Indianapolis-New Castle Traction

1908: Indianapolis was already an electric traction, or interurban, center. Four years earlier, seven interurban railroads completed the largest interurban state in the world, the Indianapolis Traction Terminal. Also, a new interurban line was being constructed to connect Indianapolis to New Castle, then ultimately (according to the plan) to Toledo. This traction line was to run along side the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis (Big Four) Railway Springfield Division tracks that almost make it into New Castle proper. It would become known as the “Honey Bee line.” At the same time, a line was proposed connecting the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern line at Greenfield with the Honey Bee line at Maxwell.

But things weren’t that smooth for what became the Indianapolis, New Castle & Toledo (INC&T) Traction Company. A subway was built by the traction company under Rural Street on the northeast side of Indianapolis, at the company’s cost, in 1905. Then, the company fell into receivership for two years. In 1909, surveyors started working again on the line. At the New Castle end, most of the track had already been put in place. “When the track was laid in the city proper no curves or “Y’s” were put in, and these will now be placed so that cars can be run around the public square on a loop.” More track was put in place by the Indiana Union Traction Company, ultimate owner of the Honey Bee line. The new company gains three blocks of track free of charge, as it was put in place by the Indiana Union before that company lost its franchise rights in New Castle. (Source: Indianapolis News, 15 September 1909, pp 7)

This was after a protest of residents of Brookside Avenue to the placement of wooden poles for the purpose of trolleys and interurbans along the recently opened street. The Indianapolis City Board of Works insisted that the then Indianapolis, New Castle and Winchester (INC&W) recommended that the line be installed on Brookside Avenue instead of the company desired Massachusetts Avenue. The company stated that the wooden poles were a temporary thing, since the board would insist on iron poles. (Source: Indianapolis News, 08 October 1904, pp 24)

26 January 1910 saw the first train to be run on the Honey Bee line. The construction of the line started at New Castle, working its way west. At 1000 that morning, the first train left New Castle rumbling its way along to the end of the line at Shirley. This trip consisted of Chief Engineer White and eighty business and professional men. About 500 people gathered in downtown New Castle to witness the first train. The newspaper article ends with the mention “no regular schedule will be maintained for some time.” (Source: Indianapolis News, 26 January 1910, pp 4)

“The New Castle traction line is at last a reality.” This is the first line of an article that appeared in the Hancock Democrat of 07 July 1910. The completion of the Honey Bee line would bring the total of interurban lines at Indianapolis to 13. Work on this line took over half a decade from granting the franchise to beginning of operation.

One of the benefits of the coming of the INC&T to the small towns along the line was the coming of electrical service. According to the Indianapolis News of 18 August 1911, the town of Shirley “is now enjoying electric street lighting.” Twenty 250-watt Tungston lamps, with current provided by the INC&T, were place in the town. But, “owing to the improvement having assumed large proportions the city has been compelled to defer until next year the construction of what is termed ‘Bowery sewer.'” I guess a typical case of “you gain some, you lose some.”

Construction was not smooth sailing, either. In May 1912, a subcontractor that built 18.5 miles of the track on this line was suing the contractor for whom he was doing the work for nonpayment. Francis E. Seagrave, of Toledo, was giving the contract to build the track from New Castle to Indianapolis. The contract called for Seagrave to provide material and prepare the roadbed. Some work was subcontracted to William Love, who was to be paid $380 a mile, plus more for installing switches. Love also claims to have done some excavating and grading. According to the traction company itself, it would not be involved in the suit, since the company paid Seagrave for the work. Love claims that Seagrave owes him $8,308.60, including six percent interest, from the time that the INC&T entered its first receivership, under the Union Trust Company, on 5 November 1907. Another $2,070.16 for grading and other work was requested. That brought the suit total to $13,000. (Source: Indianapolis News, 04 May 1912, pp 2)

As is typical with the interurban lines in Indiana, the INC&T spent quite a bit of time in receivership. In February 1926, a suit was filed in Muncie asking for the traction company to be placed under a receiver, and that Arthur W. Brady, president and receiver of the Union Traction Company be that person. But, by this time, the word Toledo had been changed in the name to “Eastern,” making the Honey Bee line the INC&E. This suit was filed by the Fidelity Trust Company, a trustee and owner of bonds of the company to the tune of $1.5 million. The suit was moved from the Delaware circuit to the Madison circuit, at Anderson, to other Union Traction company suits were being heard. (Source: Indianapolis News, 08 February 1926, pp 28)

In 1930, the INC&E, along with all other Union Traction lines, the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern lines, an other traction lines in the state, fell under the control of Midland United Company (also known as Midland Utilities Company) as the Indiana Railroad. Midland, and hence the Indiana Railroad, were owned by Samuel Insull, a Chicago business man that made his fortune (and lost it) in electrical utilities and railroads. One of the few lines that were owned by “Insull interests” still exists today: the Chicago, South Shore and South Bend Railroad. The Great Depression did great harm to Insull, and the electric traction companies that he owned.

1931 saw the use of this line expanded as the THI&E Indianapolis to Dunreith section was abandoned. Law arguments before the abandonment, by the city of Greenfield, were made that the Indiana Railroad was rerouting all freight traffic through New Castle, whether it be through Muncie or Richmond. This caused, according to the argument, that traffic counts and revenue on the Indianapolis to Richmond line were artificially lowered to encourage the abandonment of the section to Dunreith. I covered this in another post here.

Less than 30 years after it was constructed, the Honey Bee line was abandoned by the Indiana Railroad. It was reported on 7 June 1937 that the line had been “abandoned recently.” Even though the Big Four line ran basically along the same right-of-way, the Indiana State Highway Commission did show some interest in the rail route. “A new direct highway connecting Indianapolis and Newcastle over the right-of-way of the abandoned traction line of the Indiana Railroad is being considered by the state highway commission, Earl Crawford, chairman, said today.” (Source: Indianapolis News, 7 June 1937, pp 4) However, due to the Indiana Railroad’s financial condition, title of the right-of-way would have to be acquired from the receiver of the line, Bowman Elder. In the end, that did not occur. And ultimately the entire right-of-way for both railroads (electric and steam) would fall into the hands of the property owners along the routes when the Big Four line was abandoned, as well.

The last of the line would be abandoned by the Indiana Railroad, approved by the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Indiana Public Service Commission, in July 1940. This section would be from Muncie to New Castle. “The abandonment will become effective as soon as the Indiana railroad is in a position to substitute truck and bus service over the interurban route.” (Source: Richmond Sun-Telegram, 6 July 1940, pp 2) As of the writing of the source article, IPSC action on the request to run motor vehicles had not been taken.

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