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  • The NER Story

    At Nobscot, MA, the NER hot shot stack train crosses Bishops Bridge, while Nashoba Paving Company continues its repaving project below
    Model Railroading - September 1995 - Page 40

    by Bruce R. Erickson

    MANA-1 CALLING NER DISPATCHER AT BOLTON."

    "Go AHEAD MANA-1."

    I've made my air and brake test, and I'm ready to copy my track Occupancy Permit (TOP. I have NER engine 2556 on the lead with a mixed freight of 32 cars."

    "OK, MANA-1, please stand by while I get NAMA-2 in the yard."

    "Thanks, dispatch...."

    And so it goes. Another day in the life of a typical engineer on the freelanced/prototype layout of the Nashua Valley Railroad Association - the NER (New England Rail).

    The railroad has progressed quite a way since the December 1987 issue of Model Railroading depicted early stages of construction. Seven and a half years has brought about many changes.

    Let's go back in time for a moment and see how the NER came to be the bridge line it is today.

    The NER is Born

    The NER came into being in 1978 when the floundering Nashua Northern, Nashua Valley, Northern and Northeast railroads combined to form a bridge-line railroad to save operations in the Northeast. The years from 1979 to 1983 saw the purchase of large amounts of unused track including the Waldo and Kennebec Narrow Gauge, which is still active in the pulpwood and lumber producing business. Obscure trackage of the New Haven were upgraded from Maybrook, NY, to Nashua, NH, and became the Southern Division. Tracks gained from the merger plus some more obscure MEC and B&M trackage made up the remainder of purchases to become the Northern Division.

    A stack train passes the grade crossing at Sudbury, MA.
    Model Railroading - September 1995 - Page 41

    The decision was made to make Nashua, NH, the division point, and an aggressive campaign got under way to upgrade the right-of-way.

    Motive power was next on the agenda with the purchase of some Maine Central, New Haven and Boston and Maine power. This helped to relieve the strain put on the former Nashua Northern GP7s, that, until this time, shouldered the brunt of the tonnage. Today, these same two GP7s serve as the yard switchers at Nashua.

    An aggressive on-line solicitation of businesses has resulted in a wide variety of operations. Yards were rebuilt to handle traffic in a timely manner. Unit coal trains from Canada are handled through Calais, ME, from CP Rail. A local NER crew shuttles the loaded coal train to Little River, CT, via Nashua Yard. At Little River it is cut in two and brought up the branch to the Connecticut Valley Power and Light Co. Empties are returned to Little River with each shuttle, and the train returns to Nashua to be sent back to Canada. Unit grain trains are passed through from the Midwest to Maybrook, NY, by Conrail. An NER crew moves the grain cars to Nashua Yard. There the power is serviced and returned to Maybrook, NY, with empty cars. A local crew from NER now proceeds to Blakes Corner, NH, and the New Hampshire Milling Coop (NHMC) for unloading. Cars for the Consolidated Paper and Pulp Co. mill at Jefferson, NH, are set out at Blakes Corner along with the grain cars and are handled by the NHMC switcher.

    NER Operations Today

    Today the NER represents operations in the 1980s. Most trains originate from Nashua Yard and all engines are serviced at the large engine servicing and repair shops in Nashua.

    The layout is point-to-point from the yard at Maybrook, NY, to the yard at Calais, ME. (Notice that it is the same yard on the track plan.) The Northern Division extends east from the yard at Nashua to the yard at Calais-passing Merrimack, Chester, Raymond, Blakes Corner and Jefferson in New Hampshire and Liberty, Brooks Jct., Belmont, Orrington, Holden and Princeton Jct. in Maine.

    The Southern Division runs west from Nashua Yard to the yard at Maybrook, NY, passing through Rock bottom, Nobscot, Framingham and Ironstone in Massachusetts; Hamlet in Rhode Island; and Butler, Laurel Hill, Morningside, Niantic, Flanders, Black Hall, Little River and Berkshire Jct. in Connecticut; and Bulls Bridge and Coldenham in New York before reaching the yard at Maybrook.

    A branch line extends from Little River, CT, to Brattleboro, VT, and passes through such places as Berkshire Jet., Buckingham and Wapping in Connecticut and Ingleside, Elmwood Jct. and East Deerfield yard in Massachusetts before arriving in Brattleboro, VT.

    Hamlet, Rhode Island, on the NER provides a typical New England scene - rock cuts and small brick factories. An NER local passes by as the crew at Hunts Furniture prepares another load for shipping.
    Model Railroading - September 1995 - Page 42

    Let's follow MANA-l as it leaves Maybrook Yard for the trip to Nashua. After copying our TOP we leave the yard and head west. At West Slope, NY, we take the siding to allow Amtrak #301 to pass. Our next stop is the yard at Little River. Here we will drop a cut of Cill'S and pick up a cut destined for Nashua.

    After the brake and air tests are complete, we receive another TOP. A quick check with the Little River yard master and we're on our way again. We pass Morning side and Laurel Hill in CT, and Hamlet, RI, as we head for Summit, where our TOP expires. Here we will have to wait, as a hot shot stack train bound for Maybrook is making it's way slowly up the hill to Nobscot, MA, passing the old B&M tower as it crosses the Bishop Bridge and Route 20.

    "MANA-l FROM NER DISPATCH AT BOLTON."

    "THIS IS MANA-1, DISPATCH."

    "You have permission to cross over to Track 2 at Nobscot and proceed to Rock bottom. Cross over to Track 3, the Nashua running track, and proceed to Nashua Tower. Contact the yard master for further instructions."

    "Thanks dispatch. MANA-1 on the roll at 20:05 PM,"

    Layout Construction

    Construction of the current layout was begun in the fall of 1979 and is approximately 50% completed. All phases of construction can be seen, including bare benchwork and highly detailed scenes. The NER layout is one of the largest in central Massachusetts and is considered by many to be among the best. In addition to the craftsmanship displayed, the layout recreates local scenes typical of the New England area, from Calais, ME, to Maybrook, NY.

    The old round house in Nashua Yard is now relegated to museum status. Bishops Bridge in the background is two aisles away.
    Model Railroading - September 1995 - Page 43

    When completed, the layout will feature an accurate representation of downtown Nashua, NH, and several of the "smoke stack" industries that New England is famous for. A section of the Maine two-foot narrow gauge railroads is represented by the Waldo and Kennebec RR.

    The major yards at Calais, Nashua and Maybrook allow for an accurate depiction of local and through bridge traffic.

    Motive power ranges from GP18s to GP40-2s with several Dash 8-40CWs to handle coal trains from Calais.

    The HO scale layout is built on shelves following the trackplan, and the 4,000' of code 83 rail is spiked with 36,000 track spikes in 45,000 individually hand - laid wood ties on splined roadbed. The turnouts are also individually handmade by various members and powered by Fulgarex switch machines. The layout contains over 550' of point-to-point mainline trackage, with more than 2,000' of total trackage. Total yard capacity is over 500 cars. The layout is now operated using a computer-driven command control system, CTC-80 by Keeler Engineering, which allows up to 16 trains with up to 64 locomotives to be operated at the same time, on the same track. These all assist the Superintendent of Operations in keeping everything running smoothly. Radios with headsets and CTC-80 hand-held throttles along with competent dispatchers make operating sessions both fun and interesting. The CTC panel is patterned after a real CTC panel. A signal system, also from Keeler Engineering, is in the design stage and will be built to add to the functions of the railroad. Also available is a pair of Aristo-Craft throttles for conventional use, giving members another option for operating trains on non-ops session nights.

    MANA-1 passes Calico Press and the Sweet Life Warehouse at Rockbottom, MA.
    Model Railroading - September 1995 - Page 44

    The Association

    The Nashua Valley Railroad Association was founded in 1952 as a visiting and social model railroad club. In 1958, it began construction of its first layout in Clinton. In 1968 that layout was dismantled and stored while the club moved to its present location in Bolton. A new layout, using the best parts of the original, was then constructed. In 1980 the old layout was dismantled and the current NER layout was begun.

    Today the Nashua Valley Railroad Association has nearly 80 members. These consist of Alumni, Junior and Senior members. Approximately 40 Senior and Junior members are active in the modeling and operations aspects of the club/layout. Clinics are held to assist new and current members in various aspects of layout construction. Handlaid track and turnouts is one of the most popular. A video is being produced by the members for use in familiarizing new members with rules, layout introduction and CTC-80 operations.

    Club officers consist of a President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer. A Board of Directors oversees all aspects of club business and monitors modeling activities. A Superintendent of Physical Plant (Layout Chairman) keeps construction activities within guidelines set by a construction permit system. The Superintendent of Operations runs the layout as if it were a real railroad, with commodity-generated way bills keeping freight traffic moving smoothly. Waybills are generated for each ops session through a computer program designed by a member. Business meetings are held on the first Sunday of each month, at 7: 15 PM.

    Model Railroading - September 1995 - Page 45

    Public Events

    Each year, on a weekend toward the end of April, the club holds an annual Railfair. This two-day event features dealers from around New England and a layout tour. A minimum of six trains are kept running at all times. The following two Wednesday and Sunday nights are held open for potential new members to check out the club and layout. Regular operating sessions resume in June and continue through the winter on the third Sunday and the following Wednesday nights from 7 PM to around 10 PM. Occasionally an all-day ops session is produced for a Sunday from 1 PM to 10 PM. This gives more members a chance to spend maybe an hour or so then leave. Each train order, including yard master/switchers, are assigned on a first-come, firstserved basis by the Superintendent. Visitors are always welcome on any Wednesday or Sunday night.

    During the early part of December a Christmas Train Show is held for local families featuring the NER layout along with modular and portable layouts displayed at a local school. The NER layout is also open for layout tours during local National or Regional train shows at various times during each year.

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