Railroading in the Age of Cars
The Penn Central Railroad, which took over the Michigan Central in 1968, went bankrupt in 1976. Conrail replaced Penn Central and chose not to continue service to Hillsdale County. Concerned that many local communities were left without rail service, the State of Michigan once again ventured into the railroad business. The newly formed Hillsdale County Railroad Company received state support to see if “short line” railroads could be feasible in a world that moved mainly on concrete and asphalt.
The idea behind the new railroad company was that, being local, the users would have better service than they would get from larger railroads based elsewhere. Once again stock was sold, and those willing to invest in a risky business eventually provided 51 percent of the funds needed for the proposed company. Sadly, financial mismanagement doomed the enterprise. Lack of money meant that maintenance on the tracks was minimal. As a result, minor derailments were common before the Indiana Northeastern purchased the company in 1992.
With its administrative office in South Milford, Indiana, and an operations center in Hillsdale, the Indiana Northeastern owns almost 130 miles of track covering parts of northeast Indiana, southern Michigan and northwest Ohio.
Originally it carried freight for several Hillsdale County industries, but with the closing of the flour mill that once housed Stock’s Mill, the Indiana Northeastern lost its last customer in the county. Its trains now just pass through on their way to somewhere else.
Today little evidence of the heyday of railroads remains. The once-ubiquitous depots are gone or have been transformed for other uses. In Moscow, the depot is a township hall; in Jonesville, a bed-and-breakfast; in Hillsdale a church. In Bankers the depot was moved to private property to become a garage. Like the depot in Montgomery, it’s now used for storage, while the Montgomery depot sits empty, waiting for a buyer. The abandoned rails still in place in Hillsdale County are often obscured by weeds. Some railroad beds, however, have been reborn. The back-breaking toil of the early railroad workers as they leveled the hills and dales now provide walking/biking/jogging paths as part of the “rails-to-trails” movement.
JoAnne P. Miller