Often times, looking at the name of a railroad gives readers the impression that there were bigger plans when it came to the ultimate size of the company. One that comes screaming to mind is the Toledo, Wabash & Pacific. Going by just the name, the Wabash would end up being the biggest railroad in the United States. But then, there are others that have grandiose names just because they can. One such railroad is the New Jersey, Indiana & Illinois (NJI&I).
One would think that with a name that includes three states, the railroad was planned for great things. That thinking would be, well, wrong. The railroad company was set up to serve one industry, and do so on a track of 11.321 miles in length. It was incorporated on 27 October 1902 in Indiana. Construction was completed in 1904 and 1905 by the Universal Construction Company.
The NJI&I was chartered by the Singer Sewing Machine Company to allow its South Bend factory to ship products to a connection with the Wabash at Pine, Indiana, south of South Bend. The chosen name of the company was not for its ultimate destinations, but for the locations of Singer Sewing Machine plants in the United States at the time.
During its history, it expanded to serve other industries in the South Bend area. The other big one would be Studebaker.
The railroad was, at the time of its creation, a stub end track with its only connection at Pine. Pine is located along SR 4 between North Liberty and Lakeville. Railroad records show that the junction was named after the manager of the South Bend Singer plant, Leighton Pine. The connection was to the Wabash line that connected the Grand Trunk Western at Kingsbury across northern Indiana in a relatively straight line to Edon, Ohio, and beyond.
The old Singer plant was on Western Avenue in South Bend. The offices of the railroad, as well, would be located on the same street. (1508 W. Western Avenue, to be exact.) When the railroad was built, Singer was reported to have been trying to ship 7,500 sewing machine cabinets a day from a factory that was operating before the true advent of trucks. The plant had moved to its Western Avenue location from a spot east of the St. joseph River at Madison Street.
Because of its connection to the Wabash, the NJI&I would, in the beginning, run passenger trains bound for Detroit. This service lasted until 1933. Passengers would board at the NJI&I station, at the above listed 1508 W. Western, and disembark at the only building in Pine. By 1976, that building would be used only for train orders and transfer information.
The Wabash would become the sole owner of the NJI&I in the 1920s…one source states 1920, another 1926. Either way, two things would happen. One, the Wabash would come to own all of the stock in the company, and two, it would be operated as a separate company, with separate financial statements for years to come.
In 1930, the company would be compelled by the city of South Bend to elevate their tracks at Division, Walnut and Cherry Streets. In the legal announcement in the South Bend Tribune of 25 April 1930, it was mentioned that part of the elevation included raising the crossing of the New York Central’s connection track from the NJI&I to the Michigan Central Railroad near Division Street. (A quick glance at a map of South Bend shows no street named Division. A city directory search shows that West Division Street started at 400 S. Michigan, and traveled west to the city limits. 400 S. Michigan is the intersection of Michigan and Western today.)
The NJI&I, after crossing Western Avenue, would connect directly to the New York Central line that would leave South Bend to the north bound for Niles, Michigan, past the Notre Dame University campus. But that wasn’t the only direct connection with the NJI&I. The little road had a line that ran, and still runs, due east and west north of Indiana Avenue. On the west end, it was connected to the New York Central line heading off to the southwest to Walkerton and beyond. On the east end, the railroad had a direct connection into the Vandalia (Pennsylvania) Railroad’s yards between Indiana and Ewing Avenues. This meant, as proclaimed in the South Bend Tribune of 8 August 1976, that even though the railroad covered only a grand total of 13 miles, including yards, it had a nation wide, and world wide, customer base…with products coming and going from all over the world.
The New Jersey, Indiana & Illinois would remain a separate railroad company until 1982. It was in that year that the Norfolk Southern absorbed the little South Bend railroad. The NJI&I had become part of the Norfolk Southern when the Norfolk & Western, a predecessor company to the NS, leased the Wabash from its then owners, the Pennsylvania, in 1960. The Wabash would last longer as a separate company, ending its legal existence in November 1991.
The trackage out of South Bend lasted quite a bit longer. The junction at Pine was made a direct connection to Kingsbury when the trackage east of Pine was removed by the Wabash. With the Norfolk Southern purchase of portions of Conrail, the NJI&I track south of South Bend became pretty much pointless, as now the NS could use the old New York Central tracks it acquired in the purchase to connect to the old NJI&I and any customers along the line. Today, at least according to Google Maps, the trackage south of town ends just south of the St. Joseph Valley Parkway (US 20/US 31). The old right of way can still be followed in satellite photos all the way to Pine. The old line over the NYC toward the old offices on Western Avenue had also been removed, and the old New York Central line to Walkerton has been truncated and directly connected to what is left of the old New Jersey, Indiana & Illinois.