LAST TIME AROUND
look at the Boston & Maine freight diversions
Over the Northern
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
crossing the Indian River west of Canaan, NH at approximately 1000
Much to the surprise
of several fisherman, the Concord-bound freight eases by Tewsbury Pond
(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
SPCP passing the
well-preserved station at Potter Place, NH
With Mt. Kearsarge
in the background, SPCP trundles along next to US Rt.
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
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