A look at the Boston & Maine freight diversions
Over the Northern Rail Road
May 1982

On May 10, 1982, a forty-four car Boston & Maine northbound freight derailed in Brattleboro, Vermont. As a result of the accident, several cars tumbled down the railroad embankment and came to rest against the old West River Railroad bridge abutment. The most serious consequence occurred when two cars were jammed into the truss structure of the B&M Bridge, which effectively closed down the single-track line.

The next morning, I drove to the municipal airport in Lebanon, New Hampshire unaware of the B&M's troubles. The purpose of the trip was to pick up some computer parts for my employer, for whom I worked as a field service technician. I had nearly reached the airport when my crystal pocket scanner announced "The pilot engines will be in Canaan in about 10 minutes." The fate of those computer parts has escaped my recollection, but one thing was certain: the company car arrived in the small town about 15 minutes later.

Canaan was located on the Northern R.R., once a busy B & M route that ran from Concord, New Hampshire, To White River Jct., Vermont. In 1982 it was still a separate corporation, and the year before I had seen a brush-cutter hard at work along much of the line. I serviced several sites in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, and had become familiar with a portion of the Northern in my travels along U.S. Route 4. This old two-lane highway usually offered an enjoyable trip. Traffic levels were low, and stoplights were far apart. If all this wasn't enough, the highway paralleled the Northern for many miles.

The crew on pilot engines 1741 and 1722, both blue GP-9s, filled me in on the events that befallen the railroad at Brattleboro on the previous day. Their job was to traverse the unused line at 10 MPH, as signal maintainers traveled by blacktop ahead of the engines to ensure the grade crossing signals functioned properly. The reason for all of this activity was that a 33-car southbound freight was due to leave White River Junction, Vermont, at 0905 hrs. The Northern was about to come to life.

To my knowledge, the last train that traveled the full length of the Northern was the American Freedom Train about six years earlier. The events of this day in 1982 were not as unique, but still fell into the category of rare stuff. With fair skies overhead and two cameras in the car, I headed west to meet the oncoming train.

I soon found the southbound at a place on the map that the Delorme people call West Canaan, New Hampshire. A wide-open crossing on a back road gave me my first vantage point from which to shoot the train. GP-9s 1737, 1727, and GP-18 1753 moved along sedately with the train, and as a result I was able to shoot both B&W and color.

The train proceeded south and I managed several more shots before I returned to the Canaan depot which was now crowded with local residents. There were dozens of them. Kids were hoisted up on shoulders, while other folks squinted down the track and speculated on what it was all about. Still other people who carried laundry baskets came and went through the crowd. I turned around and looked at the old station building and realized it was now a Laundromat. Incongruous in a railroad scene, the perfumed vapors from the air ducts were evidence that the old structure was still useful, though not in a way its original owners foresaw.

The first diversion to run was symbol WJMA, according to the crew. I photographed it at many different locations over the next fifteen miles or so. Two days later I caught SPCP, a 38-car northbound destined for the CP interchange at Wells River, VT. Among the six units on the head end of this job were the same three geeps I had seen on the southbound two days earlier. These trains must have caused some unusual movements on the B&M East-West main between E. Deerfield and Chelmsford, Massachusetts, but I have yet to meet anyone who photographed that action.

The reaction of the people along the Northern was a delight to witness. One incident in particular stands out in my mind. As I positioned myself for a shot near Mt. Cardigan, out of the corner of my eye I noticed two young boys on the front lawn of a nearby house. They watched in surprise as three big blue geeps at the head end of a train emerged from the nearby woods. "A train!" one of the boys said. Then again, as if he couldn't believe his own words "LOOK, A TRAIN! They began to jump straight up and down as the train passed right in front of their home. That shot was one of the best photos of the day, but the two kids in my peripheral vision really stole the show.

On the way home I reflected on what the two boys had experienced. It appeared as though they had grown up with two rusted rails in front of their house, and I wondered if later in life they would tell the story of the train that rumbled by that day. Did they awaken when another went by late that night? Did they long for the air horns and the chant of the EMD 567 diesels once it all ended as mysteriously as it began? I doubt if that little piece of property ever seemed exactly the same to them again. They had witnessed the Northern's brief flicker of potential, but sadly, after May 12, 1982, the rails returned to the rusted color with which the boys were most familiar.

The author is not sufficiently familiar with the Northern RR to properly caption all of the photos in this article. I welcome viewers to contribute appropriate captions for the blank panels by email. Thank you.

Southbound WJMA crossing the Indian River west of Canaan, NH at approximately 1000 hrs.

Much to the surprise of several fisherman, the Concord-bound freight eases by Tewsbury Pond in Grafton (Thanks to Gary L. Kerr for location info)

Making 10 MPH at Bullock's Crossing in Grafton Center. Mt. Cardigan can be seen in the background

SPCP passing the well-preserved station at Potter Place, NH

With Mt. Kearsarge in the background, SPCP trundles along next to US Rt. 4

Passing behind the Grafton Center Congregational church

East of Canaan, NH., the northbound SPCP passes by Mirror Lake

The Canaan Depot housed a laundromat when SPCP rumbled by enroute to White River Jct.

Hot brakes are evident following the downgrade trip from Lebanon, NH. The lead unit is in Vermont while the rest of the train is on the Connecticut River bridge, technically in the State of New Hampshire

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