Racing Railroad Trains

The Vermont Valley Railroad between here and Brattleboro was built during 1850 and 1851, the first passenger train over the road reaching Bellows Falls early in June of the latter year, regular service between the two villages dating from then. The first conductors were P. R. Chandler and R. A. Deming. For some months, trains had been run from South Vernon to Bellows Falls by way of the Ashuelot line and Keene. The day the first passenger train ran between the two villages direct, it was a question whether the trip could be made as quickly by way of Keene as by way of Putney, and there was some strife. An interesting communication has recently come to light, written by a passenger on this first train, which followed the Connecticut River, who was evidently familiar with the conditions and men on each train. He wrote:

“Our old friend Briggs, of the Connecticut River Road, who always keeps his `eye skinned,’ undertook to play us a bit of a trick and show us that `some things could be done as well as others.’ Having a few minutes the start at South Vernon, he whipped up his `old hoss’ around through Keene and over the summit, and when he came in sight of the Cheshire, as it approached the river, behold! There he was, gliding swiftly and noiselessly like a serpent among the hills toward Walpole. Our Valley Nag, wholly unsuspicious of what was going on, was trotting along at a rate of about 40 miles the hour, and admiring the beautiful scenery of the river till, on arriving opposite Walpole, where the roads approach the river, the Cheshire train was seen shooting along at lightning speed for Bellows Falls. Some pretend they could see our friend B.-impatient at the slow progress of the engine-flying along, John Gilpin-like, hat off and tails streaming ahead of it; at any rate, it appears to be well authenticated (which lends some probability to the story) that he actually got to Bellows Falls some time before his hat, which came sailing along after him. It is undeniable, however, that friend B. `won the hat,’ for he did reach Bellows Falls as soon as we, though going around by Keene; and it may be observed of him generally that it is much easier to follow than to lead him. From Walpole the roads are parallel with each other and near the river, and it was a pretty sight to see the cars on either side, gliding along the road, now concealed for a moment by the hills, or a grove of trees, and again running on the side of a hill, with the long train of cars around and after the engines like two huge anacondas on a race and striving for victory.”


Based on: The Connecticut River Valley in southern Vermont and New Hampshire: historical sketches, Rutland, Vt.: Tuttle Co., Marble City Press, 1929.

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