The Friends: 30 Years of Persistence
For 100 years, the Pumpkin Vine Railroad transported people and goods, locally. But in November of 1980, the the railroad ceased its operations. Around the country, railroad operations were on the decline, and forward-thinking individuals were making plans for the future of these long-connected corridors.
On December 4, 1989 five individuals gathered together in Goshen, to discuss promoting the creation of a Trail along the abandoned Pumpkin Vine Railroad right-of-way, then owned by Penn Central Railway Inc. The idea was spurred both by Elkhart County Park's 1978 Master Plan to include a possible trail along the Pumpkinvine right-of-way, and the experiences of several of those original members in the 1980's, biking similar paths in Illinois, Wisconsin and the Netherlands. The opportunity to have something similar locally was clear, however the idea was met with significant resistance from local governments and adjacent landowners.
The first 10 years were slow moving, as few were able to grasp the benefits of local trail development. It was not until March of 2000, that the first 1.5 mile section opened in Goshen. In the next 20 years, six more segments have been completed, totaling nearly 17 miles of path. There are two segments left to develop, and both are making significant progress.
The Pumpkin Vine Railroad
The photo gallery below has pictures of the Pumpkin Vine Railroad many of them taken in 1918. The two color photos were taken in the 1970 to 1980 around the time that railroad operations ceased.
Click on the blue arrows to change photos.
Rails were extended east from the the east into Elkhart Village in 1851. The Daily Truth reported: "About four o'clock on a Friday afternoon early in the month of October, 1851, a wood-burning engine hauling a train of flat cars and a caboose, rolled over the wooden bridge across the Elkhart River and puffed along to the foot of Main Street which was then in the forest south of the village proper". The advent of the "Iron Horse" had been the topic of conversation for weeks around the village. Word spread abroad that the railroad would offer a free excursion to White Pigeon the next Sunday. The train for this event was a locomotive, a passenger coach, a boxcar and flat cars fitted with planks for seating. People came from miles around for the excursion. Calvin Dome, a boy of the village, was killed when a sudden stop threw him from the top of the box car and under the wheels.
The next year a railroad spur was built to Goshen. Railroad business was very profitable and competition was cut-throat. New railroad companies were incorporated by the legislature and established companies used the political process to block potential competitors.
Middlebury gets a railroad
The nearest railroad transport for Middlebury was a depot at Vistula on the Lake Shore and Michigan Southernline (LS& MS). A stage coach transported passengers from town to the depot. In 1888 the citizens of Middlebury were excited to learn that a new railroad was being planned from Bay City, Michigan through Battle Creek, Sturgis and Goshen on to Danville, Illinois. Towns along the way wanted the railroad to pass through their communities and offered gifts of land and money. The proposed route passed about three miles south of Middlebury but in two days the town raised a $12,000 contribution of cash and land. A survey completed in August, 1888 routed the tracks along the base of the hills on the west side of town. Opposition was raised by people who thought the railroad would ruin the town and leave it deserted.
A contract was let to David Sisk & Co. to build the grade from Goshen east to the county line. Three hundred horses and mules along with men and equipment camped near George Allen's farm south of Middlebury and on Sept. 20th laying of tracks began at both Goshen and Battle Creek. On Nov. 5 th the first passenger train traveled to Middlebury from Goshen operated by the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway.
Excursions were popular
Passenger traffic was brisk; 1912 passengers were transported by Nov. 30, 1888. The portion of the railroad between Goshen and Middlebury had numerous turns which lead to the nickname "Pumpkin Vine".
A popular recreation was the excursion and many people visited friends and relatives using rail transport. Harrison won the Presidency in 1888 and an early excursion was a group of Republicans traveling from Goshen to Middlebury to help celebrate with a large bonfire and other entertainment.
A wreck occurred east of Shipshewana when an engine and three freight cars derailed. A track was quickly built around the wreck so service could be resumed. In the early days trains had to stop occasionally to remove ties and trees placed on the tracks by railroad opponents but these incidents did not cause any accidents.
Rails brought prosperity
Middlebury was not destroyed by the railroad as predicted. On April 11, 1889 ten carloads of stock were shipped from town. The stockyard was located south of Karch Lumber Co. on the west side of the tracks. South of town were Burns and Williams whistle stops where passengers living in the country could board trains. Other improvements included a lengthened siding in Middlebury and a spur to Krider Nurseries.
Railroad not completed
Various portions of the railroad were under management of different corporations and disputes among them created legal battles. The planned extension south of Goshen was never built and the railroad north of Battle Creek was soon abandoned. The Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway operated from Findley to Goshen until Dec. 23, 1914 when it merged about five other railroads and continued operations under the name New York Central Railroad Company.
Highways were built
State and local projects built highways in the 1920s and these created competition for railroads. By 1928 mail service on the Pumpkin Vine was terminated but the line had adequate business especially with industries in Middlebury.
The segment between Sturgis and Shipshewana was abandoned in August, 1960. The Pumpkin Vine Railroad became the property of Penn Central Corporation after the New York Central Railway and the Pennsylvania Railroad merged. Operations on the Pumpkinvine stopped in 1975 due to low profits and deteriorating facilities. Governor Bowen's Rail Task Force determined that the Pumpkin Vine would be profitable if it hauled 459 car loads of freight per year.
Later the Indiana Railway Commission allocated $434,000 of federal railway funds to upgrade the Pumpkin Vine track between Goshen and Middlebury. By the end of 1978 the Indiana Interstate Railway Co., Inc acquired a 30-ton locomotive to pull trains on the Pumpkin Vine. The locomotive had retractable rubber tires that allowed it to move on the street to the opposite end of the train for the return trip.
On July 27, 1980, the Lakeshore Historical Railroad Foundation began offering excursions between Middlebury and Shipshewana on Sundays. The excursion train was a restored steam locomotive which pulled five Rock Island Commuter cars. Lt. Governor Robert Orr joined an excursion that summer as a special guest.
Rails were removed
On Nov. 30, 1980 Indiana Interstate Railway Co. stopped operations on the Pumpkin Vine because profits did not meet plans. Penn Central announced that the line would be abandoned and the rails were removed in 1982. The scrap value was estimated at $200,000.