Bus Service At the End of the Interurban Era

As the electric traction, or interurban, trains ran across Indiana, they provided a service that many Hoosiers took for granted. The interurban covered much of the state, allowing passengers to get almost anywhere. Some companies grew very large from the consolidation of the interurban cars and the street railways in the cities. Union Traction, the company that provided service from Indianapolis to Fort Wayne, via Fort Harrison, Anderson, Muncie and Marion, actually owned the city street railway in Muncie…among others. The same company that owned a majority of the traction routes out of Indianapolis also owned the city trolley cars lines in both Indianapolis and Terre Haute.

The problem was, the writing was on the wall.

Part of what made the interurbans possible was the fact that the companies made their own electricity…and sold it to people along the line. The company that owned the Greenwood line was called Interstate Public Service. When the Federal Government required the power companies and the traction companies to become separate entities, the barely money making trains became anchors around the necks of the companies left to take care of them. Interstate Public Service changed the name of its power company to Public Service Indiana.

But the transportation service was still vital to the residents of Indiana. Or it least it was through the 1930’s and 1940’s. Something had to be done to make sure that people could get around the state, and through the cities, but still not spend a ton of losing money on the proposition. And soon, the electric traction train cars were replaced with diesel bus service in many places.

Indianapolis was known, at the time, for having the largest Traction Terminal in the world. But by 1926, part of it had already become known at the Traction Terminal Bus Station. Interurban trolley cars and buses were already using the same facility by 1926…half a decade before the train cars started disappearing from the landscape of the Hoosier state.

By that time, most of the interurban companies were already running charter bus services. As the advertisement to the left shows, the Interstate Public Service Company was running chartered bus service. This ad is from the Indianapolis Star of 5 June 1926. One of the Interstate Public Service excursions included bus service to Brown County. The round trip was $3.00. And you could add a chicken dinner in Brown County Park for $1.00.

Union Traction, mentioned above, ran a bus from Indianapolis to Turkey Run every Sunday. It left the Traction Terminal Bus Station at 0700, arriving at the park at 1000. Its return trip was completed at 2200 Sunday night when it arrived back at the Traction Terminal.

In 1932, the Indiana Railroad Company, owner of most of the traction lines radiating out of Indianapolis (they leased the interurban companies…the biggest of which was the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern, owner of a lot of interurban tracks and city services), decided to call an end to the tracked interurban rail service from Indianapolis to Dunreith. That service supported Greenfield. The government of Greenfield found itself suing the traction company for continuation of service. But there was service. The Indiana Railroad had replaced the traction cars with bus service provided by the Indiana Motor Transit Company. Yes, the Indiana Transit Company was owned by the Indiana Railroad. But that bus company continued service from Indianapolis to Dunreith, where it met the interurban train making the Richmond-New Castle-Indianapolis run. Starting on 6 January 1932, that bus service ran twelve trips, each way, daily. Busses left Indianapolis at 0800, 0915, 1245, 1430, 1600, 1645, 1715, 1740, 1810, 2015 and 2315.

But it still wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns for the transit companies. Even with the use of busses, the companies were still losing tons of money during the 1930’s. The Great Depression raged on throughout the decade…and slight money makers in good times were absolute money losers in bad. And with the exception of rural people trying to get to shopping in the urban area, a lot of the traffic had been curtailed as non-essential.

Busses would completely replace the Indianapolis-Anderson-Muncie-Marion-Fort Wayne line on 18 January 1941. The last of the Indiana Railroad traction cars would run that night, making the final run of the interurban line. The traction cars started running through Muncie in 1900 as the Union Traction Company. In 1930, it became part of the Indiana Railroad.

But busses weren’t the only thing that replaced the traction cars. There was still quite a bit of small freight running along the electric traction lines. This service was replaced with trucks. The bus service along the Union Traction line was maintained for Lawrence, McCordsville, Ingals, Pendleton, Anderson, Muncie, Chesterfield, Daleville, Yorktown, Royerton, Hartford City, Montpelier, Fiat, Nottingham, Petroleum, Reiffsburg, Bluffton, Ossian and Fort Wayne. Service from Muncie to New Castle included Cowan, Oakville, Springport, and Mount Summit. Fort Harrison, Fortville, Shideler and Eaton were also added to the old Union Traction line bus service.

The interurban companies all found their way into providing bus service. And these busses, like the train cars before them, fanned out across the state providing passengers and freight a way to get from point a to point b. But just like the interurbans before them, the busses found themselves on the way out. Reducing ridership suffered by both the interurban bus services and the steam railroads led to an end of the majority of those services. The day of twelve busses a day moving along the National Road between Indianapolis and Richmond would be gone. First, the numbers of bus trips went down daily. Then it became a weekly trip. Then the bus company just gave up and ended the trips all together. Hoosiers were using far more cars than ever, making busses unprofitable or even impossible to run.

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