• By Kirk Gaw

Elkhart Western Railway Short Line Connects Walkerton To The World

A new railroad has been visible in Walkerton lately, on the old Nickel Plate tracks. Hello! To the "Elkhart Western Railway!" It runs aggregate, plastics, car frames, cement, lumber, and tomato paste between Rochester, Argos, Plymouth, and then ends with a spur in Walkerton at the Rossborough Manufacturing Plant.

Photo of Elkhart & Western locomotive in DT Walkerton taken by Steve Jacobs. It is on its way to the Rossborough plant.

The "Elkhart Western Railway" was originally begun in 1893 to connect Elkart with Mishawaka by Dr. Herbert Bucklen a prominent Elkhart businessman. He intended it for developing real estate between Elkhart's westside and Mishawaka.

He was known for "Bucklen's Arnica Salve" a predecessor that inspired "Alka-Seltzer" also, founded in Elkhart by Maurice Treneer at Miles Laboratories. Bucklen intended for the Elkhart Western Railway to be a locally owned alternative to the William Vanderbilt owned "Lakeshore Railroad" connecting the South Bend area with Chicago.

Photo of Elkhart & Western Railway short line running through DT Walkerton taken by Steve Jacobs.

Today, the Elkhart Western Railway is reborn by Pioneer Rail Corp. of Peoria, Illinois. What once operated to serve as a new gateway for Elkhart passengers, shippers, and Uniroyal is now spanning track for area industry.

Walkerton is the terminus of the 23 mile short line segment at the Rossborough Minerals / Magnesium Plant. It is the largest TXM (Thixomolding) plastic feedstock supplier in the World! A molding material supplier for those in metal molding.

The other, older "Elkhart Western" route connects Elkhart, Osceola, and Mishawaka and is 11 miles long. It connects a route for AM General, and the RV Industry.

The "EW" short-line holding company, "Pioneer Rail Corporation," that the late Guy Brenkman built, and nurtured has been around for over 30 years. Brenkman, who died in September 2013, founded the company in January 1986. He later acquired its first property: an 18-mile leased line in Salem, New Jersey. The company renamed it the West Jersey Railroad and operated the short line until the mid-1990s.

Photo of Elkhart & Western train running through the commercial district of Walkerton by Steve Jacobs.

Pioneer Railcorp — the name adopted in the early 1990s to reflect a bigger and more modern company — now owns 17 short lines and six other rail operations in 12 states. They operate nearly 600 miles of track and serve more than 100 customers. Headquartered in Peoria, Ill., the firm manages the railroads through its Pioneer Lines subsidiary.

The company also owns a Pioneer Railroad Equipment Co. Ltd. subsidiary that buys and leases locomotives and rail cars, and offers car cleaning and light repair services, and a Pioneer Railroad Services Inc. subsidiary that provides car switching services.

*Jeff Stagl

**Owen Lackey

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