Transcript of Interview with Harry Johnson, 1997

conducted by
John Rodgers, President of WRJ Railroad Museum
Macy Lawrence VP of WRJ RR Museum
at the home of Harry Johnson in West Lebanon, New Hampshire

My name, of course, Harry Johnson and I'm a junior because my  father was a railroad man, too, and so we had to sort of differentiate  between us.

IN: Did you work for the same company?

HJ: Yes, we both worked for the Boston & Maine.

IN: When did he start working for the Boston & Maine?

HJ: I think in around 1919-1920. He worked in the yard in White  River B&M yard mostly and of course, the way the set up was over  there he also worked in the CV yard so it depended upon what job  you were on. And he was a brakeman, yard foreman, and yard master  at times so he was there quite a number of years.

IN: When did he retire?

HJ: Well, he didn't retire, unfortunately he was killed on the  railroad. He was struck by a bud car crossing the main line to  go to work. This was in 1958-1959. So he never did get to go on  retirement.

IN: Did you work with your dad?

HJ: From time to time, yeah.

IN: Now did you work in White River or did you work ...

HJ: I've worked most all in White River although the last year  I worked, I worked in Brattleboro, but that's because the jobs  were cut out in White River and we did the same work in Brattleboro  that we'd been doing in White River.

IN: When you say White River, did that include Westborough or  primarily White River?

HJ: Yeah, it took in Westborough, too.

IN2: Now you had switching rights back and forth between the two  of you across the river right?

HJ: Oh, yeah, well, of course, Westborough and West Lebanon was  all B&M. But they had all these agreements like at one time when  the CV first went diesel engines they didn't have fueling facilities  so they had an agreement with the B&M, they'd run their diesels  across the bridge to Westborough and the B&M would fuel their  diesels so they had all these cockamamie yard agreements that  nobody understood. I was telling John earlier that they had a  yard agreement so that all the clerks and all the car inspectors  were B&M, didn't matter which yard they were in and we had mixed  switchers in the B&M yard like 3 til 11 or 4 til midnight, you  had the switching crew was all CV working in the B&M yard and  at the same time you might have a B&M crew up in the CV yard.  So but it was done on a 60-40 basis. The B&M paid 60% of the expense  and the CV paid 40 and this was for everything including the passenger  station and...

IN2: You were yard master?

HJ: No, well I wasn't truly an operator because I could never  telegraph but we did take train orders and I worked in the freight  office for a number of years and I worked in both yards, the B&M  yard and the CV yard. So, I retired in 1983. I had my, the minute  I turned 60 I left.

IN: You'd had enough?

HJ: Oh, yeah, well the jobs were disappearing

IN: You had what 40 years in?

HJ: Yeah, well, I had 38 yeah, but if I'd a stayed I'd a had to  gone to East Deerfield, they were cutting my jobs in Brattleboro  out so, as Jack can tell you,

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JT: Yeah, my name is Jack Tosi and I worked for the CV from 1979  to 1989 and I started in White River as a telegrapher operator,  I mean that was the title but it was basically typewriter that  was used to take the train orders. Everything had to be typed.  Any you know, travelled around. I worked in St. Albans for a while  as a clerk and ended up down in Brattleboro, that's where I got  to know Harry pretty well cause his last year he was there he  worked in the B&M office and I worked in the CV office and they  were all connected so we used to do things together because we  had trains coming into Brattleboro that you know we would have  to put cars out in the yard, etc. etc. so I would tell Harry where  I wanted 'em.

IN: What was the function of Brattleboro?

JT: Well, Brattleboro was I don't know if you would call it a  brake bolt (?) station or whatever because, an interchange point  because they would come up from East Deerfield and leave the cars  for the CV in Brattleboro in that yard and then we would take  'em on to White River or some of 'em may go to Palmer (?) Mass.  And at one time we had an intermodal train and the way it would  work is it would come into Brattleboro and for a time it was being  taken down to Boston and so we would kind of interchange it in  Brattleboro and I think that was maybe, I don't know if that was  going on when you were there, Harry?

HJ: Oh yeah, the piggyback train. St. Albans

JT: Yeah and it just never seemed to catch on. The service was  very slow because there would be times that it would take 'em  forever to get from wherever they came out of Boston to Brattleboro  and then by the time they turned around to go back they would  run out of time and outlaw somewhere. And I was basically the  night clerk and then I became the general agent in Brattleboro  which was a title at that point. Well, I started with the railroad  in '79 and I think I was in Brattleboro for a couple of months  in '79 and then went to St. Albans then came back in '80 and I  was there for almost 5 years before getting to White River and  the CV eventually closed the station in Brattleboro. And then  White River they phased out in '89. So, I mean, I would give the  crews what they had to do for switching, take a list of the yard,  sometimes we would have as many as 300 cars in Brattleboro, not  just from the B&M but from our own trains that would come down  out of St. Albans, the trains going from Brattleboro to New London  cause they had a station in Palmer and then the next one was like  in New London, Conn. So it was pretty busy in the early '80's  and then when they put in the oh what was it what could you call  it, you know when everything became competitive basically and  deregulated, that's right, and the D&H was starting to be revised  so the CV started, when I was working there we had like 420 people  on the whole railroad on the CV and when the deregulation came  they started cutting jobs and started closing stations in the  thinking ahead that business was going to be dropping because  of the D&H, which really never really happened becaused the D&H  never really got up and running. That was, I think, Mellon (sp?)  took that over and just really sold off whatever was worth anything  and then just...I think it was one of the grandchildren or whatever,  but he came from that family and, of course, he bought the B&M.  And same thing, he basically sold off everything but that's when  I saw things turning around and I knew that the end would soon  be coming.

IN: How many years did you put in with them?

JT: 10 years, yeah, I was fortunate I made it 10 years.

IN: Any you retired out of there? Or

JT: Well, they gave me a year's severance. They were glad to get  rid of me because the newspaper picked it up when they were closing  the station. They thought they were just going to sneak it through.  They had a little piece in the paper and I think Harry it saw  it that they were petitioning to close the station. Never notified  me and so the Valley News started talking to me it was front page  headlines. So it took 'em about a year, year and a half to finally  close it. So I wasn't too popular.

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JT: The big historic thing was there was a movement by the railroad  to get the vans off the trains and put on Billy the Brakeman and  up until my final year they hadn't been able to do it but since,  you know, the other company took 'em over, they don't have vans  any more but they just reduced the crews when I started, they  had like five men on a crew.

IN: What do you mean by vans?

JT: You know, cabooses, we call 'em vans, cabooses whatever and  I always thought (buggies) it was a safety thing, especially when  you were at a crossing. I thought it was very important.

IN: Now, you've got Fred on the back end.

JT: Yeah, yeah, I saw him go by I guess

IN: rear end device

JT: and they don't always work, but you know that was a cost cutting  thing because it was very expensive to keep them maintained, the  buggies and that was the big fight going on. But when I came aboard  most of the big events, you know, the steam engines were gone,  they were downsizing the crews, the conductors even though they  had the buggies were on the head end not on the back any more.  They had it so basically whoever got the tail end got the benefits  of the conductor without the additional responsibility because  they sat in there while the conductor was doing all the head end  work. Because I think my last year they were down to an engineer,  conductor and a guy in the van. They eliminated the fireman on  a lot of the crews and now they probably just have two men on  a crew. I wouldn't be surprised. They just have the engineer and  the conductor. And the big thing with the movement, of course,  I went through a couple of strikes. You know the B&M or Springfield  terminals, that was the big one that lasted, oh I don't know,  I think it was six months or longer and it was pretty detrimental.  A lot of people lost their homes and things like that. And we  wouldn't cross the picket line and you know, fortunately, I guess  they moved our operation back down to the old CV so that we didn't  have to keep butting heads because otherwise we were in the same  building in White River back when those strikes took place. We  were on the second floor in the same big room--B&M had one side  of the office and we had the other, so we would have been forced  to cross the line and nobody would so they just moved us back  to the old round house and I don't know, just watching that whole  thing take place, you know, changing it from the B&M to Guilford  Industries Springfield Terminals in order to just destroy the  union and I think it hurt morale a lot on that line. I mean, I  could see it in restrospect some of it was done for cost measures  but some of it was done for other reasons. On the CV fortunately,  that didn't happen but eventuallly sold out anyways. I was a mobile  agent there and that was funny. Mobile agent was supposed to have  an automobile so I became immobile and I was working the midnight  to eight shift not day times. And we had computers but a lot of  the work was being done in St. Albans so the could justify you  know closing the station. That was what they were contending that  we don't need anybody there because you know, we're doing the  work in St. Albans. So that was a big thing.

IN: Mellon bought Springfield Terminal first. Right?

JT: Well, I think he, I'm not sure if he had B&M first then bought  Springfield Terminals, I'm not sure but that's...

HJ?: The only reason he bought Springfield Terminal was it was  non-union.

JT: That's correct so that's what he then that's happened in a  lot of cases since then. He kind of set the pattern for what railroads  could do by taking over some of these little side railroads that  are non-union and just kind of you know swapping it over instead  of being B&M, I think it became Guilford Industries first and  then I think eventually it became Springfield Terminals.

HJ: The unions weren't out, their hands weren't clean entirely  either.

JT: No of course not,

HJ: The line that used to run from White River to Berlin, they  gave the union a choice, they said you guys can work for something  like $16 a hour with no arbitrary, you know, no claims or the  union turned 'em down so they had guys working for $10-$12 an  hour and no benefits, you know.

JT: There was a certain amount of, I think, either greed or just  wanted to show that they could stand up to the big bosses, but  the arbitraries killed 'em, so one of the main things was like  a fireman. Now as you got into the '80's there really wasn't a  function for a fireman. That was just somebody that would, you  know, the engineer and the fireman would swap off the running  of the trains and you know, now I think we're into the era of  being lean and sometimes it's a little too lean but that was the  case as I say I remember 5 men on a crew and now they are doing  the same work with either 3 or 2. So I mean, it always could be  done and you know, what bothers me is that some of the railroads  are making a lot of money by just turning around and cutting wages  and cutting jobs when, you know, it's not always a great idea  because you get into the safety issues and we've seen more train  derailments and stuff like that, especially I think they've cut  big time into the road crews that take care of the maintenance  of the tracks and that should be a NO NO. I mean it's one thing  if you're going to cut the crews that are going over the tracks,  you know the engineers, etc. but to turn around and not maintain  the tracks. Because we had, when I worked there the big incident  I think back now, I can't remember the year, it might have been  '84, '85 when they had the Amtrak that went in, down the embankment  up there north and five or six people were killed. And I remember  that we had torrential rains from Thursday through the weekend  and this happened on a Saturday morning and because of the cost  they didn't want to put out you know somebody to scout out the  track.

IN: Where was this?

JT: This, I don't know if it was up in Colchester or whatever,  the Amtrak that I think it's the only one that happened.

IN: Was it the one by Sharon there?

JT: No, this is up further, they had accidents there but this  is the one that one of the Vern Church was a conductor on the  CV was killed. He was in the baggage car and I think two or three  passengers were killed. And it happened further up north, it was  like I don't know if it was a bridge, it wasn't a bridge but it  was like an area where they had constant washouts. Nobody patroled  the track because it, as I say it would have been an overtime  move, so consequently, it went down and a few people killed. But  that was where I started seeing the beginning of trying to save  where you shouldn't be trying to save cause you do have certain  areas on the railroad where you're going to have washouts all  the time no matter how much work you do on 'em and there was a  place in Sharon where the road disappeared and I saw that. I mean,  I took pictures of it and the road was just gone and yeah, but  I don't think anybody got killed on that one, fortunately.

IN: It wasn't so long ago

JT: No, it was when it happened is when we had, it was like a  major thaw and they had super big ice blocks going across Route  14 up in Sharon cause I lived in South Royalton. It was like maybe  '90, '91 something like that. And that whole culvert there it  looked like a canyon just washed out and the road was closed for  about 6 months to a year because there was a debate as to whether  the town would fix it or the railroad would fix it. It's like  past the lumber place when you come out of where they have the  lumber drop you take a left and it's not too far up beyond that.  But that was a mess. But anyways, those are some of the incidents  I remember.

IN: Now when you were down in Brattleboro then steam town was  still down there at that time?

JT: Yeah, I'm trying to think, yeah they were but they left shortly  thereafter. I think they left, do you remember

HJ: They were in North Walpole

JT: Bellows Falls

HJ: Well across the river in North Walpole and I think they were  gone, I think they had gone to Scranton PA or some

JT: They might have left in the early '80's.

HJ: I don't remember seeing 'em when I used to go through.

JT: Yeah, I can't remember the exact year because I rememer they  were there when I came up to Vermont in '75.

HJ: All I can remember is a bunch of Green Mountain boxcars stored  there.

JT: Yeah it wasn't exactly a land mark. I mean the equipment was  kind of rusting and needed paint. I think it's a lot better in  Scranton but it was kind of an eyesore, I think.

IN: I remember seeing it.

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JT: Yeah it wasn't like the engine in White River. At least now  that's painted and it's being taken care of. Down there it was  just kind of sitting and waiting for something.

IN: Do you know anything about the 905? The 905 was the 494 over  in White River now.

HJ: Oh no, well when they first brought that up here from Concord,  my father was one of the ones that helped build a track and situate  the thing. It was over near the municipal building at the time  and that's before they moved it back onto the main street. Yeah,  I remember when they did that. It was in the late '50's. Yeah,  I recall it but I didn't have anything to do with it personally  but I know my father was one of the ones who helped put it where  it was.

IN: You were working when the Freedom Train came through.

HJ: Oh yeah

IN: Do you remember anything about that?

HJ: Yeah I remember watching it from down here in West Lebanon.  We went down by where the grain store is there now and we stood  and watched the thing come from White River and it went along  to Concord as I remember it. They had a rather large steam engine.  It was from the Reading Railroad was it or... I wasn't smart enough  to take any pictures of it but

JT: When was that that it came through?

IN: '76

HJ: Yeah that's the Spirit

JT: I was working on the railroads then.

HJ: Yeah I think we saw it maneuvering around over the station  too, you know they had to back and sashay back and forth to get  the thing turned. I can't recall where it came from, whether it  came up the river from Springfield or where it or how it arrived  here. Or it came from St. Albans. I really don't remember. It  was gorgeous but they, I guess the school kids all got a look  at it and everything. Yeah, that was, I recall that.

IN: It was a Berkshire wasn't it, a 284?

HJ: A big engine

JT: It was pulling passenger cars?

HJ: Oh yeah, well this stuff was all display stuff, wasn't it?  Didn't they have copies, of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights  and I think they used to let the school children file through  there and look at it, well the general public for that matter.

JT: Well, there have been a few historic things in White River.  Then they had that Amtrak you know the high speed train come through  there a few years ago.

HJ: Metroliner, yeah

JT: Yeah.

HJ: Well, quite a bit has happened since I hired out over there.  Of course, I got stuck in the middle of the transition from steam  to diesel.

JT: Yeah, I was lucky though, the ones that were the first generation  of diesels, that's what they were using on the CV in the '80's.

HJ: Yeah, we never knew what we were getting. Unfortunately, I  was working at the CV the year that they went from steam to diesel.  It was a nightmare. You'd get a train all made up for two or three  diesel units and they'd say well were going to run steam instead  so

JT: Hmmm, that changes the times

HJ: It meant you had to cut tonnage way down and we had the last  of the 700 class engines and half the time they'd get the train  made up for them and there'd be something mechanically wrong and  they'd have to go with a smaller steam engine. So you know it  was just unreal. And of course the CV did things different than  the B&M. They had what they called a car factor and the car factor  was going north to St. Albans I suppose because of Roxbury. They  had 7 tons to a car. If you had an empty car that weigh 23 tons  you called it 30 because of the car factor and going south to  New London it was something like 4 tons to a car

JT: Cause you didn't have the hills

HJ: Yeah, cause you didn't have the hills

JT: Except when we had the leaves come down in the fall you had  a problem in Belchertown. That's when they had to double the hills.

HJ: Of course, they had a problem, CV always had a problem when  they had steam because 700 class couldn't go south of Brattleboro  so they would take the 700's off and turn 'em back north and put  smaller engines on to go to New London then. They had some strange  happenings there.

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IN: They built their bridges to last a lot better than the interstate  highway system.

HJ: Yeah, but the strange part of it was they wouldn't let the  700's over those bridges and yet once they started using diesels  you could put three or four diesel units all hooked together and  of course they didn't have the, they didn't pound the way the  700's were notorious for that, you know they were so heaving on  the drivers that... so the last trip they made from Brattleboro  to White River, the engineer got carried away, I guess, and he  exceeded the speed limit and CV wound up paying for I don't know  how many miles of trackage on the B&M. He made spaghetti out of  the rail, I guess.

JT: They just had different weights right for the rail?

HJ: Well, they were restricted to I don't know 35-40 miles an  hour with the 700's and because of the rail

JT: Yeah cause I mean you had a hundred pounds and if you

HJ: Oh yeah, well the rail was good, they had 100 pound or better  rail but it was a wrecking machine when you got over a certain  speed.

JT: Yeah, isn't it something to built a big engine and you really  can't use it. It's just like I remember the thing when the B&M,  when the transition went from B&M to Guilford, they wouldn't fix  that track. There was a stretch of track you could only, from  maybe Putney south or something, you could only do 20 miles an  hour.

HJ: They had so many slow orders you know you could fill a basket  with 'em. By the same token, we had big steam on the B&M. They  had the 4100 class. They used to come in out of Boston but they  had huge high drivers and they didn't seem to be restricted for  speed or anything and we had the Sante Fe's that went to Berlin  and they were a big heavy steam engine but

IN: Just the design of it do you think?

HJ: Yeah to do with the weight on the drivers. I don't know how  they figured it but that wasn't my department but the 700's that  was different. I could tell you a story about the 700's. When  they first, when CV first got them, they were better than anything  B&M had, you know up here in this country anyway. So they got  one of their usual agreements that they would allow the B&M to  run those 700's towards Concord and I don't know Lowell or Boston  where they went but this went fine til somebody got a newspaper  that had a picture of one of the 700's sitting in Rigby yard up  to Portland. The B&M was not only using 'em between Boston and  White River, they were diverting them on, they were getting a  lot of miles on 'em that nobody knew about

JT: Yeah, that never changed though.

HJ: So that was the end of the B&M using the 700's.

JT: Yeah, we used to I forget what trains but we used to swap  engines, they would come in and the train would come intact and  they would take it and maybe the piggyback and then we would never  see the engines for a week and a half cause they would do the  same thing. They would be running them up to Maine, especially  if they were CN's, so you know Canadian National was the mother  company of the CV so they would send CN's down and what they would  say they can't go beyond White River cause they knew if they gave  'em to the B&M they would disappear because they were beautiful  engines. They made the mistake a couple of times and by the time  they got 'em back they had an additional 100,000 miles

HJ: Yeah (laughs). Dirty work eh?

JT: Yeah that was interesting. 3600's we had, we'd get those back  right away, instantly.

HJ: Yeah, well they weren't any good.

JT: Nobody wanted those!! A lot of refusals

HJ: When the CV first got diesels, you know, we never knew what  we were getting. They had a bunch of Fairbanks-Morse engines.  I don't know whether you are familiar with them at all but they  were a pancake engine apparently. That's my understanding anyway.  But you'd get a mixture and you didn't know. Of course they're  all rated different for tonnage so I mean if you had Fairbanks-Morse  they were rated one thing and if you had Alco's or GM's or they're  entirely different.... So it was a real crap shoot, you didn't  know.

JT: Is that why you couldn't make it up the Roxbury Hill? Can't  make that grade because you know they're all rated at so many  tons.

HJ: You see strange stuff. I saw 'em one morning at the engine  house there. They had five units gonna go to St. Albans. They  hooked 'em up. Of course they got that electrical connection between  'em there. They had four of them. The wheels were all going forward  and the fifth unit decided it wanted to go the other way so (Laughs)  they wound up cutting it out. It wasn't compatible or some how.

JT: Because a lot of times you ran into that. Cause I know that  when the B&M would come into Brattleboro, they'd always be looking  for the connections, you know do you have any laying around because  we need this extra engine or some thing. It used to be fun.

HJ: So you run into some interesting stuff like that.

IN: Harry, did you know the crew that was involved in that wreck  up at Newbury tunnel?

HJ: Yes, I did, most of them. Yeah, in fact a couple of 'em were  killed. I think a fella by the name of Pierson. Arthur Gilmette  was in the baggage car, the mail car or something and he was injured  but he did come back to work and he finished out his years to  retirement. I don't remember just who the other people were. It  was so long ago. I do remember seeing the remains of the engine  coming through White River in a gondola. You know after they cut  'em up. Yeah, I remember that very well. In fact...

IN: One of the engineers was a fellow by the name of Golby (sp?)  just raised to engineer position

HJ: Yeah but that was all because of fog. It was a very foggy  morning and one train ran by its...

IN: Oh, it ran out onto the main line.

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HJ: Yeah, well you know without realizing it they'd gone by where  they were supposed to take a siding and as I remember it. An unfortunate  thing

JT: Yeah, and I think too with sidings a lot of problems were  they were built with the old lengths involved or the boxcars and  then as they got longer and longer...

HJ: Yeah, but this was passenger trains.

JT: Oh passengers, OK

IN: Yeah it was 48 wasn't it?

HJ: Yeah, I'd been on the railroad only a couple of years and  the fact, seems to me it was in the winter time, wasn't it?

IN: I don't remember.

HJ: Because I was gonna drive up there you know just out of curiosity  and see the wreck scene but it seems to me we were getting a light  slippery snow that morning or something and I said Gee I'm not  going to drive 40 miles up there and 40 miles back--kind of a  ghoulish thing to do anyway. But they used to come together occasionally.

IN: They had one right over here behind the new bridge restaurant  or something. I guess that was just a derailment or something?

HJ: Oh, that was probably a derailment. We did have a wreck in  Canaan right at the station in Canaan if you're familiar with  that out there. That was a freight and a passenger train. And  that was, well human error. The headend brakeman on the freight  got off and he lined the switch up wrong and let the passenger  train right in on top of 'em.

JT: I remember one time in Brattleboro you know that center track,  they didn't throw the switch back and Amtrak ended up going down  that.

HJ: I don't think there were any fatalities in that fracas out  to Canaan but I could be wrong. It was a while ago. But it was  not unusual to have derailments and wrecks. It was tough before  they had the radios. In fact, some of the jobs that Springfield  used to have what they called a middle man. They had an extra  brakeman. Well, because the time of the year when it's foggy.  Of course it follows the Connecticut River all the way down, so  they did give 'em an extra brakeman but they didn't have the benefit  of the portable radios, you know, it would have been a God send.  Well, you're a mile back there and you don't know what's going  on and in fact, we had a train going to Boston and I knew the  guys in the crew very well. They left White River and when they  got to Concord the conductor was gone. Nobody knew where he was.  Flagman didn't know, headend didn't know and so they made a concerted  effort to... and he had been going over the top for some reason--this  was in the winter time--and he evidently fell and he went right  in the river. All they did was find a hole in the ice and sure  enough that's where he was. Between here and Concord, I forget  which community it was. A mystery. Yeah, it was dangerous business.

JT: Well, being out in the yard too with the switcher working...  sometimes you could never hear those cars rolling.

HJ: Of course, in the B&M yard here you had a switcher working  both ends of the yard and you'd have to cross five, six tracks  of cars to get to the switching lead you know and you never knew  when they were going to move, it wasn't just the trains moving  out of the yard, it was the switchers pulling the tracks and so  you had to be very careful. It wasn't quite so bad with the steam  engines because you could pretty much tell where they were but  once they got the diesel switchers it was a whole new ballgame.  They're pretty silent. You didn't know where they were or what  they were doing.

JT: Yeah, Brattleboro was good that way because you couldn't fit  in between like if train no. 6... you had to walk sideways.

HJ: Yeah, well same way in the CV yard. You couldn't get between  the engine house track and the bank because you wouldn't fit if  one of the steam engines was going back to the house, you were  in big trouble. I've seen times down at the B&M yard where these  4100's would come in on the loop track down there and you'd be  in between the loop and 17 and they were so huge and so over powering--in  the middle of the night you're out there with a kerosene lantern  you know--you're standing there in a cloud of steam. The best  thing you could do was lay right on the ground. Because you didn't  dare--if you got over at 17 you know the switchers gonna move  'em and these engines were so big that God it seemed overpowering  to stand there--pretty tough to stand your ground--you gotta have  a lot of courage to do that. Oh, in fact, they'd go by you with  the steam engine if they happened to open a relief, they'd blow  your damn lantern out. You know, you'd be standing there in the  dark in a cloud of steam and

JT: What about sparks too.

HJ: I never worried--that was the least of it.

JT: You never worried about your lantern.

HJ: You know the thing I worried most about was stuff sticking  out of the doors of empty cars.

JT: Yeah, strapping...

HJ: You're out there in the dark and those cars are moving by  you maybe both ways, you've got one track going one way and one  the other and Gee you wouldn't want a piece of 2by4 or something  sticking out of there because...

JT: Yeah, I've seen that and plus the lighting was never that  great in any of these yards.

HJ: No it wasn't.

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JT: It was like you were working in pitch black and there were  holes. You'd be walking along and all of a sudden you'd drop a  foot down.

HJ: Oh yeah, drainage ditches and stuff.

JT: Especially I remember the CV yard in White River. They had  those all over the place. You're looking up writing the numbers  down and the next thing you're

HJ: Give you a shot all right. Well, speaking of steam engines.  We still had what we called hand bombers on the B&M for a number  of years after I went to work over there. The local used to go  from White River to Canaan. I think it was a 1400 class engine.  That was hand fired. The Canadian Pacific had their D-10's or  whatever they called them. They were hand fired and they went  all the way to Newport. Of course, the fireman better not be crippled  and he better hope he's on good terms with the headend brakeman  because there was a lot of coal to shovel to get over the mountains  up there and John probably knows more about that type of engine  than I do.

IN: See I worked on all electric...plug em in and go

HJ: Yeah (laughs)

JT: Get a long extension cord and then you can go anywhere.

IN: I think that's how Mr. Mellon got the idea of what to do with  the B&M, Delaware. Mahan Corporation (sp?) bought the North Shore  and immediately proceeded to do exactly what Mr. Mellon had done.

JT: That's too bad. I mean, it's become a real business.

HJ: Well, I can tell you this though. On the B&M when we first  started getting diesels, the old time engineers they were beside  themselves. They didn't want any part of them. They didn't know  anything about 'em. They didn't know how to run 'em. They cursed  'em out roundly. But after they'd had a few trips on 'em, man,  if they got called by the crew dispatcher for a job the first  thing they wanted to know was whether they had steam or diesel  because, it made a difference how they dressed for one thing.  They couldn't come to work in their tuxedo if they were going  to have steam engine.

JT: You mean it was a little dirty.

HJ: Yeah, well, they soon learned the comforts of the diesel engine  and some of them that used to putter with the steam--I know one  particular engineer right in town here that the management told  him, leave your wrench and screwdriver at home. Didn't want him  tampering with the diesel (laugh).
JT: Zip 'em up a little bit.

HJ: Yeah.

IN: The last steam engine I saw was 53 over in Warren there. They  couldn't get a diesel started in January and I think it was a  3600 or a 462 with a circuit type locomotive and they couldn't  make the grade past Warren Schoolhouse and they had to back down  again cause there was ice on the rails and couldn't get her up  there.

HJ: Well, we used to have those B10's I was telling about that  went to Newport. Of course, the bulk of the cars that went to  Newport were empty Canadian Pacific cars going home. They'd come  down loaded and they were going back empty. But they were limited  on tonnage. But leaving White River till you get to Wilder is  a pretty good upgrade there and so the switcher would have to  push em to the yard limits. Every day they'd get behind 'em when  they were ready to go and give 'em a boost up as far as the yard  limits and hope they'd make it the rest of the way. But it was  not unusual for them to double a hill. CV used to double the hills  at Roxbury.

JT: Yeah, even with the diesels a lot of times they'd have to  have a

HJ: I'm talking about back in the steam engine days. Boy they're  right down on their hands and knees when they're climbing the  mountain there. Had an interesting occasion happen there. And  this, of course, always happened in the wintertime, cause most  inconvenient. But they had a freight train, had to double the  hill to Roxbury and, of course, the brakeman is thinking of comfort.  You know if he's got to go back and pull the pin behind what say  40 cars and take them to the top of the mountain and then go back  and get the rest of the train. So in the middle of the train happened  to be a deadhead buggy, a caboose that they were bringing down  to White River or New London or some place. So what's he do, he  says this is a perfect place to make the cut cause he can get  on the back of the buggy and ride you know kind of sheltered from  the weather and the wind and all. So he gets to the top of the  mountain and the other train is there waiting. So they see the  buggy go by. They figure, hey that's the end of the train. It's  OK for us to head down the mountain. There'd have been one hell  of a crash if they had of, but one guy on the crew happened to  notice there were no markers on the caboose. So they were saved  by the bell that time.

JT: Tighten those rules.

HJ: Yeah, but it was sort of a trap. The guy set it by pulling  the pin behind the buggy and riding the buggy up the mountain  so he'd be a little more comfortable. No he didn't do anything  wrong, but I mean...

IN: Why did they put it in the middle of the train?

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HJ: I don't know. It was probably classified. You know, this group  of cars was going. They were pretty...

JT: It might have been a cut like it was all going to New London...dropped  in Brattleboro or something.

HJ: There were certain trains that were you know pretty much classified  right out of Italy yards.

JT: Made up where they were going in blocks.

HJ: So I don't know but it was a trap for someone

IN: He was lucky the guy was observant.

HJ: Yeah

IN: Where is Roxbury?

JT: Up towards Montpelier there. Is it right after Montpelier  going north or

HJ: No it's this side, beyond Randolph but it's before you get  to Montpelier.

JT: Is it Bolton?

HJ: I try and visualize it by the highway but nobody ever goes  through Roxbury anymore cause

JT: Barre Bolton,, it's somewhere before Montpelier.

HJ: It's this side of Montpelier.

JT: Yeah, I think it will say on the highway like the highest  elevation or something. That marker will say the highest elevation.

HJ: I think even on the interstate there's a marker up there.

JT: 1700 feet or something like that and that's probably where  that grade is because it's the highest.

HJ: But even in a little one-horse town they always had operators  there. You know you had telegraph operators around the clock back  at the time. Of course, I go back far enough so we had operators  everywhere. You even had an operator at Evetts (sp?) North Hartland.  Three at Claremont, three at Windsor. You had operators at Norwich.  You had operators at Canaan, Lebanon.

JT: I don't even know if any of the railroads have operators any  more. I think it's all given to the train

HJ: Train orders all come over the teletype or their done by radio.  I don't know, do you know Jim McFarland. There's a guy that had  a lot of experience. I mean he covered jobs all over the railroad  and he did different things. I mean he was a conductor, brakeman,  he worked in the offices and he's one of the survivors of the  three diesel units went in the Connecticut River down in Holyoke  you know.

IN: Oh, I didn't know that.

HJ: Oh yeah.

IN: When was this?

HJ: I'd say back in the '70's.

IN: Bridge was out of alignment or something

HJ: I don't know what caused it. They have certain spots on the  railroad where you know especially near the river banks where  the track is a little shaky. They do a lot of work on it but even  so it's not that stable. Well, he was conductor or headend brakeman  and they slid right down the bank into the Connecticut River.  He and Al Davis and I don't know who the third man was on the  engine but Jim was out of work for a number of months over that  you know. He was injured. Says he doesn't remember a bit of it.  So.

IN: I mentioned Logan...

HJ: Howard Logan, I think he worked in the B&M engine house here  at one time but I don't know for how many years.

IN: Then Munn over here on

HJ: Oh Dave Munn

IN: He worked in Westborough.

HJ: Yeah he worked in the engine house, I think. I know who he  is but I don't know him particularly well.

IN: Another one I met was Jesse Truman.

HJ: Oh yeah I worked with Jesse for a number of years. Yeah, Jess  would make a good interview because he, you know, he did a lot  of different things.

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