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  • Geeps and Gravel in the Granite State

    Text and Photgraphy by George S. Pitarys

    OPPOSITE PAGE: A north bound empty gravel train waits for the 7 a.m. New Hampshire Northcoast crew on Guilford's No. 2 main line in Dover, New Hampshire. ABOVE: In a photograph taken from Berwick, Maine, a north bound empty train skirts the Somersworth, New Hampshire, side of the Piscataqua River, on April 4, 1997.
    RailNews - October 1997 - Page 52 RailNews - October 1997 - Page 53

    "Common as dirt" desribes something of little or no value, However, the, "dirt" owned by Ossipee Aggregates is a valuable commodity for an uncommon railroad, Situated in east central New Hampshire, Ossipee is home to one of the state's more interesting shortline railroads: the New Hampshire Northcoast. With its stable of six GP9s, the Northcoast owns and operates, approximately 40 miles of the former Conway branch of the Boston & Maine, Running to the heart of New Hampshire's famous White Mountains, the line was very popular with Boston's skiers, until the mid-1950s; passenger extras were added to the regularly scheduled daily trains during the height of the season.

    The branch never was a major freight contributor. Though it did connect with Maine Central's legendary Mountain Division Intervale, any interchange was handled at Rigby Yard in Portland, Maine.

    The freight the line did carry was gravel. After all, New Hampshire is aptly nicknamed the Granite State and, what is gravel but ground-up granite? The plentiful gravel around Ossipee was used by B&M as ballast, and also hauled to Boston for Boston Sand & Gravel. Why, you might ask, would a company specialize in sand and gravel? These ingredients are used to manufacture concrete, and there is an enormous market for concrete in metropolitan areas. Today's New Hampshire Northcoast exists to feed that insatiable appetite.

    By the early 1980s, despite these gravel shipments, B&M had given up on the Conway branch. However, the line only lay dormant for about six months before an entrepreneur, in conjunction with Boston Sand & Gravel purchased the line north of Rochester, New Hampshire, and formed the New Hampsire Northcoast. Boston Sand wanted gravel-and wanted it as soon as possible-so the massive task of clearing brush and trees and re-opening the line was undertaken immediately. The first train operated within days to Boston Sand's plant in Somerville, Massachusetts, and during the following spring, extensive track rehabilitation projects brought much of the line up to 30 mph standards.

    Two NHN Geeps are pulling hard to bring a loaded train up the ramp from the Ossipee Pit spur to join the NHN main line in Augst 1993. ABOVE: The bucolic serenity of Union, New Hampshire, is shattered twice daily whe NHN's gravel train pounds through. On May 30, 1997, a south bound train passes within feet of The Old Fly Shop. LEFT: Its proximity to water is a NHN hallmark. In August 1993, a south bound loaded train crosses the outlet to Union Meadows at South Union, New Hampshire.
    RailNews - October 1997 - Page 54 RailNews - October 1997 - Page 55

    The regular train operated from the Ossipee pit to Rochester on NHN's own line, then over Guilford between Rochester and Rollinsford, New Hampshire, where it joined the Guilfoid main line. At Dover, the train was re-crewed with a Guilford crew, who operated to Boston and return over track owned by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority between the New Hampshire Massachusetts state line and Somerville Junction.

    Today's operation is basically unchanged, although in fall 1993, NHN purohased and rehabilitated the balance of tbe Conway branch between Rochester and Rollinsford. Each day except Sundays, between mid April and mid-November (the height of the construction season), a Northcoast crew reports at Dover at 6 a.m., picks up an empty train, runs to the pit at Ossipee, services or swaps power, loads the train, and returns to Dover in early afternoon. Often, a stop is made north of Rochester to service a large propane gas dealership, NHN's other customer. At 7 p.m., a Guilford crew reports at Dover and handles the train-symboled DOBO on its westward leg-to Boston's Yard Seven, where it spots the loads at a Boston Sand & Gravel plant, pulls the empties together with empties from BS&G's Everett plant, and returns to Dover, arriving in time for the 7 a.m. NHN crew-beginning the cycle anew.

    On average, the train hauls about 40 loads of gravel each trip, more or less split evenly between BS&G's Somerville and Everett plants. Early in the evening, a Guilford switcher in Boston runs to Everett, via Conrail's East Boston branch, and pulls the empties, bringing them back to Boston. After DOBO's arrival, this switcher returns to Everett with DOBO's loads.

    As the construction season wanes, the train drops to five round trips per week. Shortly after New Year's Day, it has an approximate five-week hiatus from gravel service while continuing to pull liquified propane gas cars from the Guilford connection at Dover to the gas dealership north of Rochester several times a week. By mid-February, gravel service is resumed, building in frequency as the construction season unfolds. At the peak of the season, the train numbers 70 cars, with five of tbe venerable Geeps in charge.

    The train is difficult to photograph on the Dover to Boston segment of its trip, except during the long days of summer when its schedule keeps it from comflicting with the MBTA's busy western route commuters. However, the NHN segment of the trip offers outstanding shots and is well worth the effort. On the northern end of the line near Ossipee, it is fairly easy to incorporate views of the White Mountains. Further south in the Milton vicinity, several causeways are traversed; and at Somerworth, the train inserts itself between the town's older buildings and the Piscataqua River (the boundary between Maine and New Hampshire) and is easily shot from the highway bridge.

    So if you're ever zooming north on Interstate 95 to catoh Cape Breton & Central Nova Scotia in Nova Scotia or the new Iron Road operations in Maine, don't overlook the quick sidetrip to Dover and the New Hampshire Northcoast. It's an intriguing piece of New England railroading that's likely to be in business for as long as the Granite State lives up to its name.

    George Pitarys, trains operations manager for Guilford Rail Systems, lives in Hudson, New Hampshire. Drawing upon his 21-year career as a railroader, George is a frequent contributor to RAILNEWS.

    Article Details

    • Original Author George S. Pitarys
    • Source RailNews
    • Publication Date October 1997

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