Henry Ford had produced ten million Model “T” Fords by 1924 and with Indiana’s improving road system the electric Interurban was nearing its end. The motor bus was the next major competitor to make the scene and it was independent of fixed rails; it provided additional flexibility in the choice of routes. In the early twenties, some of the larger companies in the country began to utilize buses to supplement their interurban systems and provide free local transportation to interurban terminals. The first scheduled motor bus made its unwelcome appearance at the huge Indianapolis Traction Terminal in 1928 as first one track and then another was paved over to accommodate the new motor transport.
Then came the stock market crash in 1929 and the following Great Depression and that was the final crushing blow from which the interurban system never recovered. America’s mass transit system nearly found a savior in 1930. An Englishman by birth named Samuel Insull came to America in 1881 to become private secretary to Thomas A. Edison. Insull managed most of Edison’s business and financial affairs and in 1886 Edison sent Sam to Schenectady, New York to run his new electrical manufacturing plant. Edison’s Electrical Company later merged with Thompson-Houston Electric to create the General Electric Company. In 1892, when he was only 32 years old, Insull moved to Chicago, Illinois as president of the Chicago Edison Company. Under Insull’s leadership the company merged with Commonwealth Electric to become one of the giants in the utility industry, Commonwealth Edison.
Insull firmly believed that electric transportation would ultimately supplant all other mass transportation systems. In 1930 when Insull was seventy years old, he, through his Midland Utilities Company acquired the failing traction companies and formed the Indiana Railroad Company, the largest electric line ever operated in the United States. Once again a valiant effort was made to breathe new life into the dying industry. With access to additional capital there were hopes of buying new equipment, improving deteriorating roadbeds, modernizing business practices and operating as a single unit instead of many splintered companies, but the infusion was too little and too late.
It was a sad paradox that the very towns the interurban had helped grow into thriving communities were now so congested with automobiles that they impeded the movement of transit traffic. A clanging bell or a blast from an air horn would move a horse but not an automobile with an ignorant or impatient driver. Also the sharp turns on city transit systems were impossible to navigate with the new and larger electric cars. And in order to retain and expand the lucrative freight business it became obvious that bypasses would have to be constructed around the larger communities.
One of the first assignments of a former distinguished Quest Club Member, J. Calvin Hill, was to design interurban bypasses around Wabash and Peru, IN. The one at Wabash was completed, but the multi-billion dollar Insull Empire soon after began to crumble and funds were no longer available for any further construction.
Another financial recession occurred in 1937 and the death rattle of the mighty Interurban Empire began. Although it lingered on into the forties, the inevitable end of the electric Interurban was at hand. The last electric Interurban run out of Fort Wayne took place on January 18, 1941. To be continued…
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