Not long ago I showed this sign in my lit-neon single frame series. I found this photo from my 2009 tour of the National Road (US 40) in western Indiana that shows the sign in its context. It’s a pleasing scene from downtown Terre Haute.
Terre Haute is a blue-collar town of about 60,000 people. That’s big enough that you can’t know everybody, but small enough that after you live there for a few years the locals are largely familiar to you.
When I lived there, I used to stop by a little diner downtown for breakfast. Most days the county sheriff ate at the stool next to me. We’d nod and smile as he sat down. I worked with a fellow then who went on to be Terre Haute’s mayor now. This is how life goes in a city of this size, and I miss it.
When I moved to Terre Haute in 1985, the bridge that carried US 40 over the Wabash River into West Terre Haute was in sorry shape. It had served since 1905 and had been rehabilitated in 1973. But by the late 1980s it again needed a great deal of work. This postcard, which carries a 1912 postmark, shows it in sturdier times.
This unusual seven-span bridge had a central plate-girder section that carried vehicular traffic, with Pratt deck truss spans on either side for pedestrians. The pedestrian spans were closed by the time I lived in Terre Haute, presumably because deterioration had made them unsafe.
This bridge replaced a wooden covered bridge that was built in 1865. I’ll bet it was the longest covered bridge in the state while it was in operation.
But back to the unusual deck-girder/deck-truss bridge. Rather than restoring it yet again, the state chose to replace it with not one, but two new bridges, one eastbound and one westbound. The bridges were named for two Terre Haute natives, singer/songwriter and comedic actor Paul Dresser (westbound) and journalist and author Theodore Dreiser (eastbound). Dresser and Dreiser were brothers; Dresser changed his last name. Dresser wrote one of the most popular songs of the 19th century, “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away,” making his bridge over the Wabash River a touching tribute. The Dresser and Dreiser bridges opened in 1992, and the old bridge was demolished.
Notice the separation of these two bridges. Since the 1970s, US 40 had been realigned a couple of times through downtown Terre Haute, and these two bridges merely met US 40 where it was. Here’s how the two bridges cross the Wabash River.
US 40 and the National Road used to go straight through downtown Terre Haute, where it met the 1905 bridge and the 1865 bridge before it. This 1973 topographical map shows the route; it’s the red line across the middle of the image.
By the time I moved to Terre Haute, US 40 had been rerouted downtown. Westbound, when it reached US 41 (Third Street), the original path was no longer through. You turned north on US 41 for one block to Cherry Street, when you turned west again and followed a curve onto the 1905 bridge. Eastbound, after coming off the bridge a curve led to Ohio Street, one block south of the National Road. US 40 followed Ohio Street for several blocks before turning north and then east again onto the National Road. This 1989 topographical map shows the configuration.
From a 2009 visit to Terre Haute, here’s the Vigo County Courthouse, at the corner of the National Road and US 41. By this time US 40 had been rerouted again westbound to turn north at Ninth Street and then west one block later at Cherry Street.
The grassy area in the lower right is where the National Road used to go.
The Saratoga was already a local institution when I lived in Terre Haute in the 1980s and 1990s. It is still going strong today. I like to stop for a meal whenever I’m in town. I’m usually greeted by Shelly, a longtime waitress and someone I knew when I lived in Terre Haute.
I sort of miss Terre Haute. I liked living there. Unfortunately, there was only one company in town that needed people who did what I do, and when that company folded I had little choice but to move on.
In the last couple years a new generation of students realized they could make something much more of their online stream. They’ve revitalized the online “station” with new studios and office space. It’s down the hall from the original space. The original studios and office have been removed and that space repurposed. The school also repainted the entire floor, which means the giant WMHD logo I painted on the wall in 1988 is finally gone.
About a year ago, current General Manager Katana Colledge found my posts about WMHD here and reached out via my contact form. We’ve corresponded ever since, me telling my old WMHD stories and Katana telling me all the great stuff the station is working on.
They’ve continued their stream, but have improved the software that runs it for better sound quality. They have also returned to having some DJs, but rather than them being live as back in my day they all prerecord their shows and queue them up in the stream for the right time. They also upload those shows to Mixcloud; see them here. You’ll also find several shows from the old days there, including all of my shows that I recorded.
WMHD has also added a podcast recording room, offers guitar lessons, and holds jam sessions for students, staff, and faculty. They also bring their DJ equipment to campus events and provide music. Or at least they did before COVID-19 paused it all; they’re finding creative ways to stay connected with students online now.
As Katana told me all about it, I could feel the same level of excitement and commitment as students had in my time. That energy has waxed and waned over the years. It’s great to see it back.
The station put together a show to relaunch WMHD, and asked a few alumni to choose three songs and introduce them. I was one of those alumni! Here is the entire launch show. My intro and three songs begin a few seconds before the 40 minute mark.
Go here to read my alma mater’s news story about the relaunch, in which I’m quoted!
US 40 has changed its routing several times through Terre Haute, the last major town on the original National Road westbound before the road reached Illinois. When I moved to town in 1985, US 40 went all the way through town and crossed the Wabash River on a single bridge. But the road diverted from the original National Road route, Wabash Ave., somewhere downtown. The westbound US 40 turned north on 9th St. and then west on Cherry St.; the eastbound US 40 followed Ohio St. to 12th St, I think, and then turned north and then west on Wabash again.
Later the one bridge was replaced with two, one eastbound and one westbound, that merged on the west side of the Wabash River. Still later, US 40 was routed around Terre Haute entirely, following SR 46 on the east side of town south to I-70, and then I-70 all the way into Illinois.
That change hadn’t happened yet when I made my 2006 road trip along US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana, allowing me to get this photo of a US 40 shield — the one that directed drivers north on 9th St.
Terre Haute is justifiably proud of where Wabash Ave. meets 7th St. — this is where US 40 and US 41 used to intersect. This intersection saw a great deal of traffic from all over the nation on these two major roads. Originally, US 40 stretched from one coast to the other. I believe US 41 still runs from the top of Michigan to the bottom of Florida. Here’s 7th and Wabash from the northwest corner, as it was in 2006.
I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.
The station went on the air in 1981, and off the air for good in 2013. Who could have foreseen how radio would be come less and less vital? Fewer and fewer students wanted to be on the air, and finally the school threw in the towel.
A small group of students shifted the station to online streaming and still operate it that way. You can listen here. Over the summer, the current station manager found some of my old blog posts about WMHD and emailed me to ask about the old days. She described a small but vibrant group that keeps WMHD streaming, but also involved in providing live music at campus events. It’s exciting to see.
I was looking through some old files the other day when I came upon these two WMHD bumper stickers from around 1987. I designed them myself.
It’s crazy to imagine it now, but in 1987 computers were primitive compared to what we have today and they lacked the tools to design such things. I used paper and pencil to design this sticker. I used a straightedge to draw the WMHD logo. If I recall correctly, I traced some curved object to get the D right.
I used rub-on letters for “Rose-Hulman 90.5FM.” These were sheets with lots of letters on them. You could get them in a bunch of different fonts, but I chose this typewriter font because it looked clean. I drew a faint line and then, letter by letter, put the sheet down onto the paper letter side down, lined up the letter on the line and next to the adjacent letter, and used a pencil to scribble across each letter to transfer it from the sheet to the paper. It was exacting work.
Then I sent the finished artwork off to a bumper-sticker company with written instructions to make the background black, the WMHD and 90.5FM letters yellow, and Rose-Hulman white. I forget how many we ordered, probably 1,000. They came back perfect.
After I graduated I put one on my new car. Looking at it now, I see that it is a slightly different design. We must have run out of the original stickers and lost the original artwork. I would have had to recreate the artwork for a second sticker run!
This wasn’t the only time or way I rendered the WMHD logo. The school let me and some buddies paint the hallway in the dormitory our station was in. We chose this red-stripe-on-white scheme to replace a drab beige. I painted our logo on the wall next to the broadcast-studio door. Because I always did our logo by hand, they came out a little different every time. We painted these walls in 1988 and they stayed this way for nearly three decades. My son made this photo of me next to the logo in 2012.
I loved my time on WMHD. It gave me pleasure and joy as I ground my way through engineering school. I used to do the morning show (story here), and I was on the air when Space Shuttle Challenger exploded (story here).