Central Vemont The South End Remembering the Banana Belt by Brittin Soft Cover
Central Vemont The South End Remembering the Banana Belt by Brittin Soft Cover
Central Vemont The South End Remembering the Banana Belt by Brittin Soft Cover
Central Vemont The South End Remembering the Banana Belt by Brittin Soft Cover
Central Vemont The South End Remembering the Banana Belt by Brittin Soft Cover
Central Vemont The South End Remembering the Banana Belt by Brittin Soft Cover

Central Vemont The South End Remembering the Banana Belt by Brittin Soft Cover

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Central Vemont The South End Remembering the Banana Belt by Brittin Soft Cover
Central Vermont The South End Remembering the Banana Belt by Robert P Brittin
Soft Cover
84 pages
Copyright 1995
Introduction  7
Operations 11
The Palmer Connection 21
Extra Board Telegrapher 27
Second Trick Palmer 33
Lost At Palmer 41
Let It Stand 43
Division Headquarters 45
Rule 42 At West Willington 49
On The Sheet  51
Epilogue 67
Bibliography 73
Banana Belt Power 1936-1957 75
Timetable: Sept. 27, 1936  79
The Banana Belt. A terminal switching road in Central America? Guess again. Solid banana trains? Occasionally. Nobody can accurately say where or when the name originated, but it was a term used by Central Vermont Railway employees when referring to the southernmost portion of the CV's Southern Division, the 121 miles of the Willimantic and Amherst Subdivisions between New London, Ct., and Brattleboro, Vt. Some say that the term derived from the banana trains the CV received from the New Haven Railroad at New London for expedited movement to Montreal and Quebec produce markets. Others claim that it originated with some unfortunate Northern Division brakeman while switching St. Albans yard in mid-winter. Working in sub zero temperatures with the snow above his knees, he'd learned that the ground in New London yard was bare and the temperature was above the freezing point. Because of the generally milder climate in southern New England during the winter months, it was a rare event whenever it became necessary to operate a Hanger let alone a wedge plow south of Brattleboro.
Constructed during the mid-nineteenth century was a 121 mile long line of railroad which, at the time, was best described as being "an endeavor which started nowhere, ended nowhere, and managed to miss every major city in between." Little has been written about it, yet it still exists today as a part of the New England Central Railroad Incorporated. Referred to for years among its employees as "The Banana Belt," it was until 1990, when the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton Railroad Co. was merged into the Canadian National's Grand Trunk Western, the southernmost extremity of the CN and its three U.S. subsidiaries. RailTex acquired it in 1994.
During the mid-1840s, businessmen and fleet owners of the ships engaged in the whaling industry at New London, Ct., sought a charter for a railroad to serve new London and the valley of the Willimantic River as far north as the state line, thence to Palmer, Mass., through an associated company chartered in Massachusetts. The charter for the New London, Willimantic & Springfield Railroad Company was granted by the General Assembly of the State of Connecticut in May of 1847. The charter for the New London, Willimantic & Palmer Railroad Corporation was granted by the Senate and House of Representatives of Massachusetts in General Court assembled in 1848 to construct a railroad from a point on the line of the Western Railroad Company (presently Conrail) in Palmer to the southern line of the state, there to unite with a railroad authorized by the Legislature of Connecticut from New London to the line of the State of Massachusetts. At a joint special meeting of the stockholders of both companies held January 17, 1849, it was voted that as of that date, the two companies would be merged under the name of the New London, Willimantic & Palmer Railroad Corporation. By May 13, 1849, trains were operating between New London and Willimantic, and regular operations commenced between New London and Palmer on September 23, 1850.
During the same period, promoters in the town of Amherst, Mass., were granted a charter to build the Amherst & Belchertown Railroad Company, which commenced regular operations between Amherst and Palmer on May 5, 1853. Trustees took control of the line on January 1, 1858, until it was sold to the bond holders later the same year, emerging as the Amherst, Belchertown & Palmer Railroad.
On January 5, 1859, the New London, Willimantic & Palmer Railroad Corporation was placed in receivership and subsequently reorganized as the New London Northern Railroad Company, which took over operations from the trustees on April 1, 1861. On March 1, 1864, the New London Northern Railroad Company purchased the Amherst, Belchertown & Palmer Railroad through a stock exchange agreement, and on October 8, 1866, completed an extension of its line from Amherst north to Millers Falls, Mass., where it made a connection with the Vermont & Massachusetts Railroad which ran east and west between Fitchburg and Greenfield, but also had a line running north from Millers Falls to Brattleboro, Vt.
Enter the Vermont Central Railroad Company (reorganized as the Central Vermont Railroad Company in 1873). On December 1, 1870, the Vermont Central leased the 21 mile segment of the Vermont & Massachusetts Railroad between Brattleboro, Vt., and Millers Falls, Mass., and 12 months later on December 1, 1871, leased the New London Northern Railroad Company between Millers Falls and New London. On May 1, 1880, the Vermont & Massachusetts Railroad in turn sold their Brattleboro to Millers Falls trackage to the New London Northern. On December 17, 1951, the CV finally purchased the New London Northern outright for the sum of $2,672,203 and was thus relieved of its annual $194,000 lease payments.
Both my father and I worked on the Banana Belt during which time we accumulated 75 years of combined service, he from 1909 to 1956, I from 1938 to 1966. At least two books, one consisting of six volumes, plus various railfan magazine articles, have been written which provide an excellent source of history of the CV. Written from an observer's point of view, they are replete with statistics but fail to give the reader a look from the inside at events which occurred from time to time. This I have attempted to do from the notes I have kept through the years in addition to my collection of timetables, scrap books, seniority rosters and photo albums.
Although I didn't officially become a CV employee until 1938, my teen years during the mid-1930s were spent at Amherst, Mass., where my father was agent operator. The railroad equivalent of an "army brat," much of my spare time was also spent in and around the station performing such mundane chores as washing windows, keeping the coal buckets filled and emptying ashes during cold weather. In return my father gradually allowed me to sell tickets, load and unload mail, baggage and milk cans to and from the passenger trains, hoop up train orders on the fly, and hone my skills in morse telegraphy.
Amherst is at the top of a three and one half mile 1.37 percent ascending grade for northbound trains following their descent on a six mile 1.37 percent grade from Belchertown through what was variously referred to as "the swamp" or "the sag." At certain times of the year and when wind conditions were right, I would stand on the station platform and listen to the distant roar of a northbound full tonnage freight train "making a run on the hill." At the time, freight train speeds according to the timetable were 35 m.p.h., but I knew full well that they were doing much better than that. While reminiscing with a long retired engineer in 1984, I asked him at one point how fast he actually ran "the sag" in either direction between Belchertown and Amherst during those never-to-be-forgotten days. Looking me straight in the eye, he replied in all seriousness yet with the trace of a smile, "Oh about as fast as we dared to go, about 55 or 60 miles an hour. We could never see more than five cars back from the engine because the dust was flying so bad."
During those years it was only natural that in time I became well acquainted with our passenger crews and from time to time enjoyed the benefits of a free ride without my father having to go through the formality of obtaining a trip pass for me. With only two trains in each direction, my one day round trip excursions were limited to either a 36 mile ride to Brattleboro, Vt., in mid-morning on No. 1, returning in late afternoon on No. 4, or as an alternative, an earlier morning 85 mile ride to New London on No. 2, returning on No. 3. The round trip to New London was the more preferable of the two in that the ride was longer, the layover between trains was shorter, and there was more activity to be seen at New London than at Brattleboro. All things considered, it made for a pleasant day's outing; a 170 mile train ride, a little over three hours at New London in which to view the shipping in the harbor from the public pier across the tracks from Union Station, and a chance to watch the action on "big time" railroading at its best on the New Haven's Shore Line, where it seemed that either a freight or passenger train passed every few minutes.
So join me in a nostalgic and at times humorous look at life as it was on the CV's Southern Division, and particularly on "The Banana Belt," from the mid-1930s onward.

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