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NRHS 2015 Convention Rutland-Bellows Falls Trip 6/16/2015

by Chris Guenzler

The first true NHRS Convention trip was the Vermont Rail Service passenger trip from Rutland to Bellows Falls and return over the Green Mountain Railroad and the former route of the original Steamtown excursions. Robin and I drove to the Rutland Amtrak station.

The Green Mountain Railroad North Walpole (NH) to Rutland (VT) History

The Green Mountain Railroad (GMRC) consists of the former Rutland Railroad Bellows Falls Sub-Division between Rutland (VT) and North Walpole (NH). This route was built by the Rutland & Burlington Railroad as a part of their Bellows Falls to Burlington line. Originally a mainline handling part of the Boston to New York traffic, the construction of shorter and faster routes made it more of a branch line by the late 1800s.

Like the Vermont Railway, the Green Mountain was the result of an effort to save a former Rutland Railway property after that railroad shut down during a strike in 1961. F. Nelson Blount, the wealthy owner of Rhode Island-based Blount Seafood Corporation, had gotten involved with trains when he acquired the Edaville Railroad complex in Massachusetts, and was also operating steam-powered excursion trains out of Keene, New Hampshire, as the Monadnock, Steamtown & Northern. His friend, Boston & Maine president Patrick McGinnis, had helped him with permission to use the route between Keene and North Walpole, as well as the North Walpole shops. However, the ending of freight service by the B&M and a lack of interest in New Hampshire led Blount to look at the recently available track in Vermont.

In 1963, the State of Vermont bought the former Rutland line between Bellows Falls and Rutland, much as it did with the Burlington to Bennington route. Wulfson and Filskov of the Vermont Railway had a chance to include this route in their new company, but chose not to lease it too. Therefore, the line, known as the Bellows Falls Subdivision by the Rutland Railroad, was available for lease. When approached, Vermont Governor F. Ray Keyser made an offer to Blount to operate not only his excursion train over the line, but to also handle the freight business. Blount at first did not accept the offer, but then agreed to handle the Bellows Falls to Ludlow section of the route and then quickly decided to take on the line on to Rutland, actually handling the entire line under two different leases. To work the line, Blount established the Green Mountain Railroad in early 1964.

The only major complication with the start up of the Green Mountain was the Boston & Maine, which wanted the lease so they could control the Bellows Falls freight business. The Green Mountain agreed to conduct only interchange business at Bellows Falls and allow the B&M to lease all local tracks and handle the freight business, and the problem was solved. During the early 1980s, the B&M gave up on this plan and turned all tracks in the area, except for their mainline, back over to the state and the Green Mountain then leased them to handle the remaining freight business.

The first revenue operation of the GMRC was on April Fools Day, 1965. It operated one way from Rutland to Gassetts to serve the talc business, and returned the next day. Like the Vermont Railway, the first power of the Green Mountain was a former Rutland Railway Alco RS-1 405. Over the years, the GMRC bought Alcos of various models from across the country and even a few EMDs.

Initially, the railroad's trains operated out of Rutland due to a lack of access to tracks and facilities at Bellows Falls and North Walpole. The only building included in the lease, the Chester station, became the railroad's headquarters and office building. In early 1966, this situation changed when the B&M agreed to let the GMRC use the Bellows Falls tracks to reach the facilities in North Walpole, but only for "servicing, storing and repairing its equipment." The agreement also established an interchange procedure for Bellows Falls. Cars for the Boston & Maine were to be left on the Patch Track north of the Canal Bridge, while cars for the GMRC were to be left on the mainline at the same location. Even with this agreement, the B&M refused to work with the railroad on freight routing, and the Green Mountain was heavily dependent upon the Vermont Railway and Delaware & Hudson. This came back to haunt the B&M when they had a major derailment inside Hoosick Tunnel, and had to approach the Green Mountain about providing alternative service over their line. Reportedly, during the eight days it took to clean up the mess inside the tunnel, the GMRC operated twenty-six trains for the B&M between Bellows Falls and Rutland, where the Vermont Railway handed them back to the Boston & Maine's Hoosick line. Eventually, the B&M changed its opinion of the railroad and began offering rates and services to attract business from the GMRC during the 1970s.

At the same time that the Green Mountain was earning its keep, Blount created the Steamtown operation at Riverside, a location once designed to be a major freight yard for the Rutland Railroad. However, until 1970, the passenger excursion trains were run as a part of the Green Mountain Railroad. The relationship between the Green Mountain and Steamtown was good since Blunt owned them both. However, Blount was killed when the plane he was flying crashed in the mountains of New Hampshire during August 1967. Blount's shares in the railroad (746 of a total of 750) were sold to Bob Adams, who then sold 49 percent of the company to its employees. Adams was offered a lease on Steamtown, but decided to focus on the freight business instead.

In 1970, the passenger excursion service was turned over to Steamtown since the State of Vermont was pushing for the end of the use of coal, including in the steam locomotives on the excursion trains. Steamtown, as a non-profit organization, was able to obtain a variance and began operating the trips under their name with their equipment. However, Steamtown operated its last excursions during late 1983 and moved away, looking for more opportunity. To keep excursion service going, the Vermont Historical Railroad was created but it lasted only one season. In 1985, the Green Mountain returned to the passenger business when it began operating Bellows Falls-Chester excursion trains.

Change continued on the railroad. Freight volumes jumped up and down, but generally stayed below 2,000 cars a year. In 1988, GMRC bought the Bellows Falls station from the B&M, giving it a base for its passenger trains. In the early 1990s, primary ownership of the railroad passed to Jerome Hebda, the new president of the company. Freight traffic started to grow and then the sale of the B&M line to Railtex and their New England Central put the connecting line into the hands of a company looking to grow the business. The efforts of the two companies, plus the Canadian Pacific, created a routing option and joint marketing known as "The Green Mountain Gateway."

This relationship soon led to new business opportunities. In 1996, a petroleum terminal opened at North Walpole, supported by the New England Central and partly financed by the State of New Hampshire. The following year, the Riverside Reload Center opened, owned and controlled by the GMRC. This facility attracted regional business not on the railroad and used the property and facilities once used by Steamtown.

During May 1997, the Vermont Railway acquired the Green Mountain Railroad in a move that caught many of the minority stockholders by surprise. The concept was that merger of the two railroads would allow savings by sharing equipment and other resources, and would open up new routes and businesses to the railroads involved. One example is that the Bellows Falls-Rutland trains were extended to Whitehall, New York. This change, and the "The Green Mountain Gateway" project, has resulted in this route handling 6,000 or more overhead cars each year. The North Walpole car shop has also seen a significant growth in business.

After the now-usual NRHS trip safety meeting on the train, I was assigned to Rutland combine 280 and sat by the door to the baggage area to control the flow of passengers going into the first class cars ahead of ours, the "Macintyre" and "Dover Harbor". This trip would be new mileage from Rutland Amtrak to Howe Center then Smithville to Bellow Falls.

The Trip

The train reversed into the Rutland Amtrak station before we loaded the passengers.

The lights have Central Railway of New Jersey inlays which tells of its heritage.

At 10:00 AM we departed Rutland towards Bellow Falls.

The train took the curves to leave Rutland.

This would be new mileage for me on Saturday.

Photographers were out again chasing our train.

The interior of Rutland combine 280.

The Cuttingsville Volunteer Fire Department.

This old barn caught my eye.

The train took one of the many curves on today's trip.

Crossing Mill River on a 371 foot 6 inch long three part bridge at MP 40.67.

The clouds were hanging onto the Green Mountains.

The New Jersey Central lettering on the water cooler.

Bart Jennings at our first photo runby at Ludlow.

The Rutland Ludlow station built in 1887.

Green Mountain Railroad combine 280, ex. Green Mountain Railroad 280, exx. Nelson Blount's Monadnock, Steamtown & Northern Amusements 1967, nee Central Railroad of New Jersey 299 built by Standard Steel in 1925..

"Dover Harbor" heavyweight baggage-library car built by Pullman Company in 1923 as "Maple Shade". It was assigned to the Pennsylvania Railroad and rebuilt in 1934 and re-named "Dover Harbor" - one of eight cars to be designated in Dover Series. It was then assigned to Michigan Central Railroad and saw service on Cleveland Limited and Knickerbocker trains in the 1940s. In 1953, it was painted from Pullman livery to New York Central livery and assigned to Montrealer and Washingtonian. The car was retired in October 1965 and sold in 1967; the Washington DC Chapter of the NRHS purchased it in 1979. It is the only operational heavyweight Pullman revenue car for private use on Amtrak trains.

Vermont Railway business car "Macintyre" with open platform and observation room, built by Bethlehem Steel Company in 1923 as Erie 4. It was later sold to the Grand Trunk Western. The car moved to Bellows Falls when Glenn Davis, one-time head of the Vermont State Police, bought the car and moved it to Montepelier Junction where he lived in it. Mr. Davis became President of the Green Mountain Railway and moved it to Bellows Falls. He then sold the car to Rock MacIntyre and after he ran into financial difficulties, it became property of the Vermont Railway.

Green Mountain Railroad GP40 304, ex. Helm Atlantic Leasing 400, exx. CSXT 2532, nee Baltimore and Ohio 3756, built by Electro-Motive Division in 1971.

Vermont Railroad GP40 301, ex. Seaboard Coast Line 2790, exx. Seaboard 2790, nee Western Railroad of Alabama 701, built by Electro-Motive Division in 1967.

Reverse move 1.

Photo runby 1 at Ludlow. I then moved to a spot to the west of the station.

Reverse move 2.

Photo runby 2. It started to rain as we reboarded the passengers then headed east to Chester where we would load the lunches and drinks onto the train. After Chester I helped distribute first the lunches then drinks to most of the train. I was a tired Chris when finished and returned to my seat for a well- deserved rest.

The crossing of the Williams River.

Vermont is sure green! No wonder why these are called the Green Mountains!

An old industry along our route towards Bellow Falls.

Two views of the Williams River before it enters the Connecticut River.

The Connecticut River.

North Walpole, New Hampshire across the Connecticut River.

The train running on the west shore of the Connecticut River.

The engines ran around the train.

The train left Riverside heading back to Rutland along the Connecticut River.

North Walpole across the Connecticut River in New Hampshire.

The Connecticut River looking north.

The Williams River joining the Connecticut River.

Crossing under Interstate 91.

Crossing the Williams River.

The Williams River Gorge.

The Worral Covered Bridge built about 1870. It is the only surviving 19th century covered bridge in the town, after the Hall Covered Bridge collapsed in 1980 and was replaced in 1982, and the Bartonsville Covered Bridge was washed away by Hurricane Irene in 2011 and replaced in 2012-2013.

The Bartonsville Covered Bridge was built in 2012, replacing a similar bridge built in 1870 by Sanford Granger. The 1870 bridge, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was destroyed in 2011 in flooding caused by Hurricane Irene.

Running along the Williams River.

Green Mountain scenes.

Crossing the Williams River.

The South Branch of the Williams River.

Chester Rutland Depot built in 1871.

Green Mountain Railroad caboose 50, nee Bessemer and Lake Erie, built by Greenville Steel Car Company in 1941.

Rutland Railroad Gassetts station built in 1897 and retired in 1952.

Crossing the Williams River bridge.

The Imerys Talc America Facility at Smithville.

Crossing the Jewell Brook Bridge. Bart then came into the combine and announced that because we were ahead of schedule we would do a photo runby so the two of us moved to the doors to unload the passengers. We did not like the footing where we stopped so moved one car forward to unload.

Reverse move 1 at MP 45.92.

The MP 45.92 sign.

Photo runby 1 at MP 45.92. I moved to another location on the photo line.

Reverse move 2 at MP 45.92.

Photo line at MP 45.92.

Photo runby 2 at MP 45.92.

The train back in Rutland. A special thank you to the Vermont Railroad for running our NRHS excursion train today. Robin and I stopped at a store for more Coca-Cola for me then KFC for dinner to go before we returned to the Days Inn for the night.