The “Punkin Vine Railroad” is the popular or common name for a 75-mile rail which had its terminals in West Lebanon. Indiana and here in LeRoy. The railroad has had many official names during its more than 100 years of existence and has had a number of nicknames such as “The Dinky,”The LeRoy Narrow Gauge,” “The Shortline” and “The Pumpkins Vine,” which has been popularized into “The Punkin Vine.”
The Punkin Vine received its charter April 1, 1873 and construction began August 10, 1874. It was completed February 1, 1879 when the last section was laid to LeRoy. Construction on the Punkin Vine was completed in three phases with the first from Alvin through Rantoul and westward to Fisher and from Alvin eastward to LeRoy. Completion of the line also involved two charters: the Havana, Rantoul and Easter for the first and third phases of construction and the Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad Company for the Indiana portion.
The originator of the plan for the east-west railroad was Benjamin J. Gifford who had served in the Civil War, returned to college and began practicing law in Rantoul. Due to some differences in opinions over freight rates, Gifford became interested in finding an alternate rail to move freight and passengers.
The Havana, Rantoul and Eastern was originally planned to run from Havana on the Illinois River, to Myersville (near Alvin) to connect with the Chicago, Danville and Vincennes. He hoped the train would be extended from coast to coast with Rantoul being a major railroad headquarters.
Obtaining charters for building the Punkin Vine didn’t pose problems but raising funds was quite a different matter. The last 20 miles of rail from Fisher to LeRoy was constructed with a great amount of influence, leadership and finances from LeRoy.
Poor’s Manual of Railroads for 1877-1878 says that during the first six months of operation the road carried 5,964 passengers and moved 7,956 tons of freight for which it received $15,181.
The Punkin Vine was a narrow gauge with rails three feet a part. This created problems as when the train intersected other tracks the cars had to be unloaded and reloaded onto standard track cars. The first years of the rail saw financial troubles as the rail went into receivership a humber of times. Jay Gould purchased the rail on May 1, 188- and owned it for six years. A public auction was held October 27, 1886 and it was purchased by Mill Lines whose president was Anthony J. Thomas. Thus the line became a subsidiary of Illinois Central through a lease arrangement June 3, 1887. The track was soon changed to standard gauge.
Passenger and freight trains made regularly scheduled trips to and from LeRoy. Mail was carried on the line. Some students rode the Punkin Vine railroad to high school with some riding est to Bellflower and some west to LeRoy.
The LeRoy station was a terminal and included a number of extra facilities not found at other station along the route. A water tank stood north of the station. The water tank was razed in 1955 and the station in 1976. The engine house (round house) stood on the opposite side of the station block and was razed in 1931 when the passenger and mail service were discontinued. The turntable was just east of the engine house and was removed about 1961. A handcar shed, mule barn and stockyard also stood on the north half of the block.
The Punkin Vine railroad was connected to the Big Four rail about one and one-half blocks southwest of the site. The last train to operate on the tracks was March 18, 1980 and the track was removed that year.