BELLOWS FALLS — Rail enthusiasts from around New England rolled into town on the morning of Sept. 23. They soon rolled back out again - this time, riding in one of four rail passenger cars pulled by Green Mountain Railroad's Engine 405, the F. Nelson Blount.
This rail fan trip for 150 was part of a daylong excursion chartered by Massachusetts Bay Railroad Enthusiasts, Inc. The engine traveled from Bellows Falls to Rutland, passing a number of notable sights, including covered bridges, train trestles, scenic views, and the former site of Steamtown, U.S.A..
Engine 405's namesake, Nelson Blount, was one of the founders of the rail museum, which began operating in Rockingham in 1963 and moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1984.
From Rutland, the excursion continued to Whitehall, New York on the Clarendon and Pittsford Railroad, then backtracked the journey, ending in Bellows Falls mid-evening.
According to its website, massbayrre.org, the group traces its beginnings to 1934, when its founders sponsored what has been called the first "railfan trip" in the United States on the now-disbanded Hoosac Tunnel & Wilmington Railroad. Since then, Massachusetts Bay Railroad Enthusiasts has sponsored hundreds of railfan excursions over almost every past or present New England rail route.
Celebration of a bygone era of transportation
The Sept. 23 excursion also celebrated Bellows Falls' long history of rail travel in the Northeast. The first railroads came to Bellows Falls in 1849, and the village continues to have very active passenger and freight train activity 174 years later.
The Bellows Falls to Rutland section of the trip covered part of the route of the now-defunct Rutland Railroad's most notable passenger train, the Green Mountain Flyer, which ran between Boston and Montreal until 1953.
Bellows Falls was a key junction point for the Flyer, where it connected with the Boston & Maine Railroad for the trip down the Cheshire branch of the B&M through Walpole and Keene, New Hampshire on the way to Boston, as well as Central Vermont Railway for trains heading to New York City.
In its prime years in the 1930s, a passenger could get on the Flyer in Bellows Falls and arrive in Rutland about 1 hour and 20 minutes later, or stay aboard and reach Montreal, via Burlington, in a little more than seven hours.
This News item by Robert F. Smith was written for The Commons.