Tasha Oates updated November 17, 2011

Categories

Tasha Oates's Tags

Archives

Browse Articles » Feature Text View Magazine View

  • Prototype Profile: North Stratford Railroad

    A boxcar short line: The North Stratford Railroad

    These furniture movers use a GE and an Alco

    BY T. BRAM BAILEY
    PHOTOGRAPHY BY THE AUTHOR

    Page 21: Just north of Colebrook. N.H.. the southbound North Stratford train makes its way down the Connecticut River valley at a leisurely pace.

    Page 22: S1 959 skirts the edge of West Stewartstown, N.H., with three cars bound for the Grand Trunk (CN) interchange at North Stratford on the morning run south. At the time of this writing (1985) the round-trip to the GT was scheduled for Thursdays.

    The railroad's one-stall roundhouse is near the Ethan Allen plant in Beecher Falls, Vt. As built, the former Maine Central facility had three stalls.
    Prototype Modeler - June July 1985 - Page 21 Prototype Modeler - June July 1985 - Page 22

    Far off the beaten path, in northern New Hampshire, there is a short line that exists only to serve the Ethan Allen furniture factory in Beecher Falls, Vt. The North Stratford Railroad, as it is known today, was originally a composite of three railroads built to serve the lumber industry. In 1887 the Upper Coos Railroad of New Hampshire was completed from North Stratford to Stewartstown, a distance of 24 1/2 miles. At Stewartstown the rail road crossed the Connecticut River into Vermont. From Canaan to Beecher Falls, a distance of about 2 miles, the railroad was known as the Upper Coos Railroad of Vermont. This section was opened in 1888. The third part of the railroad was originally known as the Hereford Railroad and ran from the Canadian border at Beecher Falls, Vt., to Hereford, Que. In 1890 these three railroads were leased to the Maine Central. In 1932 ownership passed to the Maine Central outright.

    By the mid-1970's, the activities on this line had slowed to the point that Maine Central had petitioned for abandonment. To save the jobs of those employed at the Ethan Allen plant in Beecher Falls, the North Stratford Railroad was born. The $340,000 purchase price was financed through a federal grant. The railroad would be owned by the state of New Hampshire and managed by Ed Clark, who formerly ran the Mount Washington Cog Railway.

    At the present time, the railroad runs from its Canadian National connection at North Stratford, N.H., to the Ethan Allen plant in Beecher Falls. The Canadian portion of the line is long gone, but from the end of the line, in Beecher Falls, it is literally a stone's throw to the customs inspection buildings at the Canadian border.

    Page 23: The NSRC meanders through bucolic mountain scenery typical of Vermont and New Hampshire. Here, on the northbound trek back to Beecher Fails, the little green train cuts across a pond on a causeway.

    Prototype Modeler - June July 1985 - Page 23

    The original Maine Central three stall roundhouse in Beecher Falls has been trimmed to a single stall. Although the business office of the. North Stratford Railroad is in Littleton, N.H., operations are headquartered out of the Beecher Falls roundhouse.

    The roster of the North Stratford consists of two locomotives and a converted locomotive snowplow. General Electric 44-tonner No. 76 was built in 1 48 for the Maine Central. This unit is named Arch McDonnell in honor of the late railroad artist from Concord, N.H. Alco S-1 No. 959 was built in 1949 for the Portland Terminal Railroad. The Alco is named George V an Dyke for the lumber baron who founded the original Upper Coos Railroad. There is also an ex-Wolfboro Railroad single-truck G.E. switcher, numbered W-3. It has a snowplow permanently attached to the front. The unit's prime mover is used only to power the hydraulics. Since it has no traction motors, it has to be pushed by one of the other locomotives for snow removal. The conversion from locomotive to snow plow was performed in the North Stratford's own shop by Norm LaBreque and Kevin Hurley, the railroad's engineer and brakeman, respectively.

    A bout 100 boxcars were rebuilt in 1978 and leased to the railroad by the Brady Corporation. The cars are painted green and carry the North Stratford's State of New Hampshire logo. These cars can be found across the country, usually loaded with Ethan Allen furniture.

    Until February 1984, the North Stratford served the Agway distributor in Colebrook, N.H. Citing high costs, Agway terminated its railroad shipments in favor of trucks. This leaves the railroad with one major customer, the Ethan Allen plant. This company manufactures top-quality wood furniture. Many sub-assemblies are built at other plants and then shipped to Beecher Falls to be incorporated into the bedroom and dining room furniture manufactured there. Typically, the sub-assemblies come in by truck and the finished furniture goes out by rail. This means the North Stratford's operation basically consists of empties northbound and loads southbound. Since the right-of-way follows the Connecticut River, gravity is on the side of the loads going south, making life a lot easier for the railroad.

    Brakeman Hurley reports that a bout 10 to 15 loaded boxcars are shipped from the plant during the course of an average month. The North Stratford is usually a two-day-a-week operation. On Wednesday loads are pulled out of the plant. Empty boxcars are spotted in the enclosed loading dock referred to by the crew as "the tunnel." The southbound loads are then spotted in the yard.

    Page 24: Engineer Norm LaBreque lays down a smoke screen as he tackles the grade out of the Ethan Allen plant with several carloads of furniture.
    Prototype Modeler - June July 1985 - Page 24 Prototype Modeler - June July 1985 - Page 25

    Thursday is generally the day the train runs down to the Canadian National interchange in North Stratford. The crew usually comes on duty between 7 and 7:30 a.m., but to accommodate a farmer who walks his cows a cross the tracks about 8:30 each morning, the southbound does not leave Beecher Falls until 9 a.m. The main line is paralleled by US Route 3. Since track speed is limited to about 15 mph, day rain-watcher can put away his Fuzz Buster, turn off the CB and enjoy a leisurely chase through some beautiful country. The morning light is perfect to photograph the southbound trip.

    It takes about an hour and a half to reach North Stratford. The loads are dropped on the Canadian National interchange tracks. Once the empties are assembled into the northbound train, the crew usually takes a quick, lunch break. About 11:30 a. m. the train returns north.

    If possible, No. 76, the 44-tonner, is used on the run because of its greater fuel economy. Engineer LaBreque mentioned that No. 76 can do the North Stratford turn on 36 gallons of fuel. The Alco consumes about 6 0 gallons making the same trip. The Alco is used only when extra power is required because of the size of the load or weather conditions.

    The North Stratford is an unconventional railroad in that the employees "wear many hats." Engineer LaBreque shares the operating duties with brakeman Hurley. For example, when Hurley is running the engine, LaBreque can be found throwing the switches. When train operation is concluded, they maintain the equipment and track work.

    The North Stratford is a great one day chase. It is located near The Balsams resort, so it is easy to fit into a family vacation.

    For the modeler without the space or resources to construct a large model railroad, the North Stratford offers a true alternative. When one considers that half the roster is Alco, the proposition becomes even more interesting. The scenery is a mix of lush forested areas and rolling meadows.

    Page 26: At North Stratford, the 959 has just spotted the loads on the interchange track. In the background is the wood GT depot, with the GT main and pass track adjacent; the two closest tracks in the photo belong to the North Stratford.

    NSRC's 40-foot boxcars are green with the herald and reporting marks in yellow. The herald is the outline of the State of New Hampshire with the profile of "The Old Man of the Mountain" -- a famous rock outcropping in New Hampshire's White Mountains -- within. The state's slogan is at the bottom.

    The railroad (like most all the railroads in New England) is close to the land. Here the George Von Dyke is northbound out of Stratford, tight against the hardwood tree-lined right-of-way.

    Page 27: Triple CN Montreal Locomotive Works M420's charge through North Stratford with GT train 394 bound for Portland, Me. The loaded cars in the foreground will be picked up by the westbound counterpart, Montreal train 393.

    The 51 is making its run around at the GT interchange in North Stratford. The Baptist Thrift Shop Country Store would make an easy one-evening modeling project.

    Ex-Maine Central 44-tonner 76 works the Agway plant at Colebrook, N.H. Since this photo was taken, Agway has switched to trucks.
    Prototype Modeler - June July 1985 - Page 26 Prototype Modeler - June July 1985 - Page 27

    Construction begins

    With the prototype being a simple point-to-point operation, it lends itself quite well to modeling. Our t rack plan is designed to fit a 15 x 10-foot space offering around-the-wall operation. An opening is provided so no duck-unders are required. The plan can be easily downsized or enlarged to suit your particular requirements. As drawn, the minimum radius is a gentle 30-inches with two No. 6 and ten No. 8 switches.

    At North Stratford the Canadian National main is represented as it passes through the entire 10-foot length of space. It is paralleled by the two-track yard of the NS. Track No. 3 is designated as the set-out track. Sufficient length has been allowed for the locomotive to run around a cut of cars at either end. Code 83 rail should be used for the CN t racks, Code 70 for the set out track, and Code 55 for track No. 4. Obviously, if these scale rails are to be utilized, NMRA RP-25 wheel standards will have to be adhered to. The entire length of the main line should be Code 70 rail. All sodding and the passing track (at Colebrook) should be Code 55. Rail Craft produces excellent quality ready-to-install flex-track in all the sizes needed. You may want to consider this as an option to hand-laying all those ties.

    At Beecher Falls, the main track ends at a point representing the abandonment of the prototype's line to the Canadian border. A small turntable and a one-stall engine house serve as home base for the two-unit locomotive roster. Across the way is the Ethan Allen plant and offices.

    Trains consist of one of the green locomotives and a cut of 40-foot boxcars. No caboose is used. The boxcars are dragged south from the plant with loads (finished furniture) down the line to the Canadian National connection at North Stratford, where a mix of empties and loads (furniture sub-assemblies) are hauled back north to the Ethan Allen plant. If you model the era prior to Agway's turning to trucks in February 1984, boxcars can be switched in and out of the siding at Colebrook.

    Lush scenery, simplicity and ease of operation by one person sum up the general attractiveness of this New England short line. For those of you with leaning's toward our Canadian brothers, a train can be modeled and parked at North Stratford during operating sessions.

    Article Details

    • Original Author T. Bram Bailey
    • Source Prototype Modeler
    • Publication Date June-July 1985

    Article Album (7 photos)

    Share - Report
0 comments