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A South Bend tradition

The sign touts Kreamo Bread, but my memories are of orange South Shore cars, street-running, and a pocket-size coach yard

SSL100
Two of the South Shore Line’s air-conditioned M.U. cars stand at the road’s downtown South Bend, Ind., depot on La Salle Street in 1967.
H. G. Goerke; J. David Ingles coll.
It was about 14 years before this evocative photo was snapped by my late train-chasing buddy Hank Goerke that I first stepped off a South Shore train onto La Salle Avenue here. I was 12; my sister, Janis, is 4½ years younger. We lived in Homewood, a suburb 23 miles south of Chicago’s Loop on Illinois Central’s main line.

On the hot July 1953 Saturday in question, we were going to have company that evening, and Mother wanted to clean the house, free from the rest of the family. Dad, being a railroader, had a solution—a train ride to South Bend.

The trip took place nearly 60 years ago, but a few memories of that day have forever been indelibly etched in my mind.

The first incident was the most momentous. We took an Illinois Central suburban train from Homewood up to “115th Street Kensington,” as the conductors always called out, the common single-platform stop at the junction where South Shore trains leave their IC suburban-line trackage rights from Chicago’s Loop and cross the IC mainline tracks to head for Indiana.

We waited that hot, humid morning on the wooden Kensington platform. Soon came our South Shore train, a cheerful orange in contrast to IC’s drab Pullman green suburban M.U. cars. The South Shore train had at least two cars. We said “South Bend,” and were directed into the lead car. The rear car, or cars, would detach at the Michigan City shops, leaving a single car to run in true, fast interurban style through the countryside of La Porte and St. Joseph counties.

The instant we slid open the vestibule end door of the lead car, we were hit by refreshing, ice-cold air. Unlike the IC electrics—the cars of most of my prior train-riding experiences—this South Shore car was air-conditioned! It was my first encounter with this modern marvel, at least on a train.

Off we rambled for the not-quite-two-hour ride to South Bend, enjoying the view through the large picture windows of our car, one of the 10 late-1920s Pullman combines lengthened in the 1940s and later among 18 cars given air-conditioning and the big windows. Trains ran hourly, and from timetable research today, I’m guessing we were on train 13, which arrived at 11:15. Trains back to Chicago left at 35 minutes past the hour, so we had a layover of at least 1 hour 20 minutes, or more likely 2 hours 20 minutes, which would put us back into Kensington at 3:21 p.m. and home in plenty of time to clean up for company.

Upon arrival in downtown South Bend, we stepped onto La Salle Avenue from cool comfort into the heat and humidity of midday and then strolled eight blocks south down Michigan Street, a South Bend main drag, to Union Station, which served the New York Central and Grand Trunk Western.

If we saw any trains there, I don’t remember them, but I do recall we then walked back north on Main Street, a block west of Michigan, and stopped in a restaurant on the east side of the street for lunch. In due time we returned to the South Shore station and reversed course for home; I wouldn’t bet against both me and Janis having caught some shut-eye westbound.

In Hank’s May 1967 photo that leads this presentation, note the advertisement for Kreamo Bread, “a South Bend tradition.” That may be, but my South Bend tradition was those delightful orange cars, their street-running, the storefront station, and the pocket-sized coach yard down the little grade beyond Michigan Street and the Michiana Hotel (whose tower shows above the car), across the St. Joseph River bridge on the north side of the street.

Beginning in 1959 or so, Dad and I, and then I and my friends from our new home in the Detroit area, would trek to this place frequently and photograph many South Shore cars. We took a night shot or two, and several times we’d pace, or race ahead of for photos, the orange cars running down La Salle and Colfax avenues and Orange Streets, until the railroad pulled back to Bendix station at the west side of town in 1970. With that retrenchment, my South Bend tradition, the one that began on my first air-conditioned train ride, was gone.

First published in Summer 2005 Classic Trains magazine.


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