating the train between Lapel and Anderson, Wiley and Garvey recalled a time when they were on their way to the Anderson Conrail Yard; they said a man was jogging toward them on the tracks. As they approached the jogger, he continued toward them. Wiley stopped the train. When the jogger got within a few feet of the train, he stepped off the track and continued on. They assumed the jogger must have been wearing earplugs and listening to music.
“I had a lady in a car hit the side of one of the train cars. I didn’t even know about it until I got back to Lapel. I later learned, the lady took her foot off the brake and her car rolled up on the tracks. There were no injuries, thank goodness,” Wiley added.
Jake Garvey worries about children trying to climb onto the train while it is moving. He was also concerned about people dumping their trash on the tracks.
“We’ve seen couches, dishwashers and bags of trash dumped on the tracks,” he said.
Wiley Brown lives in Lapel with his wife, Kaleigh, and their four children.
Ray Tincher attended Ball State University and retired from Indiana Department of Correction in 1997. He worked at IDOC for 30 years, serving in a variety of roles, from correctional officer to warden. At retirement, he received the Sagamore of the Wabash Award from Gov. Frank O’Bannon. He wrote several training manuals as part of his employment and is a published author: “Inmate #13225 John Herbert Dillinger (2007).” He and his wife, Marilyn, live in Lapel.