Contributed by Matthew Kertes - Student of Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis
Indiana’s interurban system created a new opportunity for Hoosiers. Before the traditional steam railroads came along, there were two options for transportation: horse or by foot. The advent of railroads made travel between towns convenient for the first time in Indiana’s history. This level of convenience was increased even further by the services of the interurban railroads. The interurbans wouldn’t only stop in town but could pick up additional passengers at almost any crossing.
-This level of convenience, however, came at a cost to the interurbans.
As with any business, competition was ruthless and fierce. The level of service that the interurbans provided Hoosiers was a direct challenge to the steam railroads they attempted to replace. In fact, many new interurban railroads were even built right alongside the steam railroads. While the steam railroads, not bogged down by the constant stopping and starting, were still better at town-to-town travel, they only ran trains a couple times a day. The interurbans, on the other hand, ran several. Hoosiers could almost always rely on catching the interurban at a schedule that met their independent needs.
The interurbans were also cheaper for travelers than the steam railroads. The fare for an interurban was often perhaps half the price per mile of what the steam railroads charged. While this was an amazing opportunity for Hoosiers, especially those only looking to travel a few miles, the interurban companies couldn’t produce enough revenue with the lower fares to offset operating expenses.
By the end of the 1920s, the interurbans were in dire straits. Several companies had either gone bankrupt or were on the verge of bankruptcy due to declining traffic, partially induced by the Great Depression. A new source of competition, the automobile, didn’t make the situation any better. A solution was desperately needed.
The solution came with Indiana Railroad. In 1930 and 1931, several interurban companies were consolidated into the new company, and Indiana Railroad began modernizing Indiana’s interurban network.
One of Indiana Railroad’s first steps was the modernization of equipment. Steel cars like Hoosier Heartland’s Union Traction cars No. 429 and 437, operating 5 years prior to the merger, replaced wooden cars like the Hoosier Heartland Trolley Company’s Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern No. 81. Additionally, Indiana Railroad began new high-speed services and reduced its staffing costs by converting several of the older cars to require only one employee instead of two.
The Union Traction cars possessed by Hoosier Heartland Trolley Company are excellent examples of Indiana Railroad’s attempts to keep opportunity open to Hoosiers, such as that of young farmer Rufus Thomas in our previous post. Both cars were used by the company from its inception and remain excellent examples of the possibilities once open to Hoosiers.