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Railfan & Railroad Classics - Fall 1975

Green Mountain Railroad

The classic Rutland is alive today in downtown Rutland, Vermont, at the junction between the Green Mountain Railroad and Vermont Railroad. Ex-Rutland RS-1 405 on the point of the GMR freight completes the perfect image in its green-and-yellow garb.

Rutland Revival 2: Green Mountain Railroad

By Bruce P. Curry and Donald Valentine, Jr./photos by Jim Boyd

Railfan & Railroad - Fall 1975F. Nelson Blount was one of the first people with whom the State of Vermont conferred regarding operation of the former Rutland trackage south of Burlington, Vermont. Mr. Blount came from a well-to-do Rhode Island family and was the owner of Blount Seafood Corp. His efforts to preserve and operate steam locomotives were already well known at the time. In the 1950's, Mr. Blount had purchased the two-foot gauge Edaville Railroad on Cape Cod from the estate of its founder, Ellis D. Atwood, and had been involved with the Pleasure Island amusement park in Wakefield, Mass. Mr. Blount also began to collect standard gauge steam locomotives in the mid-1950's which he displayed both at Edaville and Pleasure Island.

Believing that he could operate standard gauge steam power as well as narrow gauge, Mr. Blount began to look around for a suitable location. This led him to North Walpole, N.H., in 1960, where he was able to obtain the use of a no longer needed five-stall roundhouse from the Boston & Maine, complete with turntable, coal tipple, sand tower and some shop space.

Beginning in 1961, most of the standard gauge equipment in Blount's continually expanding collection began to find its way to the North Walpole enginehouse site. Being unable to make immediate arrangements to operate on the B&M's Cheshire Branch, Mr. Blount was able to contract with shortline operator Samuel M. Pinsly to operate steam passenger service from Bradford to Sunapee, N.H., on Mr. Pinsly's Claremont & Concord during the summer of 1961. It was during this period that Monadnock, Steamtown & Northern Amusements, Inc., better known as the MS&N Railroad, was formed to handle standard gauge operations. Prior to this, everything had been done under the auspices and funding of the Edaville Corporation.

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Sometime in 1961, Nelson Blount began to realize what a bottomless pit standard gauge steam operation was financially for an enterprise funded by only one man even a well-to-do one. He had been talking to people in the Monadnock Region of southwestern New Hampshire in regard to his future plans, and had gone so far as to offer the bulk of his standard gauge equipment to the State of New Hampshire if it would build and operate a museum around it. It was Mr. Blount's intent that such a museum would be built in the vicinity of Keene, adjacent to B&M's Cheshire Branch upon which he would operate a steam powered passenger train with the proviso that upon his death the state would operate the train in conjunction with the proposed museum. While Mr. Blount obtained full support from Keene, most surrounding towns and then-Governor Wesley Powell, he lost his support from the state following a change in administration after the 1962 state elections.

During the summer of 1962 the Monadnock, Steamtown & Northern steam passenger train operated out of Keene, running to Gilboa on the Cheshire Branch towards the base of operations in North Walpole. The following summer the operation was reversed with trains operating out of the yard at North Walpole to Westmoreland Depot and Gilboa. This at least must have made life easier for the operating personnel, whereby everything was returned to the base of operations each night. Certainly repair work was quicker and easier to handle as was normal maintenance.

In the Fall of 1962, Nelson Blount spoke with then-Governor F. Ray Keyser, Jr. of Vermont, for the first time discussing the possibility of shifting the standard gauge operation onto former Rutland Railway trackage. These talks continued over the next year and resulted in a short-term verbal agreement allowing Mr. Blount to operate on the former Bellows Falls Subdivision of the Rutland from Bellows Falls to Ludlow, Vt., a distance of 27 miles. This agreement was effected shortly after the final fate of the Rutland had been decided, and before the state entered into the agreement of October 1963 with Jay Wulfson to operate trackage from Burlington to Bennington.

Shortly after this, the Green Mountain Railroad Corp. was formed to be the operating body under I.C.C. authority for the trackage on the Bellows Falls Subdivision. This came about for several reasons. Nelson Blount was interested primarily in his steam passenger operation, which he proposed to operate on part of the Bellows Falls to Ludlow trackage. He felt, however, that he could also operate freight service with steam power and gain some profit which would help off-set the enormous costs of the steam passenger operation (We doubt that many railfans who have not been actually connected with the day to day operations of steam locomotives in current times have a true picture of the costs involved).

Green Mountain Railroad
Steam on the Rutland is easy to find today as a ticket to Steamtown. GMR 1246 is now lettered "Canadian Pacific" and operating regularly. The ride from Steamtown to Chester is as exciting a steam ride as you can find around today on a regular basis, since it kicks up to a pretty good speed. Photo by John Krause/New England Rail Service

Freight on the Cheshire Branch was out of the question even if the track could be purchased from the Boston &, Maine. There were no rail customers between Keene and North Walpole, nor was there much likelihood of developing any. On the Bellows Falls Subdivision things were just the opposite. There was a talc company in Chester and another in the village of Gassetts (3.4 miles further north, but still within the town of Chester). There was also a grain dealer in Chester and a fuel dealer in Gassetts who would use rail freight service. Around this nucleus Mr. Blount felt he could build his freight operation. Equally important to whatever revenue the freight operation would bring was the fact that it would provide full-time, rather than seasonal, employment for key people within the Blount group who were needed to maintain and operate the steam passenger service. The importance of this factor to all parties concerned should be readily apparent.

Another point in favor of the former Rutland trackage was that Mr. Blount found he could purchase a tract of land adjacent to the track about two miles north of the village of Bellows Falls. The Rutland had purchased this land in the early 1900's with the thought of constructing a new and larger yard for Bellows Falls on the site. While the proposed yard was never built, the site was perfect for a large, uncluttered museum area away from the enginehouse and shop in North Walpole, N.H. It must be remembered here that the North Walpole enginehouse is just about 100 yards east of the end of the former Rutland track in Bellows Falls, the two points being separated by the Connecticut River.

While it had been suggested to him from time to time that the entire former Rutland system south of Burlington should be leased, Nelson Blount would have none of that talk. His prime concern was still the passenger operation and the factors which effected it. That, coupled with whatever freight business could be developed, was enough for one person to be responsible for. Thus there was never any serious intent on the part of the Blount interests to operate the entire former Rutland trackage south of Burlington . Being interested in restoring service in the area as quickly as possible, the State of Vermont thus entered into a lease with the Wulfson interests to operate from Burlington to Bennington including serving former Rutland customers on the Bellows Falls Subdivision south to about the Rutland town line. In January 1965 a lease was effected with the Blount interests to operate the remainder of the Bellows Falls Subdivision from about the Rutland town line to Bellows Falls. During negotiations leading to the lease Mr. Blount had been persuaded to take the entire portion remaining rather than only the Bellows Falls to Ludlow section.

Green Mountain Railroad
Ex-Rutland RS-1 405 leads freight XR-1 out of North Walpole, New Hampshire, and over the Connecticut River into Bellows Falls, Vermont, in July 1972.

It was not until the first week of April 1965 that freight operations got underway on the Green Mountain. During the prior week, arrangements had been made to purchase ex-Rutland Alco RS-1 #405 for freight service. The new Vermont Railway had been operating for fifteen months at this time. Due to the availability of facilities in Rutland at the time operations were begun and the fact that most of the freight crewmen were former Rutland employees living in the area, the home terminal was initially established in Rutland. With the demolition of the former Rutland Railway facilities to make room for a new shopping plaza, the home terminal for the Green Mountain was moved to Bellows Falls. It was not until February 1966, however, that an agreement was made with the B&M allowing the Green Mountain to cross the B&M's Connecticut River line at Bellows Falls and use the B&M bridge to reach the enginehouse in North Walpole. Thus for the first part of the winter of 1965-66, the 405 could be found idling with those distinctive Alco burbling noises through the night on the coal track just west of the power canal bridge in Bellows Falls.

Prior to 1966 the Blount interests were comprised of four separate operations. The first of these was the Edaville Corp., which by this time was only running the two-foot gauge Edaville Railroad on Cape Cod. Second was Monadnock, Steam town & Northern Amusements, Inc., which was formed in 1961 to handle standard gauge operations including fan trips run on the New Haven and Jersey Central, and was about to be phased out. The newcomers were the Green Mountain Railroad Corp., organized as an ICC common carrier, and the Steamtown Foundation for the Preservation of Steam and Railroad Americana (as its official title had become), organized as a non-profit, tax-free, educational foundation; both incorporated in 1964.

The new museum site at Riverside was opened in June of that year. While management was to a large degree common, and while equipment seemed to be somewhat interchangeable, it was necessary to keep separate records both to preserve the non-profit status of the museum and to comply with regulations governing carriers under the I.CC jurisdiction. From 1966 to 1971 the Green Mountain Railroad Corp. was responsible for the passenger train operation. During these years the trains ran variously behind an ex-CN 2-6-0 and two ex-CPR 4-6-2's, all of which were maintained by GMRC employees as was Mr. Blount's personal locomotive, 127 (ex- CPR 1278) until his death.

F. Nelson Blount, millionaire businessman and former naval aviator, was killed at age 49 in a tragic airplane accident in August 1967 while returning to his home in Dublin, N.H., from his landing field at Riverside, Vt.; as the site of the new museum had come to be called. Ensuing legal complications in the estate hampered the transition period; separation of the entangled assets of the GMRC, Steamtown Foundation, Edaville Corp., and Blount's personal interests created enormous legal problems for the executors of the estate. In 1968 the Green Mountain Railroad Corp. emerged as an independent employee-owned company with Robert W. Adams as chief executive officer. Whereas Green Mountain and Steamtown employees and equipment had often been used interchangeably when Mr. Blount was alive, the two operations became distinct and separate after 1968. Freight service is now operated exclusively by the GMRC, while Steamtown, since 1971, has leased the right to use trackage between Riverside and Chester, with occasional junkets to Rutland, for steam-powered passenger operations. Authority for the use of this track is conferred daily by train order from Bellows Falls when Steamtown is operating on GMRC trackage. In 1973 the GMRC sold the two remaining ex-CPR 4-6-2's to Steamtown, ex-CN 2-6-0 89 having been sold to the Strasburg Railroad the previous year.

All GMRC motive power and equipment is maintained in the company's five-stall roundhouse at North Walpole which was vacated by the Steamtown collection in 1964. Each weekday morning, and as needed on Saturdays, one or more of the three green and yellow Alco diesels (appropriately dressed in the old Rutland paint scheme) make up train XR-1 which normally departs for Rutland at 9:30 a.m., and returns as RX-2 around 7:00 p.m.

The majority of the freight business is derived from customers in Chester, Gassetts, Smithville and North Clarendon. The Vermont Talc Company in Chester, and Windsor Minerals in both Gassetts and Smithville, are large shippers of talc and associated by-products. It is interesting that while both firms deal in talc, each has a different type, and the two firms are thus not really competing with one another. The grain dealer in Chester and the fuel dealer in Gassetts, which were mentioned earlier, are still important customers. In addition, new customers have been obtained in the form of road salt (to ruin the roads and the competing trucks!) dealers at Chester and North Clarendon, and a wholesale beer distributor at North Clarendon. The Windsor Minerals facility at Smithville is new this year and provides additional traffic. Currently there are about six other frequent customers which the railroad serves.

Green Mountain Railroad
Having run around his train downtown, freight XR-1 works the Windsor Minerals talc plant at Gassetts, one of the roads most important shippers.

In 1973, despite interruptions caused by severe floods in July, the GMRC handled just under 120,000 tons during the year, of which about 80% was originating traffic. The B&M no longer stations a yard switcher in Bellows Falls, so interchange is handled by a local out of Brattleboro, Vt., three days a week. Owing to a poor rate division agreement with the B&M, however, most GMRC interchange is at Rutland with the Delaware & Hudson and the Vermont Railway. Consequently, Green Mountain trains must contend with a ruling grade of 1.8% northbound from Ludlow to the summit at Mr. Holly, and a similar gradient southbound from East Wallingford. Each diesel unit is capable of hauling about 18 loaded cars over the hill, but normally a second unit is added if there are more than 12 cars. This is both to reduce the strain on the locomotives and increase train speed.

Vermont winters further complicate operating procedures since the Ludlow-Mt. Holly area has been known to receive as much as 2.5 feet of snow in a single winter storm. Indeed, a considerable amount of snow can pile up on the tracks in the time between XR-l's going through on the way to Rutland and its return several hours later as RX-2. A plow is sent over the line when the snow reaches four inches above the railhead, and may be run at other times for the purpose of flanging. The line in the vicinity of Summit, and particularly the first few miles west of that location, is quite exposed and thus subject to heavy snow-drifting when a wind is up.

Where the line is not on the direct approaches to the summit on its path across the Green Mountains, from which the road draws its name, it can be found winding along the valleys of the Mill, Black and Williams Rivers. It is entwined with these rivers to such a degree that there are no less than 17 major bridges of which five are two or more spans in length.

A trip on the Green Mountain presents an excellent example of both how efficiently a shortline can operate and the kind of service a railroad can provide when it is dedicated to service. The crew for XR-l is usually called for 9:00 a.m. After inspecting train orders and equipment, the train is made up for its 9:30 departure for Rutland. One of the first things one would notice is that the train is operated by a three-man crew equipped with radio communication. The engineer is usually Frank Wheeler, one of the former Rutland men on the GMRC. Tom Hancock and Charlie Pencek usually tie down the conductor and brakeman jobs, respectively. After crossing the stone arch bridge over the Connecticut River and the diamonds of the B&M's Connecticut River line (used jointly by the B&M and Central Vermont) the Green Mountain leaves Bellows Falls northward on the Connecticut River's west bank. After crossing a causeway through the backwater for the power dam at Bellows Falls, the line passes the Steam town museum at Riverside and crosses another causeway. Curving to the west, it enters a rock cut and ducks under the U.S. Route 5 and Interstate 91 as it enters the valley of the Williams River. Here the ascent of Rockingham hill begins with a varying grade to the vicinity of Ludlow before the final 1.8% grade to Summit is reached. This is the part of the line familiar to those who have ridden Steamtown's passenger train. The track curves with the river through the farmlands of the valley on its gentle ascent to the Chester Depot, crossing the river six times in the approximately ten miles between the entrance to the valley and Chester. Two of these crossings are quite spectacular, most notably at the Rockingham trestle and Brockway's Mills Gorge, after which the line passes two covered highway bridges in Bartonsville.

Green Mountain Railroad
Map illustration by Donald Valentine and Tony Koester

The Green Mountain's Traffic Department and Freight Agent's Office are housed in the picturesque brick station at Chester Depot. Bob Nimke, a former New Haven man who is Vice President Traffic, and Charlie Ellis, the amiable freight agent, can generally be found here striving to keep ahead of the paperwork. XR-1 usually arrives in Chester about 10:35 and does what switching is necessary at the Vermont Talc Company's mill on the south end of town, and at the salt dealers before pulling into the station. Any switching at Erskine's grain store, behind the station, is then done before Conductor Hancock registers the train and proceeds north. Gassetts is reached about 11:00 a.m. where an hour can quickly be used switching the first of the GMRC's largest customer's two locations. Tucked tightly between Route 103 and the river's edge is the older plant of Windsor Minerals, Inc. , a talc processor. The railroad enters the mill yard on a siding which swings off to the north side of the track just before the main line cross to the south bank of the Williams River. Montany & Montany, Inc., a fuel dealer who still does a good business in coal, is also located in Gassetts near the site of the old Rutland station just south of the talc plant.

Leaving Gassetts, the track runs due north through the narrow Duttonsville Gulf to Cavendish where it turns west to rejoin Route 103. The gulf is also the divide between the valley of the Williams River and that of the Black River. Rejoining Rte. 103 at Proctorsville, the railroad continues on for a mile and a half to the hamlet of Smithville in the town of Ludlow. Smithville is the location of the new Windsor Minerals plant which is normally switched on the return trip from Rutland. Train XR-1 continues on to Ludlow where some smaller customers are served by the team track next to the closed station. Leaving the station, the track crosses a small overpass still lettered for the Rutland, and then crosses a high, curved, twospan deck truss as the line swings back to the northwest and begins the final ascent to Summit, some seven miles further north.

While the railroad generally follows Vermont Route 103 (the main highway from Bellows Falls to Rutland) it remains hidden to the south of the highway proceeding northerly from Ludlow until the Ludlow-Mt. Holly town line is approached. Here it follows the highway closely for about a mile before curving away to Healdville and then Summit. The actual summit is in a rock cut just south of the site of Summit station, on a dirt road off Rte. 103. Train XR-1 stops at Summit, the brakes are checked, and she whistles off for Rutland.

Rejoining Rte.103, the train drifts downgrade through the open meadows of Mt. Holly before swinging away again just before reaching East Wallingford. At East Wallingford the track crosses a high deck girder bridge over the Mill River and Rte. 155, curves sharply to the right before pass ing through the vil lage and proceeds another mile north to where the river is again crossed, as is Rte. 103, on the well-known East Wallingford High Bridge pictured on the dust cover of Jim Shaughnessy's equally well known The Rutland Road.

Hidden once again from the highway, XR-1 follows the track winding along the hillsides t6 the north side of Rte. 103 and passes through the village of Cuttingsville. Between Cuttingsville and East Clarendon the railroad crosses the highway twice; the westerly one, known as Gaynor's Crossing, crosses both Rte. 103 and Appalachian Trail in a broad curve shortly before East Clarendon is reached. The view of the highway is lost for good as XR-1 drifts north toward the salt shed and beer distributors warehouse in North Clarendon. Here the train stops while Conductor Hancock registers and obtains permission to enter the Vermont Railway's trackage a few hundred yards further on. Any empties at the salt shed which are northbound are picked up (the beer wholesaler is switched on the southbound run) and the train continues on to its destination in Rutland where interchange is made with the Delaware & Hudson and the Vermont Railway.

Green Mountain Railroad
Chester depot serves as the operating headquarters for the Green Mountain. Freight RX-2 has returned from Rutland in July 1972 and is taking care of paperwork.

Currently XR-1 usually arrives in Rutland around 3:00 p.m. , and leaves as RX-2 at about 3:30. The return trip is much the same with those customers mentioned as such being switched on the return trip. RX-2 normally arrives back in Bellows Falls about 7 :00 p.m. and ties up for the day. As progress is made with tie renewal work slated for t his year on the north end, these times may be improved somewhat, but will suffice to describe current operating procedure. As on similar shortline operations, the employees often wear more than one hat. Thus, if necessary the president can leave his desk in Bellows Falls to become engineer for a day, just as someone will fill in for the regular conductor, Tom Hancock, if he is off or out maintaining signals for a day. Vice President Bob Ashcroft often substitutes for the conductor or brakeman when one or the other is off. Bob Nimke, the traffic man, has also been observed putting in some long and strenuous days on a mechanical brush cutter during the warmer months. These are just some of the things which add up to personalized ser vice on the Green Mountain.

The short history of the Green Mountain has not been without both fanfare and incident. In a ten day period in February 1967 the Boston & Maine detoured twenty-six freight trains over the Vermont Railway and the Green Mountain due to a wreck which occurred inside the Hoosac Tunnel. Fortunately for the B&M, their request for the detour came at a time when the steam powered passenger service was shut down for the season. Residents in towns along the route can still recall their surprise to find freight trains up to 120 cars in length, powered by up to four B&M Geeps rolling through at all hours of the day and night. The old Rutland tracks hadn't seen this kind of traffic in years! While the business may have been good, it was not without its drawbacks . Shortlines cannot afford to have unnecessary help on the payroll, and this doesn't leave much latitude for unexpected occurrences. With almost three extra trains on the line each day to be provided with a pilot (B&M operating crews were used) in addition to their normal workload, every qualified employee found himself working right up to t he hours of service limit every day (at a time when one was still allowed to work sixteen hours)! This might be all right once in awhile, but after three or four days at a stretch it was beginning to wear a bit thin. A similar request from the B&M after part of the Hoosac Tunnel caved in during August 1972 had to be turned down, primarily due to the daily steam passenger runs during the summer months.

Green Mountain Railroad
More than 40 years after the demise of the Rutland Railway and the start-up of the Green Mountain Railroad, ex-Rutland Alco RS-1 405 continues to power regular passenger excursions throughout the system. Photo by Otto M. Vondrak

In 1973 the situation was reversed and the Green Mountain had to call upon the B&M to handle more interchange at Bellows Falls. Severe flash flooding following heavy rains in early July damaged or washed out the track in several places north of Chester Depot and primarily north of Proctorsville. Damage was comparatively light south of Gassetts, allowing service to be quickly restored to most of the larger shippers. With several hundred yards of rail and ties suspended in mid-air in Proctorsville, a bridge abutment gone near Ludlow and a fifty foot deep hole under the track at Healdville, not to mention many less serious washouts, it was almost two months before trains were run to Rutland again. During that time all traffic was interchanged with the B&M at Bellows Falls.

Despite the Green Mountain's dependence on relatively few shippers, the future looks optimistic. The growth of new business has been encouraging and most customers seem quite pleased with the service they receive. The unsung heros of the GMRC, such as their jack-of-all-trades Vice-President and Assistant Superintendent Bob Ashcroft, shop men Howard Pearson and Pete Read, and the track crew under Bob Pingrey, all have enough ingenuity to get the maximum value out of every dollar the railroad spends. Perhaps this is to be expected when many of the men--right down to some of the track gang--own stock in the railroad , but it is more indicative of an attitude of pride in what they are doing. This is all too often missing on many Class 1 carriers, as is a commitment to a profession as opposed to just a job: It seems that when the number of people that are dependent directly or indirectly on the service provided by the Green Mountain are considered together with the wages earned by all Green Mountain personnel (which are quite modest by today's standards) the men are owed an outstanding debt of gratitude by the State of Vermont and everyone who receives benefit from the goods carried. We can only hope that the Green Mountain Railroad and its modern day Green Mountain Boys will be around to serve their domain for many years to come.

Green Mountain Railroad Locomotive Roster - June 1975

Road No.
Builder
Type
Serial No.
Date Built
Note
89
CLC
2-6-0
930
1910
1
1246
MLW
4-6-2
74906
1946
2
1293
CLC
4-6-2
2450
1948
3
302
Alco
S-2
76515
1948
4
303
Alco
S-4
78032
1950
5
305
Alco
S-4
78409
1950
6
405
Alco
RS-1
79575
1951
7

Notes:

1. Ex-CN 89, acquired April 1965, sold to Strasburg Railroad June 1972.
2. Ex-CP 1246, acquired June 1967, sold to Steamtown Foundation July 1973.
3. Ex-CP 1293, acquired April 1965, sold to Steamtown Foudation July 1973.
4. Ex-D&H 3026, acquired December 1969. Never operated on GMRC, slated to be converted into a slug unit as time permits.
5. Ex-D&H 3036, acquired May 1966.
6. Ex-D&H 3050, acquired December 1969.
7. Ex-Rutland 405, acquired April 1965.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 1975 issue of Railfan & Railroad.

EPILOUGE: In 1997 the Green Mountain Railroad was acquired by the Vermont Railway, forming the basis for the Vermont Rail System which unites nearly all of the remaining former Rutland Railway operating segments in New York and Vermont.

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