Elkhart & Western History by Owen Lackey
A small red brick building, located in what was to be a fatal location, was more than just another Uniroyal warehouse. In the recent demolition plans, it was labeled building 45 and unfortunately was among the first to come down. Building 45 was in the way of the new plan. Built in 1894, this unique fortress styled building once had a witches' hat turret roof on the rounded tower end and was a great attraction to folks in the city of Mishawaka. What was this building that created so much attention in 1894? This busy location was the main office for freight as well as passenger service for the new railroad that had come to downtown Mishawaka.
What was this railroad? Its official name was the "Elkhart and Western Railroad Company, also called "The Pleasant Valley Line" named for a development location some five miles west of Elkhart. The "E & W" was the brainchild of a highly successful Elkhart Businessman, Dr. Herbert Bucklen.
The Doctor made a sizable fortune in pre-turn of the century days marketing the world famous "Arnica Salve." This type of patent medicine was later followed by such trade names as "Greenleaf, Cloverlene, & Cloverleaf" and may have been a forerunner of "Alka Seltzer." Its effectiveness is still with us today in trade names such as a "Raleigh" and other patent medicine salves. "Arnica" gave Dr. Bucklen the money to indulge in real estate, as well as one of the new and very popular investments, "Railroads." "The Lakeshore Michigan Southern" had built through Elkhart in the 1850's and had been encouraged to make the city a division point with roundhouse and shops. A boom in the economy of the city was the direct result. Dr. Bucklen holding land for development purposes, enjoyed the trains moving about the area. Dr. Bucklen acquired several pieces of real estate in Elkhart and Chicago. Among the real estate was a hotel in downtown Elkhart was the Clifton House hotel. It was built in 1863 and later Dr. Bucklen restored the building, as well as adding more floors, and building a gazebo cupola on the roof. This became the Bucklen Hotel in 1889. Many old railroad tales tell of employees at the roundhouse or in the freight yards who were caught doing things not exactly assigned by the boss, or foremen. They didn't understand how anyone would know what they were or weren't doing.
Then it came to light that the good doctor enjoyed a rocking chair, a fine telescope and watching his boys at work from the gazebo cupola on the roof of the hotel - an early eye in the sky as it were.
The hotel was demolished in 1973 but at the EMRRC clubhouse the Bucklen Hotel still stands in downtown Elkhart.
Freight rates of the period were all the traffic would bear. Dr. Bucklen attempted to negotiate a lower scale, not only for his company shipping, but for Elkhart as a shipping point. "The Lakeshore," holding a monopoly on railroad traffic in Elkhart, ignored his requests.
The Lakeshore Railroad was another of the holdings of wealthy industrialist William Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt, known for his aggressive business tactics, had become infamous in the railroad world when he forced the all powerful, "Pennsylvania
Railroad" to buy out a competitive railroad that he was building across the state of Pennsylvania. "The South Penn" as it was called, would allow the Vanderbilt owned "New York Central System" to surround the "Pennsylvania." and force it into competing with the New York Central System. The "South Penn Railroad" wa
s surveyed, the land graded in part, and had its tunnels cut when it was purchased for a monumental sum by the Pennsylvania Railroad. After it was sold, it was abandoned by the Pennsylvania Railroad who purchased it in order to protect it's monopoly on railroad traffic in the area. It's grade and tunnels later became the Pennsylvania Turnpike of today.
The same approach it was reasoned, might work again on a smaller scale. And so on May 4, 1888, a corporation chapter was acquired for "The Elkhart and Western Railroad Company" with the plan of connecting Elkhart to the "Grand Trunk Western" at Mishawaka, thus opening a new gateway for Elkhart passengers and shippers and avoiding the monopoly of the Vanderbilt owned Lakeshore Railroad. Harold Kircofe, in his inclusive story, "The Bucklen Line" from the "Railway and Locomotive Historical Society Bulletin #90" indicates that actual construction started in the fall of 1890 with the building of a "Y Switch" connection to the Cincinnati, Wabash and Michigan near Cassopolis Street on the north side of Elkhart. The western end was to terminate in downtown Mishawaka, with a spur connecting to the Grand Trunk Railroad. It took three years to build to Mishawaka. "The Elkhart Review" reported on Jan. 27, 1893, that the "E &W" was advertising for 30,000 white oak ties and for bridge timbers in Mishawaka, as well as in Elkhart. The Perley Lumber Co. of South Bend, won the bid for the timber. The Mishawaka Grading started at the Grand Trunk Station on North Main with a tangent line to the Mishawaka "Y" across the river from Merrifield Park. Work started on this section on Mar. 31, 1893 and the grading contractors advertised for 50 men and 50 horses and expected to have the road finished to the "Y" in 90 days. It actually took more time, more men and more horses, as well as a new special grader pulled by a 12-horse team to get the job done. Dr. Bucklen came to Mishawaka to observe, seemed satisfied and promised Mishawaka citizens a special Worlds Fair passenger excursion train before the fair in Chicago closed in 1893. As we will see, Bucklen made good on his promise. The road contractor for the project was paying out $1,000 per payday to the employees, and came under some criticism from Elkhart citizens who were complaining that no Elkhart men were working on the west end. General manager. E. C. Bickel was quick to squelch the irritation with the comment published in "The Mishawaka Enterprise"..."No one from Elkhart came over here looking for a job." That took care of that, and the project continued. The right hand branch of the "Y" was moving along nicely and work was started on the left hand branch to downtown Mishawaka. The Mishawaka Board of Trustees quickly voted bridge and crossing approval so that trackage could be continued on toward Chicago or other western connections. The first station was set up in the old Waterworks building (now demolished) and permission was granted to build a new brick station on Front and Bridge St. (now demolished). The E&W found new business even before operating (the first customer in the city was the paper mill, located along the river). Spurs later were built to The Perkins Wind Mill company, Mishawaka Woolen Manufacturing, as well as other companies along the river. Mainline work continued on west until condemnation proceedings at Kamm Brewery halted the work temporarily. Dr. Bucklen made good on his World's Fair promise on Sept. 26, 1893. He borrowed coaches from "The Grand Trunk", took Elkhart & Mishawaka citizens to the Chicago Worlds Fair for a round trip price of $2.65. Most of the travelers chose to return home on the same day, however, some 20 remained overnight to partake of other delights in the city. The return trip on the following morning proved a problem as no passenger coaches were available. The Grand Trunk loaned a box car with chairs in it and some wag on the trip chalked on the side, "Mishawaka World's Fair Special." The E&W opened up the world to business in both Elkhart and Mishawaka. It became the freight gateway for Mishawaka Woolen, Perkins and other assorted business that wanted a break in the monopolistic freight rates of the Lakeshore Railroad. The Grand Trunk connection also allowed Bucklen to establish passenger service from Elkhart with an evening coach from Elkhart to the Mishawaka Grand Trunk junction with passengers able to be picked up by the evening Grand Trunk Chicago train. The morning schedule ran a reversal of the schedule, and soon several passenger trains operated to Chicago each day. This entire project was a winner from the beginning with Elkhart having new access to the outside world and Mishawaka having better freight rates and service for its industries. Throughout the year of 1898, rumor had it the Bucklen was planning to lay track on toward Chicago or to some other westerly connection with his new found money making railroad. Everyone expected the E&W to merge with the Grand Trunk...instead Bucklen sent out his engineering crews toward South Bend and a possible hookup with the Vandalia Railroad. A north, south, east and west line. Needless to say this got the attention of the Lakeshore. They wanted no part of this possible connection or even crossing of their lines. The Lakeshore which in 1912 was to officially become the New York Central bought the Elkhart and Western. Dr. Herbert Bucklen had accomplished what he had set out to do apparently in the beginning.
With the coming of electric inter-urbans in the early 1900's, passenger service on the Elkhart and Western was halted. The volume of freight on the E&W was astounding and revenues made the short line one of the most profitable in the world. Until the very end, it was difficult to find a skipped dividend. The E&W was Uniroyal's and Ball Bands freight door to the world. It also hauled thousands of tons of coal to the Twin Branch Steam Power Plant as well as other coal operations in town. A Chicago Tribune editorial writer who said, "The E&W line has greatly aided the industrial development of Mishawaka and South Bend" had it right. The E&W was one of the few railroad promotions in the 1890's that was actually built and became an astonishing financial success. To be absorbed by New York Central was inevitable and was a tribute to its value to northern Indiana. As the world and society changed, so did the Elkhart and Western. For half a century, freight service polished the rails (no streaks of rust here). World War II came along and bumped up the volume of freight to unimagined heights from the two connecting roads. Changes came in unexpected ways. Uniroyal began to falter and car loading's were down. Then governmental encouragement convinced the Power Company to switch from coal to oil. Nearly as soon as that was done, the first fiasco, an oil shortage came along and governmental voices said, "Go back to coal." The Power Company reaction was notable. The power plant was closed, sold off and removed along with its jobs. There's got to be a lesson there somewhere. The E&W soldiered on, but just barely. Before long, the unbelievable happens. As more and more railroad traffic is lost to trucking, the New York Central is forced into a merger with the Pennsylvania Railroad. It was a failing venture before the ink was dry on the documents. The E&W facing it's own crisis, began scaling back it's operation and started to abandon track. First the downtown Mishawaka branch, then the Grand Trunk connection, followed by the "Y", then the power plant spur and yard and then back to the county line. Maintaining the road in the last years probably was more deferred maintenance as railroad bean counters like to call ignoring the problem. Now the Downtown bridge is gone, as is the rail and the little red station has been demolished, to be remembered in its last days as Building 45, a Uniroyal warehouse. The terminal west end is gone or dormant. The Elkhart end of the E&W still survives today, and if you go to Gropp's Restaurant for fish on South Jackson Street in Elkhart, look behind the building for a sharp little Alco switch engine painted in maroon, gold and black, and lettered as the Michigan Southern, Elkhart and Western Division. And now as the future of small rail lines has been questionable for some years, Mishawaka's AM General and General Motors announces a new automotive facility to build consumer Hummers. In the wake of this new announcement a possible increased need for rail transportation of the products of this new automotive venture is being discussed. Yes, what was old, may again play a large part in the industrial growth of the area. A direct rail service to the new plant is a possibility with track from the Elkhart and Western, the old "Pleasant Valley Line" standing just a few hundred feet away from the new AM General plant.
Dr. Bucklen I think, would be proud.
Pennsylvania Turnpike photos courtesy of the Pennsylvania State Archives.