Transportation is the life-line to any community, it helps move people and goods from place to place. It enables communities to thrive and grow. Indiana County has had its share of transportation history from horse drawn carriages, to the canal system, to the railroad, and cars. But one mode of transportation came with a unique name - the Hoodlebug.
You have likely heard of the “Hoodlebug Trail” which follows the former Pennsylvania Railroad right-of-way from Indiana to Homer City, but what exactly was the Hoodlebug and what was the importance to Indiana County.
The Hoodlebug replaced the use of steam locomotives and pulled one to three passenger and freight coaches with a crew of a fireman, engineer, and conductor. The line ran from Blairsville to Indiana or Indiana to Punsutawney. However, throughout the Eastern United States, railroaders called these “Doodlebugs,” “Hoodlebug” was the term used in the mid-Atlantic and Midwest.
In the western United States, the equivalent to Hoodlebugs were the “Galloping Geese.” They were usually converted from street cars, while Hoodlebugs were often converted from trolley cars.
These small motor cars offered local service, mainly operating on branch lines located in rural areas providing service between towns, factories, and mines. This was even used for transporting students before the use of school buses.
The Hoodlebugs were self-propelled cars with a gasoline engine that operated to provide electricity to traction motors. The traction motors operated the car’s axles and wheels. Compare this to the trolley cars, like those running on the Indiana Street Railways which were operated by electricity.
There were instances of the Hoodlebugs pulling a trailer car, but generally they only operated by themselves. The main purpose was to provide mail and passenger service, as it was usually less expensive to run. However, the origin of the term “Hoodlebug” is unknown.
The first branch line authorized by the PRR was the Indiana Branch in 1852, handling as many as five trains per day. Two passenger trains operated over the Cresson Branch by way of Black Lick, Vintondale and Cresson known as “The Mountain Goat.”
The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) Hoodlebug was based in Blairsville, running between Torrance (Blairsville Intersection) and Indiana. In 1903 there were stops at Cokeville, Blairsville, Smith Station, Black Lick, Rugh, Coral, Graceton, Homer City, Two Lick, Reed, and Indiana. But the PRR was not the only line to run Hoodlebugs; the Baltimore and Ohio Railraod (B&O) also ran Hoodlebugs, this line running north to Punxsutawney. One of the many riders of the Hoodlebug (both PRR and B&O) were the students of the Indiana State Normal School (now IUP), who rode the Hoodlebug to and from campus. The PRR Hoodlebug ran directly past the campus while the B&O riders were required to walk a little further from the passenger station on the 1100 block of Philadelphia Street.
The following is an account from the Indiana Evening Gazette on June 23, 1932:
About 7:40 a.m. today there was the sound of an engine of multiple-horse-power from the Indiana Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad. It developed that it was a 1932 edition of our old friend, affectionately known (not to railroaders, jobs forbid!) as “The Hoodlebug.”
It further developed that the gasoline-electric coach will hereafter be the means of locomotion on the branch between Indiana and Torrance and return. From present indications the coach will be permanently located on the branch. The expense of operation, being considerably less than the engine and combination coach-smoke-baggage car that had been used up until today.
About an hour later there was a similar sound on the Indiana Branch of the B&O Railroad. A first cousin of the Pennsylvania “Hoodlebug” appeared from the smoke of the tunnel. It was a test run on the Indiana Branch of the B&O and if it can make the grade that means of locomotion will be exclusively used for passenger traffic and what goes with it. The test is expected to be satisfactory.
As ridership dwindled through the years, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission granted both the PRR and B&O permission to discontinue passenger service. This decrease came to the point where the trains became financial burdens. The final run of the PRR Hoodlebug occurred on April 18, 1940 with C.A. Taubler as engineer, Paul Graham as baggage man, and Ralph E. Forrester as conductor. The B&O Hoodlebug’s last run was on June 10, 1950 with M.S. Reams as engineer and Thomas Baird as conductor.
When the Hoodlebug stopped running, it was the end of an era for passenger rail service, and an end of a 46-year era for the Hoodlebug. Vehicles became the main mode of transportation, and people no longer needed rail service. Today the rail line is used for hauling freight.
Perhaps you have memories of riding on the Hoodlebug, or have heard stories about passengers on this mode of transportation. Feel free to share your stories in the comment section, we would love to hear your memories.