• Cheshire Branch

  • Discussion relating to the pre-1983 B&M and MEC railroads. For current operations, please see the Pan Am Railways Forum.
Discussion relating to the pre-1983 B&M and MEC railroads. For current operations, please see the Pan Am Railways Forum.

Moderator: MEC407

  by mdamico23
Hi Everyone,

I have a few questions about the B&M's Cheshire Branch. I recently purchased the Morning Sun Book about New Hampshire Railroads in Color, and it seemed like the Cheshire was a well-maintained and somewhat heavily trafficked line through the late 1950s. But, a little over 10-years later, it was on the verge of abandonment and was gone by 1972/1973 or so. Did the abandonment of the Rutland RR in the early 1960s have a lot to do with the downfall of the Cheshire? Was there alot of "bridge traffic" moving between the B&M and the RUT? As a follow up, did the Green Mountain RR attempt to stop the abandonment of the Cheshire in the early 1970s? I know the GMRC made an attempt to serve Keene, NH and environs in the late 1970s/early 1980s, but they did not serve Keene from the Cheshire, instead serving it from the Ashuelot Branch. How did the GMRC end up with the mile of so of Cheshire Track around Walpole, NH, but nothing else?

Does anyone recall what type of diesel locomotives the B&M assigned to the Cheshire? I am thinking GP7s/GP9s/RS2 (the 1500) or RS3s or maybe towards the end EMD or Alco switchers?

Was the Cheshire ever used as a "detour" route in the 1960s or early 1970s to get around either the Connecticut River Line or the Fitchburg mainline? I know the B&M had their infamous Hoosac Tunnel "boxcar mine" derailment during this timeframe. Did any detours move through Vermont onto the Cheshire to rejoin the B&M mainline in South Asburnham, MA, thus bypassing the tunnel?

Finally, one more Cheshire note. I read somewhere that around 1970 or 1971, there was a B&M excursion train to Vermont that ended up taking the Cheshire home to Boston after a derailment on the Conn River Line blocked them in. Did anyone on this board ride that particular excursion (perhaps Mr. Hutchinson)? That must have been quite the ride- also was probably one of the last trains to traverse the Cheshire. Wonder what the locals thought seeing a passenger train rumble through late on a Saturday night on a line which was virtually abandoned at the time?

Thanks so much, everyone. Have a great night..

[email protected]
  by edbear
The Cheshire rated one through freight until the early 1950s, BX-1, XB-2, Boston to Bellows Falls. Locals covered Fitchburg-Winchendon-Peterboro and there was an East Deerfield-Keene-Bellows Falls job. A switcher was active at Keene until about 1970. Passenger service was varied. Both single E-units and Alco road-switchers handled the passenger jobs plus the unit 6000 was assigned at various times from 1944 to 1957 to run the Cheshire streamliner which generally ran White River-Bellows Falls-Keene-Boston. RDC equipment was introduced to the branch about 1954 and by the end of passenger service held down all schedules except the Milk Train. The Milk got out of Boston about 7:30 pm and carried passengers and empty milk cars to Bellows Falls and returned without passengers but a full train of milk cars and got back to Boston about 3 a.m. Hood, Whiting and United Farmers had milk processing plants in Charlestown and Somerville right near where the Holiday Inn is on Washington St. Back to the Branch. After BX-1/XB-2 were discontinued, a 'through' local freight was established WX-1, XW-2 Worcester to Bellows Falls, six days a week. It required two crews working one direction one day and the other the next. Last scheduled passenger train was May 31, 1958. The Milk Train continued to run as an extra usually with 4200 series engines and a caboose for conductor/rear brakeman. The Rutland had a month long strike in 1960 and then the one that put it out of business for good in 1961. The B & M still had the milk business during the Rutland strikes but B & M crews wouldn't cross Rutland picket lines so a 'management crew' set off the milk empties and made up the loaded Milk Train. This was at the Bellows Falls Co-operative Creamery, milk supplier to First National Stores. B & M tried running a Milk Train Bellows Falls-E. Deerfield-Boston but it required two crews so milk was diverted to through freights. Connections couldn't always be made so the milk business 'evaporated.' Last milk move on the B & M was 3 milk cars most nights on PB-99/MB-6 Boston to a Hood plant in Eagle Bridge, NY. Lasted into early 1970s. I was on that detoured Railroad Enthusiast train, Oct., 1970. We went from Boston to Ludlow, VT on Green Mountain. Route was via Greefield. There had been a freight derailment earlier in week at Putney. After we went by the site, another freight derailed at same spot. We waited at Bellows Falls until 8 pm. It was a Sat. night and B & M Chief Engineer had to be located to obtain OK to run via the Cheshire. (The thinking was we'd go to WRJ and return via Concord & Manchester, but there were almost no qualified crews left to handle the old Northern.) Got OK at 8 pm and made our way down Cheshire at 15 mph, 20 mph from Winchendon. Quite a procession of cars followed up along Route 12 which wasn't all that far from the tracks. We hit hand throw switch at South Ash about midnight and flew (it's mostly downhill). 4 RDCs, 6105 in lead going home. Crew stopped at all pass. stations from Ayer to Boston on request. My car was at Lincoln and I got home about 2 am. Since all local transit in Boston was shutdown by the time the Special got into North Station, Boston area riders put up anyone who was stranded until morning. That WX-1/XW-2 rated a 2-8-0 in steam days. Back when he found out I was a railfan, Conductor Don Senott (I doubt if he's still around), told about his first assignment after qualifying on the rules. He started about 1940. He went on duty at East Fitchburg and was the brakeman on a pusher on BX-1. The pusher worked up to Summit, a few miles above Keene, uncoupled, drifted back to Keene, wyed, then ran light back to East Fitchburg.
  by edbear
A little more on the Cheshire. Back in 1931 virtually every station had a passing siding. Those at Winchedon, Fitzwilliam, Rockwood (about halfway between Fitzwilliam & Troy) and Gilboa held from 64 to 76 cars so they could accomodate a fairly long freight train for those times. The Cheshire was equipped with Style B semaphore signals about 1910-1912 with a ball signal protecting the intermediate junction at Winchendon. When no attendant was on duty the ball signals were set for the Cheshire. In 1947 the ball signals were replaced with GRS searchlight 3-light interlocking signals on the Cheshire with several searchlight signals in advance of the interlocking. The rest of the Cheshire continued to use the Style Bs. The Winchendon interlocking controlled the Cheshire, Peterboro and moves from the Boston & Albany onto the B & M. About 3 miles south of Winchendon, the Peterboro came up beside the Cheshire and paralleled it into Winchendon. The P'boro crossed Route 12 near the junction with 140. I think when the intersection was improved, part of the railroad property was used for that purpose. Winchendon must have been quite a place in 1946-47. World War II was over, business was still good. Winchendon had about 12 scheduled Cheshire Branch passenger trains, the through freight and a local on the branch. The P'boro had a passenger train over it entire length and local freight and the Boston & Albany had a freight from Palmer and back. The B & M was probably none too happy to route freight via the Rutland because it undercut its own business. Most of the Rutland freight business left the B & M at Bellows Falls covered the RUT to Norwood, NY and interchanged it there with New York Central which then sent it down to Syracuse and west. The B & M-NYC preference would have been to deal directly with each other at Rotterdam Jct. No need for a Rutland but that's what happened with railroad regulation. By the way, the Style B semaphores remained in use until the end of the Milk Train, about 1961. They were then retired except for the Winchedon interlocking and the approach to South Ash. With the end of the Boston & Albany at Winchedon, 1968, those signals went and then the approach to South Ash was made one of those non-operative approach signals. Up until about World War I, the Cheshire connected to the Troy Granite Railroad, an industrial line with several miles of track serving a quarry. Near Eastern Ave. in Keene, the Nashua & Keene, crossed the Cheshire on a bridge and ran on the west side of the Cheshire into Keene. I was sent on a mission to the Keene freight office in my first year on the Boston & Maine, 1968, and got into that 1847 building built by the Cheshire RR. I think it went up in smoke some years later. Cheshire had 85# and 100# rail, much of it installed in late 1920s when the Fitchburg & Portland Divs. were being upgraded to 130# & 131# rail. The Cheshire was tieplated and had mostly gravel ballast with some cinders.
  by curtisfarmer
The Webb Depot on the Chesire is very impressive. No buildings left but remnants of the yard which served the Webb quarry. The yard is carved out of the side of the hill high up from the river. The spur line to the quarry is a couple miles long travelling up the hill where you would never expect a RR. The Webb Depot granite marker is now part of a stone wall up the road, very cool. There is a huge fill to the south and then a deep cut right as it crosses Rt.12.
  by TomNelligan
How did the GMRC end up with the mile of so of Cheshire Track around Walpole, NH, but nothing else?
The Green Mountain has operated that trackage since its startup in the spring of 1964. The new railroad needed a place to store and maintain its locomotives, and so it acquired the B&M's unused North Walpole roundhouse and the adjoining yard. Initially this was by lease, if I remember correctly after all these years, but subsequently after the B&M abandoned the Cheshire the state of New Hampshire purchased the property and leased it to the GM.

As for Keene, the Green Mountain operated there for a few years as a contractor, handling local service on behalf of the B&M, but freight traffic completely evaporated in the early 1980s, and after an initial cutback to the paper mill in Ashuelot the GM pulled out completely.
  by edbear
On the Cheshire, Webb Station had been Marlboro. However, the B & M already had a Marlboro on the Nashua-Keene Branch, so not wanting to have two stations with the same name it renamed the Cheshire Branch Marlboro to Webb. (This rule didn't always seem to apply on the B & M as it had two Gleasondales - down the road from each other -, two Concord, MAs and two Hudson, MAs.). Joslin on the Cheshire had been South Keene, but after the head-on collision disaster resulting from a mix-up between Canaan and West Canaan, NH in a train order in the early 1900s, B & M renamed most meeting points on single track lines with North, South, East or West in the name to something else. Joslin was right by the Joslin Chair Factory. If you can find a couple B & M Employee Magazines from early to mid-1950s, there were several photo stories of the Cheshire. One features those 1847 stone arch bridges and the other has a photo spread on the most serious operating problem, the Gulf Gorge just above Troy, NH. Gulf Bridge over Ashuelot River was #83.88. Elevation was about 850 ft above sea level and the Cheshire traversed a very high walled rock defile. There was a real problem with snow and ice build up during winters and M-O-W gangs regularly worked to keep the line open. After abandonment was authorized, State of NH obtained an injunction to prevent removal of track while it tried to create a Transportation Authority. At that time there was no progress on the political scene so after some years the injunction was lifted. After track was removed, State of NH acquired railroad right of way through the Gulf Gorge, took down the rock wall adjacent to highway and widened Route 12. According to another Employee Magazine, one of the 1947 Pullman streamlined coaches was assigned for a time to the Cheshire train while the 6000 was operating Boston-Troy, NY. While this shows an improvement to Cheshire Branch service, it shows how fast Bangor-Portland-Boston service was falling.
  by jbvb
6000 got shifted off the Boston - Portland - Bangor run because it had too few seats for any of the scheduled services; the decline came later, as I-95 approached completion. The short consist worked better as the Minuteman/Cheshire/Mountaineer at post-war traffic levels.

I was also on the B&MRRHS excursion, escorted by my father. We had come in by train from Ipswich that morning, so after we could finally call her to say what had happened to us, she had to drive in from Newburyport to fetch us. Which she remembered till her dying day, and for which I thanked them both.

One reason the Cheshire lasted as long as it did was the size of the Bellows Falls tunnel. When I worked for the B&M, my boss was Vinay Mudholkar, the guy who'd figured out how to reduce the depth of the track supports in the bridge just below the tunnel, so clearances could be increased enough to doom the Cheshire as a high/wide route.
  by NRGeep
mdamico23 wrote:
As a follow up, did the Green Mountain RR attempt to stop the abandonment of the Cheshire in the early 1970s? I know the GMRC made an attempt to serve Keene, NH and environs in the late 1970s/early 1980s, but they did not serve Keene from the Cheshire, instead serving it from the Ashuelot Branch. How did the GMRC end up with the mile of so of Cheshire Track around Walpole, NH, but nothing else?

The Green Mountain did attempt to buy the abandoned but still intact Cheshire from Guilford in 1984. The Keene Sentinel did a good job of covering the legal battle between them and little g but their archive dosn't go back that far.Ultimately, the court ruled in favor of Guilford and the branch was torn up soon thereater. GMRR saw potential online business with Whitcomb gravel, Troy Mills (now closed) Weterough foods etc, and looking at the big picture it would have made sense to abandon the Ashuelot branch (with the paper mills closing) even if they had gained access to the Cheshire given their operations out of North Walpole. Who knows if it would have panned out for GMRR? We'll never know.

Great micro history of the line edbear! I remember seeing "blue birds" running through Keene in the late 60's bound for "the Falls" and beyond. And of course the steamtown bound "Big Boy" was towed down the Cheshire in the early 60's.
  by jfloehr
I was reading this older thread and upon reflection, realized I may have witnessed the last southbound passage of a string of three B&M blue SW1's (?) over the stone arch bridge visible (at the time) from Route 101. I was hitch-hiking back to college in Manchester sometime in the spring or fall of 1972 (?) and caught the sudden flash view from 101, not appreciating the significance of the scene at the time. Given the unique trio of engines on a light move, perhaps this was the final power transit out of the Keene yard to more active use in Boston or Lowell?
  by B&M 1227
that would surely have been interesting. had gmrc gained the cheshire, it would not have been unreasonable to piece together the peterborough branch between winchendon and gardner. would have made for a more contiguous "green mountain gateway" rutland-bellows falls-winchendon-gardner-worcester-providence, and entirely bypassed guilford.
  by woodeen
I seem to recall there was some interest in doing this back in the 80's, but the missing piece from Gardner to Winchendon prevented it. Probably really never very realistic, but it would have been a dream come true. I loved the stone bridges and mountainous quality of the Cheshire branch
  by F-line to Dudley via Park
B&M 1227 wrote:that would surely have been interesting. had gmrc gained the cheshire, it would not have been unreasonable to piece together the peterborough branch between winchendon and gardner. would have made for a more contiguous "green mountain gateway" rutland-bellows falls-winchendon-gardner-worcester-providence, and entirely bypassed guilford.
Look how history has worked out in the 35 years since, and you can retroactively prove that GMRC was thinking exactly that. When VRS inked on as third wheel in the NECR-P&W "Canadian Gateway" agreement several years ago, they gained haulage between Bellows Falls-Willimantic on NECR and Willimantic-Worcester on P&W as a modern facsimile of exactly that routing bootstrapped onto other people's Class 3-rated mains. And their mobility on that haulage agreement has gotten much more streamlined since with NECR and P&W now being lumped together under the same gigantic Genessee & Wyoming corporate roof.

Now consider that at some point in the next 5 years Tim Mellon is going to sell the PAR side of the system and kick off a major bidding war amongst other players for territorial realignment. It is a sure bet that G&W is going to put down a competitive bid for D1+D2 despite the additional anti-competitive complications of owning NECR, P&W, and SLR and having duplicate routes to CN that the STB will find problematic if the B&M joins that system. At bare minimum throwing themselves into the fray will let the G&W borg exert favorable control on how the other bidders plot their moves in reaction, so it's a worthwhile exercise for them even if the potential STB complications leave them slightly gun-shy on powering through with a winning bid. On the other hand, the G&W borg is so huge they can easily afford to power straight on through with a winning bid and figure out their antitrust concessions later.

Any way this goes, VRS is going to be playing offense AND defense to protect its bread-and-butter while looking for new exploits during that chaotic shift. But say G&W does gobble up the B&M, and now has a contiguous network from Bronx to Worcester to Rigby, Rigby to CN-St. Lambert, and Cantic to Worcester. If the duplicate Canadian gateways deem that NECR becomes the piece that they need to sell off to tie up anti-competitive loose ends, VRS would be in prime position to snap up the Central VT-south between Northfield-New London for itself and some/all of NECR's share of the WRJ-Northfield overlap region with NS. And then it just becomes a matter of who/where/why gets WRJ-Cantic (an NS-CN eastern interchange???...beats the hell out of me). VRS could then literally have a self-controlled main from CP to NS to CSX to P&W, and multiple-carrier price competition on the handoffs to huge Worcester hub. More or less fulfilling the dream...in far grander fashion...that GMRC took a stab at with trying to gain Cheshire Branch access into Massachusetts. Speculative scenario, but there are a lot of fully legit speculative scenarios of that scale that could open up opportunities for VRS intrusion into Southern New England depending on what territorial realignment games the big boys play against each other when PAR comes up for bid.
  by Noel Weaver
Sounds like a whole lot of track and not enough traffic. If what is suggested happens you can look at a lot of cuts and probably abandonments as well. Probably nothing good will come here. New England freight traffic is not exactly growing.
Noel Weaver
  by jfloehr
The B&M RR Historical Society 2019 Calendar is out - well done!
Readers of this thread will perhaps find two photos of interest: February (1952) shows a snow-covered Cheshire, inbound from WRJ via Bellows Falls and Keene, taken from Tower A North Station; and June (1968) shows an equally fascinating view of a 5-car freight (XF-2 Bellows Falls to Fitchburg) pulled by a GP-7 with caboose snaking through the Troy ledges - is the 4th car on this symbol freight TOFC, or is this an apparition? Amazing!